How to deal with anger at work

Dealing with anger at work

Here’s an interesting question that I got yesterday:

My husband and I are currently sitting on the sofa, enjoying our day off and writing down our goals for 2008. While doing so, my husband has brought up the topic of work. Here is his statement in a nutshell: I think you are very angry about work in general and need professional help.

In searching for “help,” I came across your website.

Here’s my question: after being laid off in September and being forced to change careers from the mortgage industry to a more secure industry is there “help” out there for dealing with the anger I now have because I was forced to change careers at 39 years old and what can I do in the meantime so that my “anger” doesn’t spill into my new career?

Thank You,
Yvonne

This question is interesting for many reasons, most notably because this is obviously making Yvonne unhappy at work in her new job. If it’s come to the point where her husband believes she needs professional help, it’s probably also affecting her at home.

Also, Yvonne is far from alone. A lot of people face major changes at work. When they are laid off, when their company is bought by a competitor or when major reorganizations fundamentally change their working conditions. Large scale change has become a fact of corporate life and many of us react to it by getting mad.

Below you’ll find my top 5 tips for dealing with anger when when you’re going through major change at work.

I apologize in advance for venturing maybe a little too close to therapy-land in this post. I honestly don’t want to go all Dr. Phil on you guys, but dealing with anger is not possible without taking a look at what goes on inside your head. OK? OK!

5 steps for dealing with anger at work

Step 1: Accept that being angry is perfectly natural
When we’re faced with large changes in life and at work, we all have to go through the grief cycle, which has the following stages:

  1. Denial: The initial stage: “It can’t be happening.”
  2. Anger: “Why me? It’s not fair.”
  3. Bargaining: “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”
  4. Depression: “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”
  5. Acceptance: “It’s going to be OK.”

I’m honestly not sure how scientifically established this model is, but I certainly find it very useful in the work I do with organizations that are going through major change.

Last year, I did some work with a branch of the Danish Tax Authority – an organization that has gone through enormous change and reorganization in the last year.

When I presented a simplified version of this model to them, I could see people breathing sighs of relief. One participant even exclaimed “NOW you tell us!” Many of them had been angry or depressed about these changes, but nobody had told them that this is normal. Consequently, many of them felt bad about what they were feeling – which of course only made them more angry or depressed.

It’s important to accept your own anger as perfectly OK. Being angry is hard enough. Being angry while telling yourself “I really mustn’t be angry” is infinitely worse :o)

This does not give you blanket permission to throw tantrums right and left – it just means that being angry is OK, not that every display of anger is allowed.

Step 2: Find out what your anger does for you – good or bad
What does being angry do for you? Think back to previous situations where you have been angry at work and ask yourself how it affects eg.:

  1. You
  2. Your relationships with co-workers
  3. The quality of your work
  4. Your energy
  5. Your well-being and health
  6. How you feel outside of work
  7. Your relationships with friends and family

For each of these, include both the good and the bad. Maybe being angry gives you a lot of clout and influence on the job… but it also means that co-workers tend to avoid you. Maybe being angry feels stressful… but it also saves you from being taken advantage of at work.

And here is a crucial question: What other emotions, questions and doubts are you free from dealing with because you’re angry? When your anger consumes you, which other painful or difficult considerations are you free from thinking about? What would you have to feel/think about/deal with/do something about if you were not angry?

Step 3: Find out what makes you angrier and less angry
What makes you angrier? Which thoughts, situations, people, conversations set you off?

Conversely, what makes you less angry? I’m sure you’re not angry every second of every day :o) What gives you peace – or at least distracts you from the anger?

Find out – then start doing less of what makes you angry and more of the things that calm you down.

Step 4: Focus on gratitude
What are you grateful for? As I mentioned above, anger is part of the grief cycle which is associated with loss. Gratitude is the polar opposite of loss, because it obviously comes from the good things you have in your life.

It’s simple. Every evening, sit down with a piece of paper (and maybe a glass of wine) and make two gratitude lists:

  1. 3 things I was grateful for at work today
  2. 3 things I was grateful for in life today

It can be big things or small things – obvious stuff or weird stuff. Whatever makes you feel happy and grateful.

