Dealing With Anger at Work

Dealing with anger is often difficult. It might even sound like a good idea to let off a little of that steam, like pricking a balloon and feeling that white-hot energy dissipate.

The problem with anger, particularly at work, is that once we start releasing that flow, it’s kind of like lava from a volcano. We don’t know exactly when it will stop or what damage it might cause on the way down.

So how do you handle it? Here are a few strategies that might help with dealing with anger in the workplace.

Act, Don’t React

Dealing with anger can be a physical issue as well as emotional. When someone cuts us off in traffic on the way to work, we can feel our heart rate go up and our blood pressure start to rise as the anger boils within us.

Our first reaction is to respond aggressively, or to blurt out a not-too-nice response on our horn. That feels good for a millisecond, but soon that turns to feeling stupid, guilty or ashamed. The only way to avoid that second feeling is not to the react to the first.

Don’t Say it, Even If You Think It

Mark Twain is often given credit for the saying “it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

This would be true when it comes to dealing with anger as well. We can be as angry as we want inside, and deal with it later, or we can let everyone see that ugly anger at work. And it is ugly.

The next time someone is angry around you look at how distorted their faces become, how red and flushed they get. If you can find a way to stay silent when you are angry, no one will know but you.

Don’t Make it Worse

In the same category as staying quiet when your mouth is full of anger is the adage of not making it any worse.

There are very, very few times when full-throated anger makes a situation better. In fact you probably can’t think of one. Anger makes us feel bad, makes all those around us feel bad, and can even lead to physical damage to ourselves or others, or the involvement of the authorities. Dealing with anger properly can avoid a host of problems.

Luckily, at work this doesn’t usually mean the police, but it can be your supervisor or manager. And rest assured, they will not be happy!!

Limit the Damage

Kenny Rogers’ song ‘The Gambler’ has a line that compares life to a poker game. You have to “know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.”

Everyone remembers that line, but in the very next line Rogers says you have to “know when to walk away” as well. You should never forget that line when it comes to dealing with anger at work.

Even if you’ve already engaged in a loud outburst or argument, you can limit any further damage by just walking away. There may be some hurt feelings, including yours, but you can live to fight another day. Save your nuclear option for later.

Just Breathe

Nothing soothes an angry beast, or person, like a couple of deep breaths. In through your nose, hold it for three seconds, breathe out through your mouth. It is the adult equivalent of counting to ten. This also has the added bonus of clearing your head and making you feel better.

If you have time, go for a walk around the building as well. The combination of walking and breathing is medicine for your heart and lungs, and for your emotional well-being. And, while you are focusing on breathing you can’t speak very much, which is another good reason to just breathe.

Acceptance is the Answer

Now that you’ve cooled down and can examine the situation at room temperature you can add another tool to your anti-anger arsenal: Acceptance.

If you can learn to accept certain people, places and things just as they are and not as you wish them to be you are on your way to the real answer to dealing with anger, which is to not get angry in the first place, or at least reduce the number of times you get angry or the situations that make your blood boil.

The traffic will likely be as bad on the way home today as it was yesterday, and worse if the weather is bad or if there is an accident. Your co-worker will make a mess at the photocopier and not clean it up, just like last week.

Some people will not like you no matter how hard you try and some will be mean to you for no reason. If you can accept these things and not get angry you will feel better, now and later on.

Remember the old Chinese proverb which says “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can


  1. Luce on the 2nd April

    There is one tiny thing about this article that bothers me. Anger may be provocated by many different situations and some of those situations aren’t the kind of situations you can just walk away from with your anger. Some unfair situations, some situations where people may have crossed limits of respect,… I think it is important not to ignore anger but to channel it in a way that you can calmy but firmly respond and put justice & respect back in order. (haha it made me kinda angry that it wasn’t specified : P)

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