How to Work for Someone With Anger Management Issues
Is your boss angry? If you deal with angry outbursts from your company headquarters on a regular basis, you may be fed up with it. How do you work for someone who doesn’t know how to handle their own emotions? Since anger is often a cover-up of other negative feelings, understanding what they’re really mad about and minimizing your reaction can help you handle your boss’s anger in such a way that keeping your job isn’t quite as stressful.
Educating Yourself About Anger
Define what anger is.It is important to understand what anger is if you have to deal with it in an angry boss every day. When you understand it, it is easier to control and respond to. For example, one definition of anger explains it as an emotion that can vary in intensity. You may see someone a bit irritated, and that is a form of low-intensity anger. It can escalate all the way up to all-out rage, and this is what you want to avoid in the workplace.
- Anger has a physiological response of increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and increase in adrenaline.
- The fight-or-flight response people get when they are angry or encounter it in others is accompanied by adrenaline, which prepares your body to move. This is a reason why people can become so aggressive and lose control of managing their anger.
Understand the causes of anger.There are actually people who physically have a lower frustration level than others. This can be due to genetic predisposition, or it can be related to the social climate that one is raised in.
Figure out what your boss is covering up.Keep in mind that anger is often a cover-up for other feelings, usually feelings of vulnerability. As humans, we usually feel something else just before we get angry, and that is the real emotion. Anger is just where we turn to express ourselves. We can feel scared, humiliated, or rejected beneath our anger.
- Try to figure out if one of these negative emotions is the real reason your boss keeps getting angry. Understanding their anger may help you have more patience and a lowered stress level (i.e., if you figure out that isn’t because your projects are always late or low quality).
Understand that aggression is an instinctive response to anger.This is because anger is a natural response when we feel threatened. When you feel threatened, you need to take action—sometimes a fighting action, which is what adrenaline prepares us for. When people have anger management issues, it means they do not have good boundaries with expressing their anger.
- There are three ways that most people deal with anger: to express it, to suppress it, and to calm it. When you do choose to express anger, it should be in a controlled, assertive way that clearly communicates your feelings without hurting anyone.
- People with anger management issues often forget that they can also choose to suppress or calm their anger instead of express it.
Diffusing a Situation
Get help or leave if you feel threatened.Sometimes anger can become violent. Your boss can be out of control. If you begin to feel uncomfortable or unsafe, leave the room immediately and find help.
Figure out the reason.It is also useful to figure out the reason your boss is angry. Although if your boss is yelling or lecturing someone the reason may be obvious, it may not be so easy to figure out why your boss is suddenly acting passive-aggressive.
- Ask questions to get to the root of the reason.
- Listen closely to what your boss is saying. If they are using sarcasm, what is it they are being sarcastic about?
Figure out a solution.Find a solution to your boss’s anger. They may be so worked up with expressing their anger that they may have forgotten to even look for one. Be the employee who solves the problem, whether you are at fault or not, such as gathering other co-workers together and brainstorming how to approach a big client without having to be instructed to do so, or offering to help the employee who made the error your boss is mad about.
- If you are at fault, apologize for what you have done. Encourage others who might genuinely have caused problems to do the same.
Become emotionally distant.Another strategy you can employ to keep from becoming entangled in someone’s angry rant is to become emotionally distant. You can start to give simple or one-word answers, stop smiling, and become unemotional. Lowering your responsiveness may be just what an angry boss needs in order to calm down.
- This is not the same thing as the "turtle" response to anger, which is when you shut down and avoid anger in an unhealthy way. It is important that you become emotionally distant out of a desire to calm down someone who is becoming aggressive, instead of out of fear.
Avoid getting defensive.When you’re faced with an angry boss and a tense work situation, it is easy to feel defensive and angry yourself. But expressing this anger can make the situation worse. If your boss is already mad at you, it can push them to an even deeper anger. If they are mad at someone else, it can turn the anger on you. To help calm your boss down, refrain from becoming defensive.
- Pause before responding quietly. This allows you to slow the situation down so he can cool off.
- Don’t raise your voice or respond in like kind. Do the opposite. If your boss is screaming, talk in a low voice. If your boss is ignoring you, keep talking to them like they aren’t.
- Don’t make excuses for your actions if they have contributed to your boss’s upset. Owning what you have done can sap the strength from an anger storm, whereas getting defensive can fuel it.
Use calming mannerisms.Not only can a calm response to an upset action diffuse the situation, it means that you are staying in control. Use calming techniques such as a lowered tone of voice or speaking slowly to help get the point across that calmness is the appropriate response.
- Body language can also diffuse a situation. Maintain non-threatening poses, like doing the opposite of a defensive stance such as wide gestures and keeping your arms uncrossed.Wide gestures and open arms also demonstrate that you are not trying to threaten anyone, making you a calming influence in an angry moment.
React with empathy.Keep understanding and empathy in your reaction to an angry outburst. Don’t be condescending or self-righteous, but do express a genuine desire to find out what is wrong. This type of reaction requires humility, and many times humility can diffuse a volatile situation.
- Humility and empathy show that you are willing to learn and make up for your mistakes, which may be all your boss is looking for.
- To stay humble, you could say, "I'm sorry--I totally didn't see that mistake! I'll go fix it right away." And to stay empathetic, you could say, "I can understand that." Make sure to keep irritation and other negative emotions out of your tone of voice.
Distract your angry boss.Another strategy for diffusing a situation of anger is to distract the angry person. Maybe you hand your boss the assignment that they are fuming about being late.
- Studies find that thinking about the reason we are angry can increase our feelings of anger, while not thinking about them can decrease those feelings.If your boss appears to be thinking about the reason they are angry, change the subject.
