This article was written some time ago on how to deal with anger in the workplace. I think it a powerful resource for parents at home as well…Enjoy!
Do you wake up in the morning with your stomach tied up in knots? Does the thought of going to work and dealing with your co-workers seem unbearable? Have you ever thought that if you never had to deal with people, your job would be great? Family therapist Ron Huxley shares some tools for conflict resolution.
Use prevention to avoid problems
It is easier to deal with a problem or a problem person if you know it is coming. It’s when you are surprised by a co-worker’s rude behavior that you’re unable to cope with him. Knowing that a co-worker will be rude to you gives you time to plan how you will handle him.
It doesn’t mean to plan how you will be equally rude back to him. It means finding a way to protect you emotionally and then turn the situation around, if possible. Finding the right tool for the job to do just that is where most of us get stuck.
The anger tool belt
Dealing with problems is like fixing a household appliance. You need to know how the appliance works and you need the right tools for the job. When you plan to deal with your angry co-worker, you will need an anger tool belt filled with an assortment of anger management tools.
Tool #1: Labels
Perhaps the most basic tool available to us is communication. If your co-worker barks at you when asked about an overdue report, respond to him by labeling his feelings. For example, stating “You’re angry at me right now” can actually reduce his anger towards you. The most basic reason for this is that your co-worker suddenly feels understood. It is far easier to be angry with people who don’t listen then it is for people who do.
Labels let the air out of the proverbial balloon before it fills up and explodes. It gives you mastery over the emotion by taking the person out of the emotion, makes it a force of its own, to be handled and managed. Most arguments focus on personal attacks and not the problem to be solved. Giving an emotion, like anger, a label allows you to acknowledge the emotion and move on to finding a solution separate from blaming one another.
Your co-worker, expecting a retort, may look momentarily stunned by your new response and then mutter, “Yeah, I’m buried up to eyeballs with work. Give me ‘til Friday and I’ll have the report ready.” At that point the two of you can negotiate a time for the report that is mutually acceptable.
Tool #2: Negotiation
Negotiation skills are essential in dealing with angry people. Negotiation is a tool that allows for a win/win situation to occur between two parties who do not already mutually agree. It has several steps:
Step 1: Know what is negotiable and not negotiable. If next Friday is not an acceptable time for the report, you are in a much better position to negotiate and not feel used by him. Specify, matter of factly, what is and is not an acceptable time for the report.
Step 2: Be open-minded. Be willing to listen and consider the other person’s viewpoint. Stephen Covey, in his book the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests that you seek first to understand the other person before you ask to be understood. You will increase your co-worker’s cooperation by asking him to tell you what is troubling him first.
Step 3: Set a time limit. Keep the negotiation time short to prevent the discussion from getting off track. It usually ends up in blaming each other for one’s problems. Keep things on the topic at hand and to the point no matter how much they get off topic.
Step 4: Keep it private. Don’t embarrass your co-worker by negotiating in public. He will be more likely to react negatively if he thinks others are watching him. Ask to talk to him in a private room.
Step 5: Stay calm and cool. Don’t try to negotiate when feeling angry, tired, or preoccupied with other things. If the situation gets too hot, suggest taking a few minutes to cool off and then resume the negotiation. Set this up as a ground rule before negotiating if you think a heated discussion is likely.
Step 6: Acknowledge the others’ point of view. Even if your co-worker is totally off base, acknowledge his feelings about the report. They are important to him even if they are irrational. One way to do this is to say, “I can see how you could feel the way you do given your work load.”
Step 7: Restate the final solution once it is reached. Most failures to cooperate after a negotiation is due to a misunderstanding about what EXACTLY were agreed upon. Write it in memo form if that seems necessary.
Of course, labels and negotiation may not be enough. Your co-worker may continue to be rude and attacking even when you acknowledging his anger. Negotiation may falter because he refuses to budge. No matter how you try to communicate, his obnoxious behavior is unrelenting. That’s when you use the tool of change.
Tool #3: Change Your Situation
Many people believe that they have no choice but to put up with the co-worker’s obnoxious behavior. They let people walk over them because they are in positions of power. It might be a boss who has the power to fire you or your spouse who can make your life miserable or your co-worker who won’t give you the report you need to make you look irresponsible. The reality is that you always have a choice. You can change yourself, the stressor, or the situation. Notice that changing the other person was not one of the choices listed here although that is the one most often chosen. It is also the one that is the least effective. You have no guarantees that you can change the other person. You always have a 100% guarantee to change yourself. But isn’t that being a victim? No, you are never a victim when you choose what and how to change.
You can change yourself by taking care of yourself. Are you getting enough exercise and sleep? What is your diet like? Do you spend a few moments meditating or engaging in relaxing activities every day? The better you take care of yourself, the better you can deal with that angry co-worker.
You can change yourself by changing how you respond to angry people. Using the communication tools above is a step in the right direction. Your co-worker expects you to act in a pre-programmed manner. Call it a dance. He leads and you follow. Changing the dance steps changes the dance.
You can change the stressor by getting more organized. Perhaps if you were more organized you could have asked your co-worker for the report earlier in the week lessening the chances of an angry reaction from him. The more organized you are the better you are able to cope with unexpected problems or problem people.
You can also change your work situation. You don’t have to stay where you are. You might think that you do, for whatever reason, but it is still a choice you are making. Even if you stay in the job you have now, you can always ask to be reassigned to a new department or share a new cubicle with another employee.
There are always choices. And having choices empowers us to deal with angry people in a more confident manner.
Finding a little serenity
Let’s be honest: Life is difficult. This is a basic truth of various wisdom traditions and perhaps, of common sense. But the fact that life is full of problems, shouldn’t be your focus. Your focus should be on how will you respond to problems and problem people. Don’t be surprised by them when you know they will rear their ugly heads again and again. Instead, get a plan and a tool belt full of anger management tools.
Use these tools to change your life so that you don’t wake up every morning with a knot in your stomach. Work on you and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results it creates in others. One way of looking at all of this is the Serenity Prayer popularized by the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. Hey, why should millions of people have all the good stuff? If it helps them overcome alcoholism, maybe it can help you deal with angry people.
The Serenity Prayer goes something like this: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Finding a little serenity means changing what we can, the best way that we can and not stressing over what we can’t change, namely other people.