Managing other people’s anger
Somebody else’s anger can be alarming, whether you’re the target or an on-looker. As a manager, it’s part of your duty of care for other employees to do something about such outbursts, even if you’re scared yourself.
Managing an employee’s anger
In the early stages, a bit of humour may help people lighten up, but beware of it backfiring. In the longer term, coaching and active performance management may help.
It’s important to find out what’s really going on. Displays of anger may have roots in circumstances such as ill-health, poor Stress Management or Disability. Your Listening Skills may be tested to get to the bottom of it. If several people are displaying anger, it may arise from Change in the organisation and how skilled you and/or those above you are at Communicating Change. Health and Safety issues may arise if anger escalates. If all else fails, you may need to invoke Disciplinary Procedures or Dismissal. So how can you stop it getting that far?
In specific episodes...
- Buy time, take a deep breath to get more oxygen into your brain and help it work better; drop your shoulders to release any physical tension. Find out if they’re actually angry, or just have high Personal Energy, the two of which can be easily confused. Perhaps suggest they come back and talk to you about it in a few minutes, maybe in a ‘quiet space’ or meeting room, depending on the lay-out of the building.
- Don’t take it personally: recognise that their anger is not about you, but an emotional reaction to the circumstances and how they ‘project’ that on to you. For example, as the ‘boss’, you may represent the ‘top-of-the-office’ that has decreed some sort of organisational change that has triggered their anger.
- Help them calm down: suggest they take a deep breath and so on, as above. Avoid the actual words ‘calm down’ though. They rarely help.
- Listen to what they say – to learn from them and clarify facts. Differentiate in your own mind between fact and opinion. The mere fact that someone is genuinely listening will tend to have a calming effect on an angry person.
- Validate their right to their opinion. Feeling ignored often underlies anger. So validate the person’s existence. You don’t have to agree with them, even if their anger is justified. Just acknowledge their right to that view. They have every right to a different opinion from yours.
- Help them to explain calmly to you what they’re angry about and why; remind them (if appropriate) that other people tend to react defensively to anger, so their point is more likely to be taken if it’s not pushed down their throat.
- Respond calmly. You don’t have to appease them; it’s about Assertiveness: standing your corner without aggression, using Nonviolent Communication.
- Agree action if appropriate (with timescales) to deal with the immediate cause of anger. Follow up, so that if either of you have agreed to do or find out something, you both know it’s been done. Maybe neither of you can do anything about the cause of anger. Your action may simply be Coaching them through how to deal with that fact. Some Negotiation may be needed.
Consider the wider context: there may be underlying factors to address, either to forestall future similar outbursts, or for the on-going wellbeing and effectiveness of the individual, the wider team, or indeed whole organisation. Think about the ‘whole’ person. For example, they may be experiencing
- High levels of stress at work or at home
- Exhaustion or ill-health
- Recent bereavement
- Harassment or bullying
- The effects of misusing drugs or alcohol.
- Practise managing your own anger. After all, maybe it’s you! Anger can be catching, and perhaps others’ displays of anger result from your own behaviour. If you suspect that to be the case, you might benefit from developing you own personal internal resources, such as levels of Confidence, or your Emotional Intelligence and Mental Toughness.
- Encourage open effective communications with and between your staff. This includes you – perhaps you could be Communicating Change better.
Managing your boss’s anger
The boss doesn’t get angry because they’re the boss. They get angry for the same reasons as everyone else. They’re feeling trapped, tormented, unfairly treated or ignored. Because of the power dynamic, it can be awfully tempting to appease them, but this can simply add to future problems. In many ways, dealing with an angry boss is like dealing with an angry customer. Remember that, as with anyone else, their behaviour may be affected by stress, ill-health, bereavement, bullying, or organisational change. And don’t discount drugs and alcohol abuse.
In the immediate moment, take a deep breath to protect your own inner state and buy some time. Focus on the facts, and listen for what’s really going on. Validate their right to their opinion, and agree some next steps. Of course, there’s an extra dimension in that they may have power of hire-or-fire over you, so it may pay to investigate and address any wider issues.
The angry customer
Usually, a customer gets angry with you if they feel no one has paid enough attention to an initial complaint. Their dander is up because of that feeling of being ignored or belittled. It doesn’t matter whether they’re right, wrong, or plain unreasonable. It doesn’t even matter all that much whether you can do anything about their complaint. Just show them you care. Take a deep breath to protect your own inner state and buy some time. Focus on the facts, and listen for what’s really going on. Validate their right to their opinion, and agree some next steps. You may convert a witch-hunter into an ambassador. (Have a look at the topics on NLP, Customer Relations, Nonviolent Communication and Negotiation.)