A colleague’s short fuse can harm everyone at work. How can you take a coworker’s anger less personally and keep it from disrupting your job?

Anger in the workplace

Anger in the workplace is actually a relatively common problem. Similar to many other concerns at work, this could be a result of workplace stress. After all, 62% of employees in the United States say that they have high levels of stress that pair with extreme fatigue and feeling out of control. 33% say that their stress is constant but manageable, and only 5% cite their stress levels as “low.”

Furthermore, 10% of people say they work in an environment where physical violence has been a consequence of job stress, whereas 42% say that yelling and other forms of verbal abuse are common in their place of work, and 29% have raised their voice at a co-worker themselves due to workplace stress.

All this is to say, you’re not alone if you have a colleague who seems to face trouble with anger. If one of your colleagues has a temper, it can be strenuous. However, this may not be about you; some people struggle with anger, and you can’t change that single-handedly.

With that in mind, what can you do to take it less personally? And what can you do if it starts to disrupt your work? Although you can’t control another person’s reaction, there are solutions. 

How to take a colleague’s anger less personally 

Your next move will depend partially on the unique situation at hand. Use your best judgment, and consider these approaches: 

1. Build a relationship with them.

How well do you know the person who always seems angry? If you don’t know them well, but you notice that they seem to be in a bad mood the vast majority of the time, there could be something underneath–and that something could be a great person. Maybe, even a friend.

There are a lot of possibilities under the surface. First, the person may not realize that this is how they come off. This could be their resting face and/or affect. For example, they may have a “flat” tone that makes them seem angry. Once you speak with them, they could turn out to be kind. Ask “get to know you” questions outside of the standard, “How’s your day going?” to learn more about them. 

2. Understand that it’s not about you.

If your colleague truly is angry, there are a lot of reasons as to why this might be, and it’s highly unlikely that any of them have to do with you. There are times when people struggle with anger, and there truly isn’t anything that anyone else can do. 

Whether their anger is directed at you or someone else, this person might feel under-appreciated, jealous, or it could be due to something this person faces in their home life. Especially if anger is something you are sensitive to, take extra care to remind yourself, “this isn’t about me.”

3. Write about it.

In all likelihood, when you write about your coworker’s anger, you will see more clearly how unwarranted it is. Once you can see what happened on paper, it’s easier to overcome the impulse to blame yourself (or accept the blame they put on you). This is also an opportunity to reflect on other circumstances that might’ve played into your coworker’s anger. Extenuating circumstances don’t justify the colleague’s anger. However, thinking about the full picture might help you take their anger less personally.

4. Keep contact kind but minimal.

You don’t have to be best friends with this person. Outside of necessary interaction, keep it short and sweet. Be kind to them and treat them as you would anyone else, but if you have noticed that this is a matter of a short fuse, it may be best to keep it simple. Connect with other colleagues, not as a means to single this person out, but to build the strong relationships you deserve in the workplace.

5. Speak up.

If it gets to the point where someone else’s anger borders on bullying or verbal abuse, if they single you out, or if it disrupts your work, it may be time to talk with a higher-up. You don’t have to target this person, but simultaneously, you shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells at work. When you express your concern, focus on how it makes you feel. You don’t want another person’s behavior to impact your performance, behavior, or mood. Your manager or employer also wouldn’t want that.

It is important to communicate if a coworker’s anger is impacting your performance. In general, if something causes persistent, severe stress at work, it indicates a need for change. 

6. Use self-care after work.

No matter how stressed you are by a coworker’s anger, you will always be able to escape at the end of the work day. After work, protect your peace–show yourself that there is always refuge, even if you can’t get away from the anger during the day. Check in on your work-life balance, and make sure to care for yourself appropriately with work stress in mind. Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself, work to strengthen your sleep schedule, and do anything else that “fills your cup.”

What if I’m the one who struggles with anger?

If you recognize that you struggle with anger, be proud of yourself for that awareness. It’s not easy, it’s not your fault, and there are ways to mitigate it. 

  • Identify the cause(s). If you have specific triggers for anger, it can be helpful to know what they are. That way, you’ll be able to identify that trigger when it comes up, use extra self-care, and step aside. 
  • Make a plan. When anger starts to rise, slow down and step back. Take the time to breathe and use coping skills so that you don’t take it out on anyone else. This gives you the necessary space and time to calm your nervous system and think about how you want to react.
  • Reduce your stress levels. One very common impact of stress is irritability and/or agitation. Use stress management techniques, or look for ways to reduce stress in your life overall. 
  • See a professional. If you find anger difficult to control, you aren’t alone, and there are solutions. Many therapists work to address anger. Individual therapy, group therapy, or peer-led support groups may all be advantageous, depending on your unique needs/level of access. 
  • Find ways to meet your needs. It’s important that your needs are met, as unmet needs may contribute to emotional difficulties such as anger. 

We all need a place to vent

Whether you have an angry colleague or are the angry colleague, yourself, it’s important not to carry the weight alone.

There’s a saying that goes, “If you hold a glass of water for a minute, it’s no problem. If you hold it for an hour, your arm will start to ache. If you hold it for a day, your arm goes numb. The weight of the glass doesn’t change; it’s about how long you carry it.”

The above saying is relevant to anger at work, as well as any other situations that affect your life and the way you feel. No matter what your struggle is, you don’t have to move through it on your own. Supportiv is an anonymous peer support network, available 24/7. 

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