Most people have seen anger in the workplace. Since it’s a natural human emotion, we’re bound to see it from time to time. While some people get angry more quickly than others and others never seem to show it at all, there are three things all workers should know: why anger occurs, how to recognize its different forms and what do to with it.
Why Anger Occurs
Everyone is born with the emotion of anger. As babies, we can’t talk, so anger is useful for helping us get our needs met. If we’re hungry, we get fussy. If we’re thirsty, we get fussy. If we need a diaper change, we get fussy. Then, when someone notices we’re getting fussy, they consider what might be causing the fuss and address the issue.
Eventually we learn to talk and – hopefully – we’re taught to ask for things to get our needs met. But if you’ve ever seen an elementary-age child throwing a temper tantrum, it’s fair to say the child is still using anger to get his or her needs met. Adults who use anger are doing the same thing.
When it all boils down, people have two reasons for why they display anger:
- something is happening that they don’t want to happen
- something is not happening that they want to happen
If a person has not learned alternative methods for achieving his or her desires, such a person may default to what worked in his or her infant and toddler years – anger.
Also, know that some people use anger as an intimidation tool. This approach works on people who dislike being around conflict, because such people will do whatever is necessary to avoid the conflict. Thus, a person may use anger to manipulate such people.
Anger also works on people who want to be liked. If person A wants to be liked by person B and person B gets angry about something, person A will often move mountains to ensure person B stops being angry. Sadly, if person B knows this, he or she may choose to display anger just to get his or her way.
Some people say anger can be a response when someone senses a loss of control, but really, this ties to the two bullet points above. Think about it. If something is happening (or not happening) that you don’t want (or want) to happen, you may display some form of anger to influence (or manipulate) what’s going on. It’s a way of regaining a sense of control in the situation.
Types of Anger
Typically, we think of anger as aggressive, outward behaviors. Someone raises his or her voice or slams a door or hits a wall or desk. Such a person may even throw things or get physical with others. Displays of external anger are easy to recognize.
But anger can also be internal. The phrase “beating yourself up emotionally” is actually an inward display of anger. Internal anger can also occur through self-harm, such as cutting, or emotionally isolating oneself from others.
A third type is passive-aggressive anger. This includes acts that damage someone else’s property, reputation or psyche through a subtle action that has plausible deniability. This can include “conveniently forgetting” to do something, shutting someone out of a decision-making process or completing an assignment late or not to an expected level of quality.
People often rationalize their reasons for displaying any of these types of anger, but those reasons will always boil down to something not happening that they want to happen, or something happening that they don’t want to happen.
What to Do with Anger
It’s a good idea to find ways to get things done without resorting to anger because anger is truly not healthy for us. According to Chris Aiken, MD, an instructor of clinical psychiatry at Wake Forrest University School of Medicine, “In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles.”
Studies also show that people who have outbursts of anger are three times more likely to have a stroke within two hours of the outburst.
But you can’t just repress anger, either. Aiken also says that repressing anger doubles one’s risk of having coronary disease. Anger is also known to weaken our immune systems.
Remember that anger, whether it’s external, internal or passive-aggressive, is simply an attempt to regain a sense of control. A danger also exists if a person holds that mindset for a long period of time, as it can lead to anxiety, stress, substance abuse and even depression.
The good thing is we have other choices. Healthy alternatives to anger are almost always available, it’s just that we must learn them.
In my professional background, I know we can’t unlearn things, we can simply learn alternative actions and choose them instead. Therefore, one way to regain a sense of control without using anger is identifying and choosing healthier alternatives for regaining peace and/or confidence.
One great method is to realize that when we get angry, there’s almost always something we could have done differently so that whatever happened didn’t happen that way. Many times that action has to do with planning and communication. After all, most co-workers aren’t clairvoyant.
Specialists also recommend counting or taking deep breaths or going for a walk, and yes, those types of actions can be helpful. If you have the time to do an activity that gives you a short-term sense of control, it’s probably a good idea to choose it. It will calm you down enough to think through a larger, more difficult situation that leads you to be angry.
But, for long-term solutions, I recommend my clients think though what they could do differently in the future to prevent a troublesome, anger-inducing problem from happening again. That type of thinking leads to long-term growth – and decreasing the number of times one gets angry.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular trainer on workplace issues. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach him on his office phone, 208-375-7606, or through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.