Anger and conflict in the workplace – unless properly managed – can lead to untold damage both to the organization and the individuals involved.
For many people, conflict is something to be avoided at all costs. As a result, they may find themselves backing away from situations where they should ideally be taking control; and may even find their own situation or former neutrality compromised as a result.
If any of this sounds familiar, or if you find yourself exposed to particular people, personalities or circumstances that make you wish you possessed the skills and tools to manage them better, then you will find everything you need in the following pages.
This practical management toolkit will increase your knowledge of everything from the theory of violence and aggression, and how to manage different types of conflict in the workplace, to the best ways of dealing with notoriously difficult personality types.
The result will be that you will be able to increase your assertiveness and self-esteem; improve the performance of your team; and develop a work environment that will be of benefit to your colleagues and yourself.
Anger, violence and aggression are the antithesis of creativity, productivity and respect. Use these tools to help to minimize the former - and maximize the latter.
We all get frustrated by the pressures of life but some people, it seems, are angry all the time. So how can we manage and deal with other people’s anger without getting into conflict ourselves?
Anger is all around us in the form of rage. Road rage, desk rage, computer rage, air rage, trolley rage. So what do you do when you find yourself in a situation which has suddenly got out of hand?
Of course some people will do all they can to avoid conflict. As a result they may find themselves backing away from situations where they should ideally be taking control or may find that their own situation or neutrality is compromised. So what alternative strategies could they be following instead?
There are three basic ways to resolve defuse workplace anger and manage subsequent conflicts.
- In negotiation the parties will discuss the issues themselves and produce a soluti
- In mediation a third party helps the disputants discuss the issues and produce a solutio
- In arbitration, a third party reviews each party’s case and makes a decisi
We will look at actually managing Conflict in the workplace in more detail later in this programme but for the moment there is a fourth way of managing anger and interpersonal conflict, which is even more productive and helpful – prevention. Anger and subsequent workplace conflict can often be prevented from arising in the first place by the use of good, assertive communication.
Strategies for preventing Anger
Preventing anger requires specialist skills and an environment that will enable individuals to feel safe to explore their concerns and be assured that they are being genuinely listened to. In this respect it is not enough simply to pay attention. People need to know that the listener is paying attention and understanding what they are saying. This can be achieved by using the following range of communication skills effectively
- Active listening
- Using open q
- Using silence
- Challenging/reality testing
The use of these skills (all of which will be covered more fully in the section entitled “Listening Skills (or Counselling skills)” will enable colleagues and managers to help individuals express their feelings and so reduce the chance of a conflict escalating out of control. However, the question remains: How do you deal with anger as and when it occurs?
Individual Anger Management
This can be very difficult, and your own response to someone else’s anger will be affected by how anger was dealt with in your own family and upbringing. For example:
- If you were frightened as a child by angry outbursts you are likely to feel frightened when someone is angr
- If your family sometimes shouted at each other and then forgot it and moved on, you are likely to feel reasonably comfortable with anger.
- If anger was seldom expressed in your family you are likely to feel confused and inadequate
There are some things you can and cannot do when confronted by an angry person that may help to calm things down. It does not help to try to defend yourself or your company, to get into an argument or become angry yourself. It may help to break eye contact – as two people both refusing to drop their eyes is very confrontational. It is also likely to make the situation worse if you are confrontational, invade the other person’s body space or give them a verbal trigger that escalates the difficulty.
Using the skills described above allows a person to express their anger and you to acknowledge how they feel. Ask open questions to try to find out exactly what they are angry about. Tell them you are sorry they are feeling like that and, if there is something that has been done to contribute to how they are feeling, an expression of genuine regret will help. It also helps if you can agree with any part of what they are saying and acknowledge that this could be making them angry.
As Charles Handy says in ‘Understanding Organizations’ (1999), “Neglected, conflict is like weeds, it can stile productive work”. But when conflict is dealt with constructively, people can be stimulated to greater creativity that can lead to a wider choice of actions and more beneficial outcomes.