If you need some inspiration, check out Scott Nutter who has been doing daily gratitude posts on his blog for 334 days running now.

Step 5: Shift your focus from “What was done to me” to “What I can do”
I know, I know – this is the basic staple of all self-help advice.

As in “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.”

As in “Life is 10% about what happens to you and 90% about how you deal with it.”

As in “You must take responsibility for your own situation, rather than be a victim of.”

That kind of advice can get pretty nauseating. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

3 things NOT to do

There are also some things you should avoid doing.

1: Don’t vent
Common knowledge holds that when you’re angry, you should vent to get it off your chest. Interestingly, studies indicate that venting just makes us even angrier.

2: Don’t try to justify your anger
When you’re feeling angry don’t waste time and energy justifying it – either to yourself or others.

Well that guy was a jerk at the staff meeting and the way I was treated in the last reorg was totally unfair and my manager still hasn’t apologized and some guy cut me off in traffic on the way home and…

You’re angry, that’s enough. You don’t have to list all the reasons why you’re angry. Again, that just makes you even angrier.

3: Don’t stay trapped in your job
There is an amazing amount of peace and calm to be found in the simple fact that “I’m free to leave and find another job.” Conversely, knowing that you’re trapped in your current job makes everything much worse.

Read my previous posts on How to lose your fear of being fired and the Top 10 advantages of low-rent living for more on this.

Your take

What about you? Have you tried being really angry because of major changes in your work life? How did it affect you? How did you handle it? Please write a comment, I’d really like to know!

Related posts

  1. The Feel Factor – Why no workplace can afford to ignore what people feel
  2. How not to let annoying people annoy you
  3. How to turn around a bad day at work

18 thoughts on “How to deal with anger at work”

  1. On a related note, people often tend to favor stage five after reading about the Kbler-Ross model. To help make my point, let’s consider two kinds of acceptance. 1. Pseudo-acceptance: “This is an unpleasant situation. I feel angry, but it’s OK.” 2. Actual-acceptance: “This is an unpleasant situation. I don’t feel angry. I can change the situation dispassionately and thus sensibly.”

    Be totally rid of anger.

  2. Alex, we could add that anger is usually a secondary emotion with another emotion lying deeper below. It could be frustration, anxiety, fear, etc that’s really driving the anger. Often figuring out what that primary emotion is helps to deal with the anger. In Yvonne’s case, her anger may be rooted in a sense of helplessness. She didn’t ask for this change…it was imposed on her and now she has to deal with it.

    I also have to offer an alternative view to ‘venting.’ While I can appreciate the research that’s been done on this subject, it’s not always harmful. Much depends on the emotional intelligence of the individual. If the intent of the venting is to release and uncover what the anger is really about, then there’s an obvious benefit. It’s a heck a lot better than holding it in, dwelling on it, or simply wishing it away.

  3. Thank you, Alex, for yet another constructive post – and happy new year!

    Something that I’ve returned to time and time again since I read it the first time in a book by Julie Henderson is that:
    “Anger is the energized frustration we feel when we want to change something and so far, we can’t. This same energy arises whenever we want to change something – doesn’t matter what. Is is the energy we set in motion to do anything […]. We only call it anger when we encounter a difficulty in doing what we want to do.” (The Lover Within, 1999, page 99)

    What this told me was that anger is beneficial, it is a drive to change things. Used the right way, it is a constructive force, not a destructive one.

  4. Venting CAN be helpful – just in getting things off your chest. However that’s probably best done outside of the work environment yo unow find yourself in!!
    At any rate, anger can push you to do deconstructive things – suck as get yourself fired – or, conversely, be constructive and get yo uthinking about how you can change this new situation you find yourself in. Either by changing your attitude towards it or by finding something else – or even by becoming self employed.
    I was pushed out of a job I loved by circumstances beyond my control. I found another position fairly quickly, paying what I made in my last job, however things at my new job are VERY different. I’m just not a cubicle person who follows rules very well. But I’m a hard worker – and very creative, plus I have background in advertising, bookkeeping and how to run a business…so I am thinking that running my own business may be the way to go.

