How to Deal With Angry Staff

We would rather never want to deal with angry members of staff but sadly a fact of working life is that we will be called upon to manage this at some point during the working process. (Take heart and spare a thought for those who work in customer-facing roles who deal with angry and frustrated people every day – now that really is a skill to admire and copy!).

We need to see the anger in our staff and then use our skills to harness that power in a positive manner and redirect it into something productive and effective. The premier League football manager and the half-time talk springs to mind with tea cups flying and angry words exchanged about attitude and application. The Sir Alex Ferguson “Hairdrier” is an excellent image of anger being used and a spur for further action. 

Why is Anger such an important issue?

Anger is a force that can urge and spur us on to improve, or, it can be a force that destroys our ability to deal with our tasks and meet the goals we have been set. Managers play a critical role in determining which of these results will come about. The way the manager deals with conflict and anger will set the climate for employees.

Workplace anger can appear in the following scenarios;

  • one employee angry or in conflict with another
  • employee angry or in conflict with manager (you)
  • one employee angry at someone in another organization
  • two factions that habitually square off

Hidden Anger

You should be aware that the anger you see is much easier to deal with than the anger that goes unexpressed by employees. People rarely let anyone see all of the anger that is there, choosing to save some of the energy for a later battle or to just let some emerge to see what outcomes they might gain. Watch children playing and falling out with each other – this is pure anger management by the individual who will seek out a path with different portions of expressed anger depending on the way their playmates react. If the child gets what they want, the anger stops. If not the behaviour takes a new path up to the point at which they see that they can get nothing else from the situation. then play resumes.

A large part of employee anger is always directed at the organisation and not you, which is a highly destructive force and something that needs to be tackled if possible to avoid long-term motivation and application problems. It will show itself in long-term disruption, non-cooperation and unwillingness to contribute to what is going on.

Sound familiar? Yes? Because we’re all guilty of it – show me someone who hasn’t, or doesn’t feel like that! Organisations are not perfect places to be!

Building any team or setting up an infrastructure to achieve goals needs to be done with the clear view in mind that there will be very large feelings that never surface unless provoked. The best you can do it to watch for the clues when they appear and then act positively and decisively to correct the issues that you see.

So what can you do?

Conflict/Angry situations become negative and destructive when they are not dealt with promptly and effectively. When the situations are dealt with properly, there is a tendency for a team to get stronger and better.

While angry employees may appear to want a specific issue addressed, they are looking for something else that they see as equally or more important. They want to be heard. If you don’t provide a means for them to be heard, they will find other more subversive ways to be heard which will bring bigger and more serious issues to the fore.

Staff will watch very closely to see how you handle anger directed at you. Even if you have a private discussion with an angry employee, staff will know about it. Your ability to manage into the future will depend on your approach and the way you act and the interpretation of that.

Most people react to anger directed at them with a fight or flight reaction. That is there is a gut reaction which, unchecked, results in “firing back” with an aggressive manner, adopting a defensive stance or avoidance. Only in rare occasions will these gut reactions result in dealing with anger effectively. Review the situation and never, if possible, get drawn in immediately.
For more information about our services please contact us at