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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Reining in Rage


Workplace anger is dangerous. It sometimes leads to violence, making homicide one of the top four causes of death in the workplace and causing 15,000 nonfatal injuries annually. But even when it doesn’t reach that level, workplace anger can affect employees’ health, happiness and performance if not dealt with quickly.

Jude Bijou, therapist and author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life (Riviera Press, 2011), has spent decades helping people view and manage their anger by encouraging them to see it as a physical state that can be remedied. Bijou writes that she has found unexpressed sadness, anger and fear to be at the root of all bad attitudes. By expelling these physical sensations from the body -- releasing that bad energy by sobbing, stomping, shivering, whatever is most effective -- people can create more positive attitudes.

This insight is helpful for managers in two respects. First, like everyone else, managers must learn to control their own anger. And the added responsibility and inevitable frustrations that come with being a supervisor can cause anger to build. Additionally, managers likely will benefit if they have a better understanding of employees’ attitudes. If a supervisor approaches a bad attitude as a manifestation of sadness, anger or fear, then he may have more success addressing the issue in a productive way.

Through her attitude reconstruction blueprint, Bijou identifies the four disruptive core attitudes that lead to anger: 1) outward focus, in which the employee may feel jealous or alienated, or will tend toward blaming others; 2) not accepting people and situations, in which the individual will feel intolerant, disappointed and frustrated; 3) making negative judgments of what is, manifested through a resentful, critical or disgusted attitude; and 4) selfishness, which tends to make employees feel stubborn, rebellious and arrogant.

Being able to identify that an employee who is pushy or insensitive could in fact be angry can help a manager garner the patience to work with that individual, rather than dismiss her as a problem employee. And developing the self-awareness to see employee resentment as a form of anger can help a manager dissipate that anger, adjust expectations, and interact with his or her team in a more positive way.

Bijou’s background as a family and marriage counselor with an interest in meditation and other holistic treatments means that her advice for dealing with bad attitudes can seem easier said than done. For example, she writes that the solution to frustration is to accept what is and the solution to feeling resigned is to abandon unfounded hopes.

But her solutions are far from pie in the sky, and Bijou’s recommended process of identifying the core emotions -- sadness, anger or fear -- that could be causing feelings of blame, frustration, resentment, helplessness, inadequacy or any number of other attitudes is worthwhile. Too often even the most self-aware manager, or person for that matter, will take the time to identify only the superficial feeling, failing to dig down to the root cause.

Digging down, and then responding to the core emotion, can bring the relief that angry managers and employees need to be happier, healthier and more productive in the workplace and outside it.

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