A red face, increased heart rate, tense expression, vocal tone changes—we’ve all seen it, experienced it, done it. Anger is a relatable emotion. However, just because we can relate to it doesn’t mean we all understand it in the same way. Our perspectives around anger may differ greatly and as a result contribute to more conflict.
In the workplace we often consider anger from a behavioural standpoint. Correct the behaviour and the emotion will not be a factor. The actual emotion itself is not identified and acknowledged and therefore never truly understood so the cycle of behaviour continues.
Problematic, without a doubt.
Where’d the anger come from?
That’s why it’s imperative that we recognize that in order to manage anger in the workplace we must understand what rung the anger alarm. What threat occurred to create the emotional reaction?
The emotion of anger is outlined by the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) as a mind-body signal indicating a disturbance to our systems.
Anger is a watchdog sleeping by a fireplace, an ever-ready alert system.
The anger could be a result of a threat to our basic needs. As a secondary emotion it goes on to say that it could be a defense against painful feelings or sensations, frustration or emotional threats. When we consider this as being all internal (our emotional state when angry) we can see that how we express it may not show what the emotional need is.
How’s the anger expressed?
The expression of anger, or the behaviour associated to being angry becomes more challenging to identify. Here’s an excerpt about anger as a behaviour:
Angry behaviour is the way in which our anger is expressed. Our repertoire of responses can range from apathy, to irritation, to violence. These responses are learned rather than pre-programmed or innate. They are often strategies aimed at punishment and/or retaliation, rather than strategies for taking care of the issue that provoked the anger. -JIBC, Dealing with anger
Understanding the dynamic between the emotion of anger and the behaviour that shows up is an important aspect to managing it in the workplace.
When the emotion appears, it’s a signal—understanding the signal is our job as human beings. Next is to identify the behaviour that comes as a result of the emotion. Finally, we need to take steps to manage the behaviour by identifying any fundamental problem that has not been addressed emotionally.
I can almost hear the responses as I write, “Really? Do I have to? Shouldn’t people just be able to take care of their own anger?” If only it were that simple. For those of you who lead, try to remember it’s hard to get over something that nobody acknowledges. Start there and see how much easier it gets when the emotion is identified, acknowledged and they there’s no reason to defend.
If there’s nothing to defend (emotional anger), there will be no need to express anger (behave towards perceived threat).