By Ruth Cornish, co-founder and director of HRi
We all have days where we feel frustrated, angry and agitated, and certainly our working lives are no different, particularly right now when we are all feeling the strain due to the pandemic.
But how do we ensure we manage our emotions (and indeed that of others) carefully to avoid bringing conflict into the workplace?
The 1st December marks the start of Anger Awareness Week and this year the spotlight is on passive aggressive anger sufferers, helping them to identify anger issues and indeed highlighting treatments. With this in mind, here are our eight steps to help you deal with anger in the workplace:
It is vitally important to maintain your self-control at all times and not to let emotion get the better of you. The other party may well use vulgar or unpleasant language or indeed threatening gestures, but do not rise to this. It may help you to think of it this way – if you become angry – who has won in the conflict? Your negative response may be helping them to achieve what they set out to do which is cause you to feel agitated. Keep your calm and you will come away feeling much better.
It is important to catch the person’s attention and give signals. This will calm and de-escalate the situation. The most important thing to signal here is non-aggression. Remember that the other person may be in a very emotional state, and therefore their ability to think rationally will be diminished. As such, the actual words you use are less important than the tone and body language you display.
Empathy is about being able to see the other person’s point of view – even if you don’t agree with it. You will need to hear them out and assure them that you understand where they are coming from. Remember body language can be just as important here as what you say. Keep your body language open, maintain eye contact, don’t get distracted and certainly don’t start doing something else (specially on Zoom!)
You will need to become an active listener. The other person will respond to signs that you are listening and understanding their problem. To do this you could use phrases like; “I can see that this has made you angry” or, “I can understand why this is frustrating for you”. Then the key is to reassure the person that you are really listening to what they are saying. You can do this by focusing your full attention on them, using non-verbal cues like nodding your head, maintaining eye contact and letting them finish what they have to say without interjecting. Finally, play back what you have heard them say. This will show that you have understood. You can say things like; “Okay, let me see if I’ve understood you correctly” – then paraphrase what they have said.
Match energy levels
It is important to match the energy level of the other person. If you are slow to respond, or respond too calmly, it can give the impression that you don’t care or aren’t really interested in the issue. However, matching their energy does not mean that you should be aggressive back to that person, it simply means that you should quickly engage with them and demonstrate with your body language and tone that you are concerned and interested in what they have to say.
If you are to resolve the situation, you need to build a rapport with them. This can be achieved through the same techniques already applied to defusing the situation, including active listening, active looking (not being distracted), paraphrasing their words back to them and being friendly.
Winning trust is going to be key to getting the other person to the point where they are calm enough to be able to deal with the situation in a rational manner. If the other person has the confidence that you are on their side and that you actually have the power to be able to (and want to) resolve the situation, then they will feel more reassured. This will in time mean that they will see the benefit of collaborating with you.
Collaborative problem solving
To successfully resolve a situation, you will need to deal with the problem in a rational and factual manner. Break down the issues into small parts and follow a step by step process together to ensure every fact is uncovered and you are only basing the discussion on real factual evidence. If you both follow some simple processes and – instead of focusing on blame – you embrace robust problem solving, you can actually eliminate issues early on, well before they become something bigger.
Next time you feel anger and frustration getting the better of you, step away, take a moment to reflect (and breathe) and consider initiating some of the tips above. Not only will you be able to negate any conflicts before they really get started, but you will also feel far happier in yourself too.