Let’s be real: There are a lot of reasons to feel angry at work. From pay inequality to disrespectful coworkers, unreasonable managers, or inhospitable working conditions, many of us are put through the ringer every time we set foot at the office (or the warehouse, or the restaurant, or any other working environment).
In fact, anger is a normal, at times appropriate, and (if properly managed) healthy emotion. Additionally, anger can help us identify when something is morally wrong and give us the energy we need to take action. But that doesn’t mean we have free reign to let our anger spew out any which way at work.
Unchecked anger can lead to altercations, and those outbursts are liable to be followed by a whole lot of regret after you’ve calmed back down. They may also cause professional consequences such as writeups, reprimands, or even the loss of your job. What’s more, being nasty to coworkers is associated with sleep deprivation.
On the flip side, suppressed or unaddressed anger can damage your health by driving an excess of stress hormones in the body and elevating heart rate and blood pressure.
So the key is to figure out how to acknowledge your anger, allow yourself to feel angry, and to channel that anger constructively. Here are four ways to manage your workplace anger in a healthier way.
Learn to identify when you’re feeling angry.
Because anger is generally not considered a socially acceptable emotion (especially for women), many of us have trained ourselves to suppress our anger as soon as it starts to arise—perhaps without even realizing that we’re doing it. But in order to successfully manage our anger, we need to be able to recognize it.
To that end, spend some time tracking your emotional responses over the course of a few weeks so you can begin learning how anger manifests in your body and emotions. Then you’ll be ready for the next steps.
If you feel yourself getting angry, back off.
Constructive conversations don’t typically happen while one or both parties are in the throes of anger. Once you know how to identify anger, the next step is to remove yourself from a situation as gracefully as possible when you feel anger arise.
Take some time to validate your anger while also re-centering and reminding yourself that there’s more to your life than the anger you’re currently feeling. You might try counting slowly to 10, breathing deeply, journaling, practicing yoga or another form of physical activity, listening to soothing music, calling a loved one, changing up your environment, or simply sleeping on it.
Gain some perspective.Once you’ve calmed down a bit, you should have created enough space between you and your anger that you can try thinking about it in new ways. For instance, consider the following:
Is your anger masking other emotions? Are you scared that your boss or colleague doesn’t respect you? Are you worried that your company is making decisions that will increase the likelihood of layoffs? By exploring the emotions that might be happening concurrently with anger, you can get a better sense of what you really need in order to feel better.
How do you want to act? Sure, it might feel good to tell off a rude client or coworker—but that adrenaline rush isn’t likely to lead to long-term satisfaction. You might consider how a person you respect would respond in this situation or how you’d like to respond if you were living up to your highest standards for yourself.
Are your thoughts entirely accurate? When we’re angry, we tend to use absolute terms such as “always” and “never” and to assume that the other person (or people) has the worst of intentions. Spend some time reframing your thoughts to make way for more nuance and more empathy—which will likely open up more opportunities for addressing the situation in a constructive way.
What can be done? Once you’ve spent some time feeling into your anger and examining the issue from multiple perspectives, it’s helpful to stop dwelling on the problem and turn your attention to solutions. Now that this situation has happened, what are some options for how you might respond? For instance, you might consider having a conversation with the other person in question. Or maybe more dire actions are appropriate—for example, if you’ve discovered that your company is violating the law or harming the local community in some way.
If you decide to have a conversation, commit to keeping it constructive.If you determine that the appropriate course of action is to have a conversation with the party(ies) in question, then it’s important to prepare yourself in advance. Commit to staying calm and respectful, focusing on “I” statements, practicing active listening, and articulating your feelings in a solution-oriented way.
While you can’t control how the other person responds, these behaviors will give you the greatest chance of enjoying a constructive conversation—and at the very least, you won’t have any regrets about how you conducted yourself.