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Managing Anger in the Workplace

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Relationships at work tend to be interdependent, competitive, hierarchical, overexposed, and compulsory. Keeping the interests of yourself, your boss, your peers, your subordinates, your vendors, and your customers in alignment all the time is impossible. Meanwhile, you must also contend with competitors and unpredictable markets. Thus, for most people, work involves a constant juggling of-and wrestling with-competing interests. Whether the stakes are pecuniary, psychological, or both, they are always on the line in every interaction at work. While the workplace is an environment more likely to provoke feelings of anger, the consequences of poorly managed anger in the workplace may be much greater than in other contexts. At the same time, if managed effectively, anger can be a positive and productive emotion producing valuable data, as well as considerable motivation. Managing Anger in the Workplace will help you understand the costs and benefits of anger in the workplace; diagnose anger and common anger syndromes; use the underlying causes of anger as data to continually improve relationships, systems, practices, and policies; and manager anger in yourself, in others, and in your team.

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CHAPTER 1 Anger in the Workplace

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Managing Anger in the Workplace

The next thing Mary knew, she was handing a state trooper her license and registration. “I’m sorry, officer,” she said, “I’m just in a big hurry. I’m running late.” He was unimpressed. “Everyone here would like to drive in the breakdown lane. But I suppose you’re special, right?” Mary said nothing. After an agonizing five-minute wait, the officer handed back her license and registration, along with a fifty-dollar ticket.

Now Mary was really late. So late, in fact, that the lot where she usually parked was full. By the time she found a parking spot, hiked the extra distance to her building, and made it to her office, she was in no mood for the nasty-toned voice mail her boss had left for her.

“Mary, where are you?” he wanted to know. “It’s ninethirty. I’d better hear from you by ten o’clock!” She took a deep breath and headed for the ladies’ room to collect herself before dealing with the rest of her day.

On her way out the office door, John, her assistant, came walking swiftly in her direction. “Mary,” he said,

 

CHAPTER 2 The Costs of Anger in the Workplace

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Managing Anger in the Workplace

revenge may be obvious. But not so the more subtle costs of anger: personal damage ranging from diminished career prospects to diminished health; workgroup damage ranging from lost work time to lost innovation; and organizational damage ranging from increased absenteeism to increased turnover. While it is difficult to calculate the monetary value of direct and indirect costs to individuals and organizations, we can enumerate some of the leading costly impacts of poorly managed anger.

Impact on the Angry Person

It was once thought that venting anger was healthier than holding it in. Today most findings indicate that angry people suffer negative effects whether they vent their feelings or not. Anger in the individual causes strong emotional and physical responses resulting in impaired cognitive and physical functioning. Poorly managed anger, then, can damage your career, and if the anger is chronic, it can result in long-term health problems.

Here are the specifics:

 

CHAPTER 3 The Benefits of Anger in the Workplace

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Managing Anger in the Workplace

➥ EXERCISE: Case Example

Directions: Read the case example below and then consider the questions that follow it.

Tim went into a performance-appraisal meeting expecting news of a healthy pay raise from his boss. He had been integral to a software-product team that had persevered through difficult circumstances to deliver a high-quality, highly marketable product. That the delivery had been several days over the promised deadline seemed negligible to Tim; the software already looked like it would be a major success.

However, at the meeting, his boss informed him that the company was being strict about deadlines. The team’s late delivery thus meant he would not receive much of a raise. The boss was apologetic but stuck to the company guidelines, arguing that there were several points at which the team could have taken action to get the product out on time.

TIM WAS FURIOUS. He had worked many long days and nights to ensure the product would be a success. Now that devotion and hard work was to be overlooked in deference to a bureaucratic deadline? It was intolerable!

 

CHAPTER 4 Diagnosing Anger

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Managing Anger in the Workplace

each “patient,” anger may be repressed or expressed; and if it is expressed, it may be expressed directly or indirectly.

The Over- and Under-Expression of Anger

Again, in thinking about anger and the problems that it causes in the workplace, we tend to focus on people who over-express their anger by behaving aggressively.

However, as mentioned earlier, people who under-express anger pose an equally important problem. In some cases, such people are not even aware of their anger. In other cases, they feel anger but express it in subtle ways. Perhaps they don’t want to seem out of control or they’ve been taught that shows of anger are bad and can only make a situation worse. Perhaps they work someplace where anger is tacitly forbidden, where people who express anger are shut down by others, especially in a work-group situation. Or maybe they’re what psychologists refer to as “anger-in” types.

