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How to Handle Anger at Work and Home

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What makes you angry? 

Anger is a good thing when it is justified, clearly expressed, and leads to negotiation. It may lead to much-needed changes in relationships and society; anger over their lack of voting rights gave women the vote and anger from a parent keep a 3-year-old from running into the street. 

Anger also motivates people to conquer their fear; anger over Pearl Harbor, for example, helped to rally troops for World War II. Finally, anger can serve as a temporary release during difficult conversations or situations, after which you change your focus to problem-solving.

Anger that leads to aggression or is used to dominate and control other people is unhealthy. Most aggressive acts start with uncontrolled and unmanageable anger. Chronic anger is intensely stressful not only for the angry person but for everyone else who has to live or work with it. Aggressive and/or chronic anger compromises everyone’s mental and physical health, interferes with problem-solving, leads to bad decision making, and prevents the use of SMaRT practices for self-awareness and mindfulness.

How Anger Expresses Itself

Anger is most often set off by the actions or assumed feelings of another person—for example, “She cut into the line,” “He thinks he’s better than me,” or “Why are they always late?” 

Physical signs of anger are very similar to those of stress: clenched muscles, increased heart rate, shaking, or trembling. You might throw or break things. You may become vengeful, irritated, sad, or anxious. You may speak more loudly or sarcastically or begin to curse or cry. However, statistically few incidents of anger turn aggressive and involve hurting people.

If someone tries repressing anger, you may first be alerted when they act out, take bad risks or abuse substances. But often, the first clue is an illness: hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, and digestive diseases are rampant with chronic anger. 

TIP: Repressing anger is harmful; when anger is unexpressed or internalized for too long, it becomes chronic anger even if there is no outward expression. It can lead to depression, feelings of persecution, and withholding behaviors, including withholding love.

Anger at Work

Researchers estimate that one in four Americans—25 percent—are chronically angry at work and looking for ways to retaliate. At least 75 percent believe workers today are more stressed than workers in the past. Chronic anger at work may stem from assuming that the other team members are hostile or always make mistakes intentionally, needing to save face or respond to another person’s exercise of authority, and feeling that other people get preferred treatment, among other causes.

If you or your team are suffering from anger at work, some combination of these tactics should help:

  • Improve the office space. Pictures of nature have a greater calming influence on males than on females (oddly enough, abstract art seems to increase anger in both), as do plants and quieter environments. If you yourself are suffering in a noisy, chaotic environment, try headphones to reduce the noise, keep your own area as clean as possible, and use lunch and breaks to walk to a quieter area (preferably outside).
  • Build a professional culture. People at work do not necessarily need to befriend each other—they need to respectfully listen to each other, be polite, moderate their voice and language, and find a way to work together. A professional culture flows down from the leaders; make a good start by setting a good example, establishing clear roles, setting boundaries, and refusing to play favorites. Bring in outside help if needed to help develop consequences for violating standards of behavior. Familiarize yourself with the professional services available for those who indulge in too much anger at work or seem to suffer from chronic anger.
  • Champion solutions. As a leader, one of your responsibilities is to handle team dysfunctions and conflict resolution. Suppose your team is experiencing stress from their anger at work. In that case, your role is to maintain objectivity, promote active listening, and guide them to finding a solution they can both tolerate—not to lose your own temper. If you lose your temper, remove yourself physically from the situation until you can concentrate on the end goal—what do you want to happen and what should you do to avoid triggering your anger over and over again? 
  • Watch your words. The wrong words at the wrong time can doom a work situation, increasing everyone’s anger. One tactic that helps people choose their words is first to write everything down. Whether the parties are communicating in writing to each other or to themselves, the simple act of writing de-fuses some of the anger. However, writing is especially helpful if each party also tries to write from the other person’s viewpoint, a practice that may open up avenues of compromise and negotiation. 
  • Remove yourself. You may benefit from simply walking away for a moment to control your own anger or by stating that you will return to the conversation when the other person is calm. However, if you find yourself constantly angry at work, you may need professional help. Suppose anger is unusual for you and specific to your current workplace (particularly if others also experience anger). In that case, you might consider finding another job more in line with your desire for a professional and supportive workplace.

TIP: Your objective is not to remove anger—some situations deserve anger—but to manage it so that you can achieve your goal (for example, a professional working relationship).

Anger at Home

Most of the strategies that apply to anger at work also apply to anger at home, between family members, friends, and relations—especially watching your words and removing yourself. Others are specific to the special circumstance of anger at home.

  • Allow someone else to handle it. If you know a situation will make you angry (for example, dealing with a store return), ask your spouse or friend to handle it. If you cannot talk to a particular person without being disrespectful or sarcastic (for example, someone whom you disagree with about politics or religion), merely exchange polite greetings and then leave them to talk to other people. 
  • Use and recommend SMaRT practices. Find opportunities to relax and be grateful; turn to healthful exercise to release tension; and share the techniques of personal conflict resolution. Take the time to listen to the other person’s point of view before deciding for yourself what they intend or feel. If talking about your own feelings of anger at home is difficult, try writing—not necessarily to share what you write, but to work through your feelings and goals for when you do speak.
  • Recognize unacceptable behavior. Chronic anger needs a target. If you are always fighting with your partner, always angry at your children, are confrontational with friends, and repeatedly attack perfect strangers verbally or aggressively, you have chronic anger and you must bring it under control. Those symptoms in a loved one also require intervention and perhaps temporary or permanent separation. If you blame yourself your someone else’s chronic anger, you are not helping that person and you are not helping yourself. Chronic anger leads to chronic stress. Seek professional help.

TIP: People who deal with anger constructively share their feelings. They address their anger and frustration as soon as they can address it calmly so that it doesn’t simmer. They demonstrate self-management and look for the win/win.

Key Takeaways

Anger is one of the many emotions that normal people feel at some time or other; chronic anger, on the other hand, destroys health and relationships and is extremely stressful. If you or someone you know feels chronic anger, remove yourself from the situation if possible, use SMaRT techniques to de-stress and control your anger, and seek professional help. 

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