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Dealing with Anger at Work: Co-workers and Bosses Hold the Key to Transforming Anger

The key to dealing with anger at work is a supportive, compassionate response instead of sanctions, references to codes of conduct, or ignoring it, according to recently published research by two Temple University and University of Baltimore professors.

“Business codes of conduct are often about what we shouldn’t do as an angry employee in emotional episodes, while few, if any, tend to address our role as observers of emotional episodes,” say the co-authors of The Trouble with Sanctions: Organizational Responses to Deviant Anger Displays at Work. “Such guidelines, if available, could expand to include positive suggestions for those who witness, judge and respond to angry employees – formally or informally.”

“Deviant anger,” it’s important for you to understand, is contrasted to suppressed anger and is defined as “physical acts, intense verbal displays, and inappropriate communication.” In other words, expressed, intense anger.

The research revealed that when co-workers and management responded supportively to an angry employee, rather than doing nothing, scolding or sanctions, favorable change occurred, improving the problematic situation. It’s also worth noting that they found no connection between firing an irate employee and the solving of underlying workplace problems.

It’s information like this that highlights the problem with going straight to sanctions for managing overt anger and anger that may be interpreted as workplace bullying – dealing with anger that way may miss the mark…and the opportunity.

“Some of the most transformational conversations come about through expressed anger,” study co-author Dr. Deanna Geddes said.

Not sure how best to respond to intense anger in a supportive, compassionate way? Not sure of the best language choice, timing, or keeping your balance when dealing with another’s anger? These are some of the skills and approaches I help organizations and individuals master, both through one-on-one executive coaching and through professional development training. Give me a call and we can talk about how I can help you, your team and/or your organization turn conflict and anger into business and professional opportunity.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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