  5. Alex,

    Thanks for the mention. This is one of the reasons I decide to post what I previously kept in a journal…..to show people that the exercise can be done every day…..easily.

    HappyUP!!!

  6. Hi:
    I just read your site and it describes the situation that I went through. I was burned out and left my job after coming back from stress leave because nothing had changed. I am taking a break and will probably do childcare at home or something like that starting next September.
    I had been a government welfare social worker for 8 and a half years and I just started taking my job too seriously and the comments of others. I just felt frustrated, and struggled to keep up with the demands. It is typical that over the years that I was there, I saw many people come and go because they just burned out. Everyone fights and shares their stress around, and it was hard to leave, but I just had to get out. I guess I left before things got ugly and they had to take further action. I felt that it was getting to that point and I had a lot of anger. Thanks for the information and the comments of the other helped me feel that this was not all my fault. I felt that it was my fault and after I got help, I realized that mostly everyone burns out in that occupation after 5 years. Everyone there was just like me. Thanks Sandra

  7. A few years ago I was restructured out of a career, not just a job. It was not the first time I’d been through a layoff that necessitated a career change, but this time around I’m still feeling fallout from it 6 years down the road, especially with regard to my income, which dropped significantly. So, there are times when I still feel resentment and frustration over the situation.

    I know there are a lot of people in the same boat, and many who are worse off than I, and I think that anger over major workplace changes is a timely topic to post about, as we seem to be in the throes of yet another economic downturn with more company restructuring ahead.

    I don’t have any answers though, about dealing with anger over this situation. In my own case, I went back to school, forged a new career and plodded along regardless of how angry or frustrated I was feeling at times (which is not to say I was NEVER happy or satisfied). But when you’re sole support for a child you do what you have to do to get by, and if that means you don’t always walk around with a big smile on your face (and who does?) that’s just the way it is.

    However, I would not be able to afford another career change after this, if one were to become necessary, because I spent my savings going back to school and supplementing my underemployment while making the whole transition. So, I’m hoping I chose wisely enough that things will be stable for now.

    Other than that, in my opinion, happiness or satisfaction in the workplace is highly subjective and individual. It has a lot to do with finding the right fit for you – chemistry with your coworkers, whether you like what you do, and whatever other aspects of a job are meaningful to you (such as a short commute, benefits, etc.). While personal happiness is part “positive mental attitude,” that’s not the whole of it, in my opinion.

  8. Hello,

    I have finished my MBA and got a job in a freight forwarding company. Unfortunately due to my fathers accident I have to go back home. I went home with a sanctioned leave but as I have worked only for 2 months, it was too early to ask for a leave. But it was an emergency, still I went with the leave sanctioned by the Vice President of the company.
    When I came back I saw someone else sitting at my chair and I was told my services were replaced and I can work as a receptionist.
    I left that job just after 2 months, it was very difficult to find a new job.

    Finally after 2 months I have got 1 job in Sales, previously I was in Operations and I personally dont like sales or marketing as I dont have patience and convincing power which is very important for sales. I am stuck with a job which I dont like and I dont have the urge to do it, plus the manager is rude, abusive and behave as if I am his personal servant.

    First he was assistant manager, and in spite of abusing the management, he is promoted. I have finished only 1 month and I am not happy with my job, but I have to keep on working as I have to repay my education loan.

    Please advice ,(if you have any :-)

