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Dealing with Anger

Question to Bob Bercovici, Bob Bercovici Consulting:

"As president of an organization of 100 people, I am experiencing new challenges in managing during a bad economy. At weekly meetings with my management team, I notice one of my senior managers displaying outbursts of anger. How do I begin to deal with his anger?"

We would recommend that you consider the five following steps:

First, develop company guidelines where frequent anger outbursts are addressed. Employee conduct should be part of your employee manual. It is also an opportunity to set boundaries of professional behaviour. You can include conditions such as: All staff are expected to comport themselves in a professional manner at all times. Angry emotional outbursts disrupt work for everyone and must be resolved quickly. Conflict is inevitable – aggression is not. Inappropriate behaviour will be reported immediately to the first available supervisor.

Initial direct contact should begin with a private conversation to determine what’s behind the anger outburst and listen well. There is always an underlying emotion that is quite negative. Determine if it’s hurt, fear, disappointment, disagreement or dissatisfaction, to name a few, and try to help them resolve the problem.

Many people manage their anger better when they can understand the impact of their behaviour on themselves, others and the organization. Speaking to the big picture will help this process. Explain the costs and consequences of anger in the workplace: the “climate” that’s created; people are reluctant to talk because the passive aggressive response from the person is targeted; the precedent that’s set (i.e. this behaviour is ok) will have far reaching consequences; the loss of productivity and efficiency will affect everyone including themselves. All of these factors become more acute during a bad economy when organizational survival may be at stake.

The employee displaying this behaviour often needs help to move through each of these four stages: denial, resistance, exploration and commitment. When in denial of the issue, they need facts and time to reflect on their choices. When they are resistant to acceptance, they respond to a safe environment, more information, support and being listened to. Once they begin exploring possible actions in a constructive way, they will benefit from communication tools and learning new skill sets. Finally, when they commit to a course of action, they appreciate reinforcement. Avoid over-managing.

We suggest the following: refer the individual for one-on-one anger management coaching or train your employees in Anger Management.

By learning the principals of anger management, employees will broaden the definition of anger to include the benefits. Strategies for coping with anger will be developed. They will understand that anger is a reaction, not a planned action. There is always an underlying emotion that is experienced by the person. There is a feeling of being weak and helpless. When angry, the feelings are ones of strength and control. This focused understanding of anger aids in early identification so that intervention can be applied.

It is vital that we understand that we also have styles of anger, each with their own behaviour and message. There is an underlying emotion to each style.

In Aggressive Anger, we take it out on someone or something else. The intent is to overpower others. This includes threatening, throwing things, screaming, punching inanimate objects just to mention a few. The reward is short-lived higher self esteem. The cost is getting anger back or being avoided.

When we experience ourselves avoiding, ignoring, preaching or using sarcasm, this indicates a Passive Anger style. We use this style to show that “You can’t do this to me” or “You’ll be sorry”. The intent is to punish others. The cost is getting a reputation that’s hard to change. People resent you and also resent having to use so much of their energy to find out what’s wrong.

We experience clarity and empowerment when we use an Assertive anger style to communicate. This is a non-threatening, non-blaming, non-hurtful expression of disagreement, disappointment or dissatisfaction. The intent is to communicate openly and honestly. The benefits include better and quicker conflict resolution, respect from others and the likelihood of getting on top of problems before they get too big.

It is much easier to show anger than other emotions such as fear, remorse, or hurt. There are many signals that tell us when our anger is becoming a problem such as consistently high levels of anger, the frequency and duration of the outbursts, escalation to physical contact or damaging work relationships. With the right policies, tools and strategies in place, anger or violent outbursts would be properly handled and harnessed to keep employees focused and productive.

Bob Bercovici is Principal, Bob Bercovici Consulting and can be reached at
416-630-9181 or via email at bbercovici@rogers.com