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Room To Discuss Workplace Conflict]
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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
. 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,
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
"George, I think we agree that we don't want this issue to
continue to interfere with our enjoyment of our work. Is that
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
completely honest response, so be alert to tone of voice and non-
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.