Angry Colleague? Here’s How to Respond.

by Susan Shearouse

We’re grateful to be joined by Susan Shearouse, conflict resolution expert and author of Conflict 101: A Manager’s Guide to Solving Problems. In this post she examines a new angle on managing anger in the workplace — when it originates in someone else. -HC

You might not know what started it. Maybe it was something you said.  Or something someone else said.  Or something you didn’t say – and should have.  It might have been a conversation that went from bad to worse.  Maybe it’s been building up for a long time, and you are the last to know.   Whatever it might be, it’s your problem now.

This person is suddenly in your face, angry at you and quite vocal about it. Everybody up and down the corridor knows that you are getting the full dose of their fury.

Or – and sometimes this is even harder to face – they won’t speak to you at all.  They won’t return your calls any more.  If you pass in the hall, they look the other way, even if the other way is nothing but a blank wall.

What can you do?  How do you keep your cool?  You can turn a potential argument into a discussion if you can hold on to your own sense of calm and keep a strong determination not to be sucked into their negative energy.

  • First, know and understand your own responses to anger, your defensiveness, hot buttons. This is the first step in developing empathy for others.  It also helps you to be aware of, and less likely to be caught by, your own triggers.  If you can avoid responding in kind, you have gone a long way in changing direction. Read more

How to Get Angry at Work

Our first guest post! The publishing arm of the American Management Association recently asked if we’d consider featuring their book Conflict 101, we said yes, and thus received a free copy of the management guide. It’s an emotionally-grounded look at how to fight fairly from 9 to 5, including how to reveal your anger productively. We asked if author Susan Shearouse would be up for writing an article for WN. We’re so pleased; here it is. -HC

When you get down to it, there are LOTS of ways to get angry at work:

  • The guy in the next cubicle keeps asking you the same questions over and over again.  When are you supposed to get your own work done?
  • Your boss comes in half an hour before quitting time with another assignment, plops it on your desk and walks away.  Seems like he pulls this every week.
  • The co-worker claims credit for the report when she turned it in.  Say WHAT???  There would be no report if you hadn’t spent hours feeding the information to her, then editing her work so that it made any sense at all.

We can work up a good mad-on just thinking about these things.  But then we hit the bigger problem: What to do with our anger once it has gotten to a rolling boil?

Blowing up can feel so satisfying in the moment.  Just telling them what you think will surely clear the air and then you can get back to work.  But it usually creates a bigger mess that is difficult to clean up. People’s feelings get bruised and a wall of distrust starts to go up.

Stuffing it doesn’t often work any better.  The problem isn’t resolved, sometimes it just gets bigger. Even though you try to forget about it, the resentment lingers, lying in wait for the next offense.

There must be another way…

Here are some things you can do the next time you feel yourself beginning to simmer with anger: Read more