Managing Anger And Aggressive Behaviour In The Workplace

Most conflicts within and involving people revolve around unfulfilled needs, primarily the psychological need for control, recognition, affection, and respect.

You can’t change someone’s behavior, but you can change how you react to them. Finding ways to blame and derail someone is destructive, but considering ways to interact constructively will likely change the experience and outcome.

Inability to effectively deal with aggression and conflict in the workplace may result in a considerable loss of productivity and, most likely, adversely impact others who work there. In addition, challenging behaviors can inhibit others’ performance and will only deteriorate if left alone, contaminating more people and incurring hidden costs for the organization.

Why Do People Get Angry Or Aggressive?

Everyone has triggers for what makes them angry. It is how we interpret situations that make us mad. Common triggers are when a person may feel:

  • threatened or attacked.
  • Frustrated or powerless.
  • We’re being invalidated or mistreated.
  • People are not respecting our feelings or possessions.

Just because we interpret things differently doesn’t mean we are misinterpreting things. Our interpretations depend on factors in our life, including childhood and upbringing, past experiences, and current circumstances. Understanding how we interpret things can help find a suitable resolution.

How Is Anger Displayed? 

Three types of Anger help shape how we react in a situation that makes us angry. These are Passive aggression, open aggression, and assertive anger.

Passive Aggression. This is when people pretend everything is fine, becoming silent and sensitive. Usually, this means people don’t like to admit they feel angry or want a confrontation.

Open Aggression. Open aggression is perceived when others can lash out in anger and rage, becoming physically or verbally aggressive. Open aggression comes from a need to be in control.

Assertive Anger. The healthy way to manage anger is constructive, calm, and fair with an open approach to discussion. It is about finding a mutual understanding and, ultimately, a solution. It means being open and flexible to the other side, being patient, and not raising your voice or name-calling. Assertive anger can help relationships strengthen and grow because it shows you’re willing to take the time to find a solution.

Why Do Feelings Matter? 

Emotions are the force behind everything we do. Through our lives, we develop ways to express anger, upset, and disappointment. Hostility is ineffective at solving problems as all it achieves is fuelled aggression and suppression of another person. Open communications are necessary for a healthy and positive environment. People must feel safe that their expression will be met with solutions and not receive retaliatory responses.

The best way to resolve silent conflict is to request a constructive balanced discussion. Ask for the other person’s views first. Don’t react, and give yourself time to think and remain focused. Instead, try and understand what the other person is saying and ask them to speak about their interests and feelings, not position. If you encourage the expression of negative emotions without the fear of punishment or aggression, you have an increased likelihood that your own terms will also be accepted.

The Conflict Resolution Process:

Create An Effective Atmosphere

Conflicts cannot be resolved when people are angry and emotions are running high. So instead, start the discussion positively and openly, ensuring that both people can be heard and listened to.

If anyone is angry, postpone the session until emotions are stable. A neutral and quiet place such as a coffee shop is more appropriate than summoning people into an office where they are likely to feel judged or intimidated.

Attack The Problem, Not The Person

Be objective, not subjective. Please focus on the problem, not the person presenting it. Try to understand the situation and possibilities for settling it. Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s behavior. Instead, clarify by asking to repeat what was said. Always be respectful, don’t interrupt, and maintain open body language and a positive tone.

Clarify Perceptions

Provide time at the beginning where each person can state their views. Avoid confrontational language and blame statements such as “you didn’t do that.” Instead, communicate your observations and feelings about the event. For example, “I noticed the schedule was running behind, and I was worried that it had not been checked.”

Avoid abusive or inflammatory remarks. For example, if you say, “You are dysfunctional and abusive!” or “You are never on time,” the listener is likely to shut down or become defensive. The other person will retaliate, and it becomes a vicious circle and a negative atmosphere. However, if you rephrased these statements with “I felt hurt by the comments made” or “Can we discuss ways in which we could agree about times?” the listener is more likely to engage in the conversation.

You must demonstrate active listening. If you are looking at the ground, have your arms tightly crossed, or a hand on your hip, you show body language, which signals you are not engaged in what they have to say. Keep calm and centered. By using paraphrasing, such as “So what you are saying is that you are angry because you did complete the task, but it wasn’t checked?” This provides a safe space for the other person to feel heard.

Focus On Interests Not Positions 

If you find out what each person wants and needs, both parties are working toward a consensus. Both parties’ needs and interests are considered. Then, there is an attempt to find something that works for both.

The problem with communication breakdown is not always about conflicting positions but conflicting interests. The underlying interest might be a lack of training and a fear of competition with a skilled co-worker, but what is communicated is blame. One person may feel undermined, so they feel a threat to their reputation, whereas others may have merely been trying to do a good job to increase their own position in the company. Interests motivate people, and it is the silent intent behind the voice of anger.

Just because a position is opposed doesn’t mean the interest must be opposed. It is better to examine interests rather than positions.

Several possible solutions could satisfy every interest, but people often adopt the most obvious position. Such as with the example above, it may be revealed that both wish for stability. A deeper and more open conversation may reveal both want stability and good working relationships.

Employees can often begin to blame each other when the underlying cause sits within, such as organizational culture or functions.

Perceptions Can Blur What You See

People tend to see what they want to see, and this view is their truth. People will select the information that confirms their prior perception. It is essential to be aware of this in yourself and others. It is constructive to suggest both parties discuss how they perceive the situation. Most often, what has been perceived as not what was intended. Starting a constructive discussion can provide an opportunity to find solutions to accommodate another perspective. This requires the art of active listening, where you must resist the urge to interrupt, especially as you wish to reform the other person’s point of view.

Anytime you demonstrate a willingness to listen to the other person without being impatient, defensive, or critical, you demonstrate that you are being understood and respected and earn the right for it to be reciprocated. This does not mean you become passive and compliant. Communication is about taking turns by talking to find mutual understanding. A good way to achieve this to restate the other person’s position and ask them to confirm yours. Working on feedback and confirmation will leave no room for misunderstanding, and it creates a positive action towards finding mutual ground and respect. This doesn’t make you responsible for their feelings; just aware of them to avoid the one-sided dueling that hostility can take.

Don’t Take it Personally

Holding onto the resentment of people you work with punishes you as much as it does them. If you associate the person with anger and hostility, the label becomes self-fulfilling, and the work dynamic will begin to erode into all workplace areas.

Take A Positive Approach

It is important to maintain a positive democratic approach. Start the meeting emphasizing that together, the aim is to find a solution to the problem. Emphasize that this is not the time to highlight failures of the past.

Generate Options

Offer a brainstorming approach to get out as many ideas as possible without commenting on them. Instead, treat each idea as new material to help solve the problem. This takes the discussion on to a higher level, as the focus switches to solution finding, no problem finding.

Develop Steppingstones To Action

Go through the ideas and determine which will work. Set goals and develop an action plan in which both individuals will have a win-win situation. Create short steps or daily wins, clarifying both parties what is required for everyone to win.

Focus On The Future Relationship

It is crucial to create a joint problem-solving discussion, and it should not be about proving who is wrong. By both people taking ownership of the problem, an agreement can be reached with respect and dignity. This approach can deepen trust in a relationship because both know that the relationship is far more important than the problem. What has happened may be either critical or trivial, but it can also be perceived.

Part On Good Terms

It is essential to treat the other person with dignity and respect. Thank the person for discussing the issue with you. You may disagree with them but leave with a comment such as “Thank you for meeting with me. I will give your comments some thought. Maybe we could meet again next week to talk about a new way forward?”