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Resources To Prevent & Deal With Workplace Conflict With Customers and Colleagues
Dealing With Angry Employees (Article) 
 
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Management Skills 

Dealing With Angry Employees 

Anger is a force that can move an organization forward to 
improve, or, it can be a force that destroys the organization's 
ability to fulfil it's purpose on an everyday level. Managers 
play a critical role in determining which of these results will 
come about. The way the manager deals with conflict and anger 
will set the climate for employees. 

There are a number of different anger/conflict situations that 
managers will face at one time or another. Each of these 
situations is slightly different, and may require different sets 
of skills. 

. one employee angry or in conflict with another 
. employee angry or in conflict with manager (you) 
. one employee angry at someone in another organization 
. two factions that habitually square off 

We are going to look at employee angry that is directed towards 
you as a manager. 
 

The Anger Iceberg 

You should be aware that the anger you see is much easier to deal 
with than the anger that goes unexpressed by employees. You 
should also know that the large proportion of employee anger is 
not expressed directly to the "boss". It is this anger that is 
destructive to your organization since it will surface covertly 
through activities such as back-stabbing, un-cooperativeness, 
rumour spreading, and poor performance. 

One important management/leadership task is to be alert to cues 
that indicate that there is anger sitting below the surface, 
unexpressed. While it may be frustrating to bear the 
responsibility of identifying and dealing with the "iceberg under 
the surface", it is an important part of building a positive 
climate where conflict can be resolved. If you wait for an 
employee to broach the subject, when it is clear there is a 
problem, you may be sacrificing a great deal. 

We are going to focus on how employee anger that is out in the 
open can be dealt with so that there is a potential for 
increasing the level of respect and harmony, and by extension, 
productivity. 
 

Basic Principles 

1. Conflict/Angry situations become negative and destructive when 
they are not dealt with promptly and effectively. When the 
situations are dealt with properly, there is a tendency for a 
team to get stronger and better. 

2. While angry employees may appear to want a specific issue 
addressed, they are looking for something else that they see as 
equally or more important. They want to be heard. If you don't 
provide a means for them to be heard, they will find other more 
subversive ways to be heard (and you won't like it much). 

3. Staff will watch very closely to see how you handle anger 
directed at you. Even if you have a private discussion with an 
angry employee, staff will know about it. Your ability to lead 
will depend on your behaviour, and the interpretation of your 
behaviour. 

4. Most people react to anger directed at them with a fight or 
flight reaction. That is there is a gut reaction which, 
unchecked, results in "firing back" with an aggressive manner, 
defending oneself, OR, avoidance. Only in rare occasions will 
these gut reactions result in dealing with anger effectively. 
 

Tips & Techniques For Dealing With Overt Angry Behaviour 

1. When an employee expresses anger, deal with it as soon as 
possible. That doesn't mean in two weeks! By showing a desire to 
make time to discuss the situation, you are showing that you are 
concerned, and value the employee and his or her perceptions and 
feelings. Many performance problems reach crisis proportions as a 
result of delay in dealing with anger. 

2. Certain situations require privacy for discussion since some 
people will be unwilling to air their feelings at a public staff 
meeting. However, if anger is expressed in a staff meeting, you 
can develop a positive climate in the organization by dealing 
effectively with it in public. One technique is to ask the angry 
employee whether they would like to discuss it now, or prefer to 
talk about it privately. Let them call the shot. 

3. Always allow the employee to talk. Don't interrupt. If they 
are hesitant to talk, encourage them by using a concerned, 
non-defensive tone and manner, and gently use questions. For 
example: 

"You seem a bit upset. I would like to help even if you are angry 
at me. What's up?" 

4. If an employee refuses to talk about what's bothering them, 
consider adjourning by saying: 

"I can understand that you are hesitant to talk about this, but 
we would probably both be better off if we got it out in the 
open. Let's leave it for a few days and come back to it" 

Then follow up on the conversation. 

5. Respond to the employee's feelings first, not the issue 
underlying the feelings. Use empathy first by saying something 
like: 

"It sounds like you are pretty annoyed with me. I would like to 
hear your opinion". 

6. Before stating "your side" or your perception of the 
situation, make sure you have heard what the person said. Use 
active listening. 

"George, if I understand you correctly, you are angry because you 
feel that I have not given you very challenging assignments, and 
you feel that I don't have any confidence in your abilities. Is 
that right? 

7. If the employee's perceptions do not match your perceptions 
express your perceptions in a way that tries to put you and the 
employee on the same side. Your job is not to prove the employee 
wrong (even if they are). Trying to prove the employee is 
incorrect is likely to increase the anger level even if you are 
right. 

"George, I am sorry you feel that way. Let me explain what I 
think has happened so you can understand my thinking. Then we can 
work this out together." 
 

8. A technique used by expert negotiators is to establish 
agreement about something. Before getting into the issues 
themselves, lay the groundwork by finding something the two of 
you agree on. Again, the point here is to convey the message that 
you are on the same side. 

For example: 

"George, I think we agree that we don't want this issue to 
continue to interfere with our enjoyment of our work. Is that 
accurate?" 

9. At the end of a discussion of this sort, check with the 
employee to see how they are feeling. The general pattern is: 

 a) Deal with feelings first 
 b) Move to issues and problem-solving 
 c) Go back to feelings (check it out) 

 Ask the employee if they are satisfied with the situation, or 
simply ask "Do you feel a bit better?"  You may not always get a 
completely honest response, so be alert to tone of voice and non- 
verbal cues. 

If it appears that the employee is still upset or angry, you may 
want to let it pass for the moment. Allow the person to think 
about the situation away from you, THEN follow-up in a day or 
two. This is important because someone who is angry initially may 
"lose face" by letting the anger go immediately. Or, the employee 
might just need time to think about your discussion. 

Good luck! 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

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