  9. I am about to loose my job, because of the way i talk to people. My boss has written me up 3 times(including today) because managers have talked to him about the way i talk to them. I do not know what to do. I do not know if i am angry or if i just dont know how not to say what i feel. Either way, one more strike i am out.
    I get upset because this is my first office job and i love to learn all the things that i have learned here.
    but…. i do not have enough time to finish things because i am doing the same thing every week and the people that i work with screw up every time. I do not understand, the reports are the same every week, the people are the same every week .. and i am there every week to help if they need. Instead of asking for help. They do it wrong, they dont check their work, they dont care if its wrong because they know i will fix it. They do not care if it will take 5 hours of my day. This week i did the job of a person… his whole job for a whole week that he did not do i did it the best i could in one day. All i needed is for him to come in to work and tell me the names of people i needed to finish the report. Instead he left early to go to the doctor(which is fine.. if you need to go, you need to go!) But i received no e-mails, no phone calls, no messages from him. The whole report was messed up at the end of the day. I got written up. Today.. i get written up because i called him asking him why he did not call me or sent me a message telling me he wasnt coming.. is that too much to ask? i want to know if i should take an anger management course…. HELP!!!!!

    DD

  10. Hi, Me and a friend of mine decided to go into business together,opening a hair salon. She is not there as much as I am nor does she clean the shop like I do, but she does do all the paper work from home and keeps excellient record and such. She is a wonderful,person.But a very much in control type person..She come in the shop and decides that she will start changing things around.She is always trying to make changes with something..I told her that,the desk did not need to be moved and everthing is a issue with her..i really try not to be angry.but sometimes she has a way of hitting the wrong button.I try to take to my husband and all he says is you two need to talk. Well guess what.. we do and she still want her way.Then my daughter has worked at the same station for almost 2 yrs. and she walks in and says that it is in the best intrest of the shop that I work in your spot.My daughter was ask if she would mind to move and she said that she did not want to give up her station.and if a person ask and some one says no then …End of Story ..I really do lots of praying about this and try to have a better attitude and i do sometimes,but stillI get tired of feeling like I let her get by with a lot and just pretend that all will get better.. I need some feed back….. lynn

  11. ive read eveything on this webpage and nothing helps. im so mad i could throw my computer at my mom. somebody please help this is the 6th time shes done what shes done and right about know im fed up

  12. Im about to get fired ,Iam suspended right now ,I got angry ,I walked Off in a huff after the suspension ,I am angry and I have tendency to behave erractic,rant,babble ,I dont want to do that again .I want to handle the firing ,meeting, better . I try to stay calm but my temper is so hot ,I cry , I loose my cool . How to control my reactions ? Help .

  13. Am HRM, my operational manager received a call from security officer who was on site. S/o did not followed the instruction from S/p. S/o was shouting to his senior. I was lessoning for what their arguing because ops put him on speaker and S/o shows me that he dont have respect and he dont know how to control his anger. How am I deal with that situation as HRM.

  14. Great post poeple tend to be confused of what to do when they are angry. Nothing really makes us annoined so much like relationships.

    Relationships are often disturbed by passive aggressive behavior, you may have gone wrong some day with your partner and you thought you resolved the issue yet the one of you actually did not let it go, she/he continues to act weirdly. . In an intimate relationship, this often turns into emotional abuse. Without counseling, a pattern develops and the person may sabotage intimate relationships, friendships and work relationships.

    “I think there is very valuable information in the ebook, Stop! That’s Crazy-Making! How to Recognize, Respond to & Recover from Passive-Aggressive Behavior & People, which you can find in PDF format at http://www.forrelationshiphelp.com/products-page/ebooks

  15. In previous professions, I rarely blow up on the job. In the profession I have had for the past 3 months, I have blown up twice towards a supervisor and a few times towards co-workers. I just moved about 200 miles north of my hometown for this job. Previously, for the majority of my life, I was frequently angry when I was not at work. My home-life was in shambles and I sought counseling for it. Now that has been in the past ( 5 years now), I find that same angry popping up on the job. I did read this article and many things triggered “ah-ha!” or a “light-bulb” for me.

    However, I am afraid I have inadvertently created a reputation for myself at work now and am unsure of how to repair it.

  16. Great stuff. Anger is a inevitable human emotion, which walks in and out of everyone’s life at some point of time. It effects our relationships when anger is out of control. Notice the situation when you feel anger be cool and calm if possible try to leave the place for sometime. Breathe slowly and relax.

  17. I am so going through this right now. I am so angry about reorganization at work that I am having everyone at work and home. I need to keep reading this before I kill all my relationships and my good will.

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