Skip to main content
your life at work

Everyone knows what anger is. In fact, it's a normal and often healthy emotion. However, when it gets out of control it can be destructive to you or others.

Anger is a powerful emotion that occurs when a person has a difference between what they want and what they have. It's the result of feeling a loss of control and it's an attempt to regain control of your environment. However, anger does have useful applications, such as giving you the courage to protect yourself from a physical threat or attack.

It's common for a person who is angry to lose control of their emotions and say things to others that they most likely would never say when calm. In this case, anger has moved from being a useful emotion to an ineffective coping strategy that often comes with dire consequences such as damaging relationships, losing respect, trust, a job or even your freedom.

Anger in the workplace can range from being covert, which is internal and others never know about, to passive, where a person avoids others, to overt, where the person openly shows their anger. In some cases, anger leads to acts of workplace violence such as abuse, arguments, psychological trauma and physical violence. Upset employees often blame work stress as the root cause of their anger.

People with anger management issues are often unaware of the psychological triggers that fire off their anger response that fuels the cycle of anger – trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery, and post crisis.

In The Globe's Your Life at Work Survey, done in conjunction with Howatt HR, one interesting statistic we found is the strong relationship between employees who reported losing control of their emotions in the workplace and those who reported that they had lost their temper in the workplace. This suggests that how well a person copes with and manages their emotions while at work predicts the degree of risk that person will lose his or her temper in the workplace. This supports the need for employees to have strong coping skills in order for them to manage their emotions and create healthier and happier relationships in the workplace.

Anger is often impulsive and with this comes the risk for escalation. To reduce your anger, the first step is self-awareness. We have added an Anger Quick Survey to the Your Life at Work Survey to provide employees an opportunity to self-evaluate their current anger risk level.

An employee's risk for anger is defined not only by their environment but also by how effectively they are able to cope with it.

Three tips to curb anger:

1. Take ownership of your anger. Keeping anger inside and ignoring it will not resolve it. The Anger Quick Survey provides a self-evaluation tool and gives some feedback on your current risk for anger and recommended action to take. Anger often pushes people away and leads to conflict and other social issues. When calm, most people who have anger issues will accept that their angry response does not fit the situation. One action to help curb anger is to tap into your core beliefs and focus on the kind of person you want to be for yourself and others. Curbing anger requires taking accountability to change how you react to your environment.

2. Anger is fuelled by your perception that what you have is not aligning to your expectations for a particular situation. To challenge this, write out the situation, the words that were used, the people who are involved, and state exactly why there is a belief that it is your right to use anger in this situation, regardless of the hurt and damage it may cause. Taking charge of your anger starts with being aware of your triggers, automatic programming and responses. A trigger is nothing more than a stimulus. It does not make the decision nor is it in control. Each person is accountable for their actions and learning how to manage and, if need be, avoid triggers until they learn to control them.

3. There's good news for people really struggling to curb their anger. Anger management training and coaching are available to support individuals to better cope with and respond to their environment. Anger can often be replaced with assertiveness. Assertiveness training is one type of training that can help teach a person healthier skills to express their point of view without attacking or hurting another person.

Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is chief research and development officer, work force productivity, at Morneau Shepell. He is also president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.