July 30, 2008

Anger at Work – How does it happen?

Knowing how to use emotions is critical to leadership success. In this and the next posts, I am going to focus on the emotion of anger – one of the most difficult ones to handle, particularly in the workplace. Here is my perspective on this sometimes confusing emotion.

Anger is a legitimate feeling – not bad in itself. Anger, like all emotions, is a signal. It sends a message to you about reality – or a perception, that something or someone has harmed or hurt you in some way. Perhaps you are experiencing an insult, or a boundary has been crossed. This could be a broken agreement, a way someone spoke to you, or about you. Some event has happened that signals mistrust or a breach in a relationship is at play. It is often accompanied by several bodily sensations such as a surge of energy, tightness in the chest, rise in body temperature, feeling flushed, eyes opening widely. Anger often registers on our faces, if we allow it. When it works as it should, we are compelled towards action. Everything in our body is telling us to move. That is the mechanism of protection. The emotion of anger is telling you to stand up for yourself, or address an issue.

Anger is a normal reality in organizational life. Work involves many opportunities for conflict, and the better you are able to deal with them, the more power you will exhibit. In fact, to the extent that you cannot handle anger, you will be unable to lead others, create trust on your teams and solve problems. There are many situations in which a leader experiences anger. The more important and personal they are, the more intensely anger will be felt. Here are a few examples:

  • A person you trust betrays you
  • An employee makes a serious mistake with a client and business is lost
  • You have discussed problematic behavior with another and she continues to do it, despite previous commitments
  • A co-worker dominates meetings with long stories that derails your team’s agenda
  • A peer regularly fails to respond on a timely basis to your emails
  • A promise is repeatedly broken with a variety of excuses
  • A vendor charges you far more than was promised
  • Anyone who has been in leadership for a significant period of time has experienced more than a few of these examples. They are often unavoidable.
That is my perspective on the emotion of anger. Since knowing how to use emotions is critical to leadership success, come back for my follow-ups on the emotion of anger with what the results are on work relationships and ideas what leaders can do about anger.

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