Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Anger Management in the Workplace: I blew up, now what?

Browse through any material these days and you are bound to run into at least one article discussing anger management in the workplace. Most of the advice is redundant: keep your temper in check, avoid initial reaction, and keep an open mind. What does one do, however, when you find yourself smack in the middle of a heated argument with a colleague? Or worse, a manager?

We're only human so at some point in our professional lives everyone is bound to lose their composure. It recently happened to an easygoing, mild-tempered friend. He works closely with a colleague whose personalty is the bipolar opposite of  his. Tact worked for a while until peak deadline rolled around. Then they went at it. His colleague snapped at a question that was posed to him, which startled my friend and triggered a nasty retort. After it was over, there was silence and a pretty uncomfortable atmosphere.

So, what does one do?

  • The conventional wisdom is you behave as an adult and fix your own problems. Not when there is still hostility in the air. Choose someone to work as mediator until the task at hand is complete and the frustration that provoked the bickering subsides. My friend went straight to the director, not out of ill will, but because this individual had a good working relationship with both parties.
  • Keep a distance. That does not mean you stop dealing with your co-worker, only that interactions are minimized to task-related topics. And if it relates to whatever it was that caused the confrontation, include the chosen mediator in the interaction.
  • Let off some steam and confide in another colleague that may provide some insight. But use tact when relaying the dispute. Avoid whining and yes, try to remain objective. And if you start ranting, remind the person that you are upset.  
  • Always, always, always, remain professional. My friend's argument went so far as to include a heated exchange through email. Long story short: he was commended for his restrained but strong response to the unwarranted accusations the colleague had listed off. As for the colleague - well, he projected a negative attitude and lack of self-control.
  • When the opportunity arises, be an adult and make up. It may happen on the same day or it may take some time. Either way, forgive and forget. There is work to be done.
  • If your altercation is with a manager, good luck. First, try the tips outlined above. If that fails and you're at fault, apologize. If the manager is at fault, wait until the argument blows over and request a meeting. State your position and make it clear you are open to compromise.
Since this topic is seldom covered by business gurus, I'd like to know: How would you resolve a blow-up?

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