Practice diffusing anger.Even if you’re not in a tense moment, you can practice diffusing the anger of your boss by roleplaying with co-workers, diffusing the anger of others, and practicing asserting yourself with people who are less intimidating.
Managing Your General Response to Anger
Determine your own response style.When working for someone with anger problems, you want to do your part to keep angry outbursts to a minimum. Part of this is understanding how you react to anger. Your level of comfort with others’ expressions of anger is largely dictated by the way anger was handled as you grew up. You will probably have one of four responses, and this knowledge can help you improve your response to anger in the workplace.
- Turtle: turning inward and being emotionally distant until the anger passes
- Cornered Rat: you push back in irritation by yelling and nagging
- Ostrich: in complete denial that anger is present
- Chicken: run away as fast as you can
Develop a regulated anger expression.None of those four responses to anger is very healthy, so developing a personal expression of anger that is regulated by maturity is important if you want to lower stress levels around a boss with a temper. You need to be able to take responsibility when you are in the wrong and to express your anger (when it is truly justified) directly with a civil demeanor.Your response should focus on de-escalating the tension, rather than adding fire to the flames.
- Such a mature response can diffuse an anger situation with your boss.
- This regulation of your anger can inspire your boss to do the same.
- Instead of reacting without thinking, take a moment (count to 10 and take a deep breath), and consider what your response will do to your boss.
- Consider what factors contributed to their anger and address them in your response. Think about why their anger is specifically directed at you and not another worker.
- If your boss speaks harshly about a mistake you made, for example, you could explain your actions in a calm voice and an apologetic manner instead of defending yourself in the same tone of voice as your boss.
Guard your self-esteem.If your boss gets triggered and has an anger episode, don’t allow them to degrade you. In these moments, you should respond by guarding your self-esteem. Acknowledge only what is true in what your boss says, and recognize when they are exaggerating out of a negative place of anger.
- Don’t take your boss’s anger personally. Recognize your negative self-talk and consider what actually happened. Ask yourself questions like, what did I actually do to contribute to this problem?
Be responsible for your own anger.Take responsibility for your reaction to your boss’s anger. Don’t blame them for your reaction, even if you feel that you wouldn’t have had to feel negative emotions without their anger.
Deal with your negative feelings privately.It may be tempting to gossip about the situation with co-workers or post about it on social media, but this may damage you or your boss’s reputation. Too many employees unthinkingly show their feelings on social media, often turning a mole hill into a mountain. You should never even consider posting about this event on social media.
Gain perspective by talking to others.Talking to others isn’t just a good way to process your negative emotions, it’s also a way to gain perspective on your work situation. Your company may have a staff member who helps mediate conflict, or if you really can’t find anyone to confide in, visit Human Resources (HR) to see if they can find you someone to talk to.
Follow the LIFE acronym.If you work closely with your boss, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to mitigate their anger on a daily basis. One suggestion is to use the LIFE acronym to help you be a positive listener and responder when your boss becomes angry.
- L = Listen to your angry boss rather than arguing with them. When they ask you to respond, reflect back to them what they have said, making sure there is no sarcasm in your tone of voice.
- I = “I” statements are useful to keep from further antagonizing an angry boss, instead of “you” statements. “You” statements feel accusatory, making tensions rise rather than fall. Refrain from blaming, criticizing, and judging. A "you" statement might sound like, "You made me feel angry," but the "I" statement counterpart for this might sound like, "I felt angry because of the situation."
- F = Freedom to express themselves is important. Give your boss the green light to vent and do not try to give advice unless they directly ask for it.
- E = Everyone is a winner is an attitude that can help get your boss out of an angry rant and back into a calm mindset. Maintain this attitude, which encourages giving others the benefit of the doubt.
Develop strategies for dealing with passive-aggressive anger.Not all angry bosses are going to scream and shout. A passive-aggressive response can be just as intense, and is actually more common in the workplace. If your boss tends to sulk, obsess, tell hurtful jokes, ignore others, or have an angry, sarcastic smile, your boss may have a problem with passive-aggressive anger. You should recognize these behaviors and employ the usual tactics for dealing with anger in the workplace.
- In some cases, it is better to ignore a level of unpleasantness unless it is directed to a specific person. Unfortunately, many bosses run departments through intimidation, rather than leadership.
- Other signs of passive-aggressive behavior include general sarcasm, being secretive, setting up employees for failure, spreading rumors, pretending not to hear employees, and being distant and unengaged.
- One strategy for dealing with passive-aggressive anger is to put yourself in their shoes and imagine why they might be angry. Ask other co-workers to find out if they have been getting the same passive-aggressive treatment, such as the cold shoulder. You might find that they are just overwhelmed, in which case you could offer to take some work off their plate.
Reframe your understanding of the anger.When you see your boss reacting out of anger, especially if it is directed toward you, think about their anger in terms different than you are accustomed to. Negative thinking will make your attitude negative, which doesn’t encourage productivity in the workplace. Instead, reframe your thoughts into positive statements.
- Instead of rolling your eyes and muttering about how irritating your boss’s short fuse is, say to yourself, “It’s so sad that he is always upset. What can I (or “we” if you’re on a work team) do to help him?”
Don't confront your boss about your reaction.This is a very sensitive area as many bosses do not care about your hurt feelings, just getting the job done. Communicating your feelings may create the sense that you are weak and can't handle the job. If you need comforting and understanding, go to people outside work or the HR Department, knowing that a formal complaint to the latter may result in termination or transfer for the boss or the complainant.
Practice general relaxation techniques.In order to leave the stress of your boss’s anger problems at work instead of bringing them home with you, you may need to start some de-stressing rituals on the way home from work or after you get home. Things like hitting the gym on your way home, aromatherapy, and having someone at home to talk to about it can lower your stress level and keep work stress from ruining your home life.
Video: 5 Keys to Controlling Anger
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