A Perfect Workplace “Storm” is Forming…

The perfect storm is forming in the workplace if it hasn’t occurred already. Employees are coping with an unpredictable economy, increasing personal debt-levels and taxes, daily gridlock, over-worked, under paid, and facing precarious employment conditions. It’s safe to say that the anger threshold is very high and volatile.

Anger is a fickle emotion.It can move people to improve and surmount challenges or one that destroy an organization from the inside out. It is unpredictable but, when recognized early and managed properly, anger is a powerful motivational tool. Managers must take control of this emotion and leverage it to the benefit of the organization. How an organization’s leadership handles anger and conflict will set the tone in the workplace.

Worry About What You Don’t See

Employees are expected to be professional and respectful to others. Most of the time this is the case. It’s only natural for people to express emotion and for employees to be on edge and ready to vent. In the current economic climate, employees are more reticent to express their frustration for various reasons. This type of unexpressed anger is dangerous and often career debilitating.

Unexpressed anger typically surfaces surreptitiously through activities like backstabbing, un-cooperativeness, rumor spreading, and poor performance. It’s important to clue into the signals since most of the time peers and employees will hide their frustration especially if it is toward a superior. Don’t let it fester. Airing the anger sooner than later is essential to fostering a positive work environment. It also demonstrates to others that it’s safe to express their emotions.

Some Basic Principles 

First, it’s important to manage the anger appropriately. Mishandling or misinterpreting it may be more detrimental than if it was ignored in the first place. Be aware of “mixed messages”. An employee may attempt to divert your attention stating something that is not the actual issue. Provide an opportunity for them to express the issues honestly and openly.

Second, behavior speaks louder than words. Even if you’ve addressed the employee’s concerns privately other employees will learn about it. Like it or not employees are watching what you will do to resolve the issue. Act appropriately, decisively, and professionally especially if the anger is directed at you.

Finally, listen to what an employee or coworker is sharing with you. They may be passionate and hostile but don’t retort or become defensive. Reacting instinctively will only fuel their anger and have them possibly shut down.

Some Quick Advice 

When you suspect any type of anger don’t be confrontational. Meet with the employee over a coffee and be clear about your intentions. Get them to open up asking unassuming questions. Don’t delay addressing their concerns. This will demonstrate a lack of compassion, accentuate the anger, and may foster resentment from other employees. Share ownership of the issue by valuing their feelings and perceptions.

Discretion and privacy are essential to build employee trust. Whether you’re a colleague or manager, privacy is important for two reasons. First, it allows the employee to share their feelings in a safe environment. Second, it mitigates the anger spreading within the workplace. If it spills into the workplace then be proactive. Work together to find solutions rather than playing the blame game.

Anger is a strong and deceiving emotion so respect and address the employee’s perspective. Their feelings are relevant but clearly listing the facts makes it more objective and less personal. Find agreement about some of the facts helps to develop trust and a common goal.

Allow the employee time to determine how and when they want to address the issue. Respect their timeline but follow-up soon after to demonstrate your commitment to assisting them. Once addressed, ask the person if they are satisfied with the result. Depending on the depth of their anger, they may still hang on to it but this is probably only to “save face”. Listen to their tone and watch nonverbal cues to determine their acceptance.

In the end, telling someone an issue is resolved is less effective than having him or her participate in developing the solution. Their participation is essential and will quickly diminish or eliminate the employee’s anger. More importantly are your actions in addressing the issues and implementing the solution. Not acting, or worse, not following through will unquestionably undermine your leadership credibility.

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