Researchers have long made a distinction between anger-out types and anger-in types. Anger-out types tend to experience intensely angry feelings and overexpress those feelings in hostile behavior, such as door slamming, yelling, and throwing things. Anger-in types tend to under-express their anger. They suppress their feelings of anger and direct those feelings inward, harboring secret grudges.

 

CHAPTER 5 Focus on the Source

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5. Focus on the Source

While people may differ in the specifics of what makes them angry, the causes usually have one common denominator: interpersonal dynamics—relationships between and among people. Every person has a basic need to value him- or herself and to feel valued by others. Yet when people’s self-esteem is threatened, they’re reluctant to admit it, even to themselves.

Some leading psychologists argue that anger is driven by primary emotions that attack self-esteem; these include feelings of betrayal, disapproval, deprivation, exploitation, frustration, humiliation, manipulation, restriction, and threat. Such emotions can be traced to any of a wide range of causes, from broad contextual circumstances to highly personal impulses. We may categorize the causes into five troublesome areas:

1. Anger at the system

2. Perceived inequity

3. Blocked goals

4. Divergent values

5. Unequal power relations

1. Anger at the System

Today many factors beyond our control create a broad context more likely to produce anger. In our highly interdependent and interconnected global economy, events halfway around the world can come knocking on our door and make us feel threatened and insecure.

 

CHAPTER 6Dealing WithYour Own Anger

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6. Dealing With Your Own Anger

Anger is one of the most difficult emotions to explore, so congratulations on completing the self-assessment.

Perhaps you’re one small step closer now to understanding your own anger.

If you think that you have problems with chronic anger—if you have repeatedly harmed others directly or indirectly with your anger or if others have observed that you have a violent temper—you should consider the help of a psychotherapist. However, even with the assistance of a professional (or someone whom you trust deeply and who knows you well), ultimately it is you who must evaluate and address your anger. Many people go through their entire lives without ever examining their deep feelings rigorously and honestly.

All of us need to do this, though.

Six-Step Process for Managing

Your Anger

Once you’ve grappled with your feelings, the next challenge is managing your anger by following these steps:

1. Avoid anger.

2. Calm yourself physically.

3. Think logically.

4. Express your feelings appropriately and effectively.

 

CHAPTER 7 Dealing With the Angry Individual

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Managing Anger in the Workplace

the person tend to listen? Does the person have a track record of responding well to feedback?

2. Your relationship with the individual. Do you have some kind of rapport with the person? Is the person in a position of authority over you

(boss, customer)? Are you in a position of authority over the other person (subordinate, vendor)? Is the person a peer?

3. The nature of the angry expression. Has the individual over-expressed his or her anger?

Under-expressed it? Very effectively and appropriately expressed it?

4. The gravity of the anger. Is the person mildly irritated, furious, or somewhere in between?

5. The underlying cause. Can the cause be addressed easily? Is the cause beyond easy remedy? Can the cause be addressed at least partially? Is the cause beyond remedy entirely?

6. Your particular style. Are you outgoing?

Introverted? Direct? Indirect? Confrontational?

Non-confrontational?

In the workplace, you interact with many people: customers, vendors, peers, subordinates, and bosses. Any of them can become angry for any number of reasons, and it is not always your responsibility to become directly involved with that anger. Sometimes it’s best

 

CHAPTER 8 Dealing With Anger in Your Organization or Team

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CHAPTER 8

Dealing With Anger in

Your Organization or Team

IF YOU ARE IN A POSITION of organizational or team leadership, you should continually assess the workplace to identify its strengths and weaknesses. This should include the tracking of anger. We’ve discussed the high costs that an organization or a team can incur if anger is poorly managed. And we know that anger is unavoidable because the workplace involves complex relationships, high stakes, significant pressure, and many forces beyond our immediate control. While it can be difficult to manage anger in ourselves and others, dealing with anger in organizations and teams can pose our greatest challenge, especially if the anger is pervasive and derived from systemic causes.

To get an idea of the state of anger in your organization or team, complete the assessment on the next page. It will bring you a step closer to understanding what role anger is playing in your organization or team. If you find that anger is a significant problem, you must take

 

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