Cooler Heads Prevail When Dealing With Angry Employees

Ask any manager and they will tell you that one of the most dreaded situations they face is dealing with emotional employees. It’s a situation that no one wants to see happen but more and more plays out in offices today.  We need to face the reality that we are living in stressful times and life has a way of throwing us some pretty big curve balls. When we are under stress, we tend to have a flight or fight response.  Fight means we challenge the source of the fear.  Flight means we run from it.  In general, an angry person will choose to elect the fight option.

How do we bring down the temperature of an angry employee?

We need to remember when confronted with an angry person that mental state of the employee may have nothing to do with you or the workplace.  Life doesn’t stop at the front of door of the office. We can’t just shut off the world around us. Consider that the anger source may not have anything to do with the office environment or it could be. You will have to determine this through your discussion as your progress through the conversation with the person in the next steps.

Keep in mind as well, this person will have a short fuse. Anything could possibly set them off.  This behavior is their way to control the situation. They will raise their voice and perhaps even become violent in their actions.  The intent of this is let you know in very clear terms that they feel wronged and lash out to let you know they mean business. This aggressive behavior is a ploy to intimidate their supervisors to divert attention from the meeting about their behavior.

Let’s look how we can defuse this situation:

  • Let Them Vent:   Evaluate the situation. Determine if the behavior is egregious and insubordinate then give the employee a moment or two to let off some steam. You won’t get far if you cut them off.   Realize that part of the problem may be linked to their perception that no one is paying attention to them or respects their opinions. Give them that chance to vent and listen to what they are saying. You are not a punching bag in this discussion, rather, a sounding board.  Bite your tongue a bit and don’t try to assert your authority just yet.  If they feel they are being heard, it may diffuse them to settle down on their own.  The trick here is finding the balance between listening and being in control of the conversation on your end.
  • Lay Down the Ground Rules For the Discussion:  After the venting and they have had their chance to blow off some of the steam, now is your opportunity to set up the rules of the discussion.  Set up the conversation in this way, “I want to hear what you have to say, but not in this manner. If we can talk respectfully to each other, I’ll be glad to listen.”  Be calm in your tone of voice. You don’t want to escalate this into an argument.  You just want to set up where you have control of the direction of the conversation and lay the foundation of how to progress forward with purpose.
  • Never Cater To Their Anger.  You cannot condone the employee’s anger. Being empathic here will get you nowhere. You need to express tough love in these situations and express that you understand that they are upset, but if you condone it, you are giving in to their outburst. It may sound cruel, but here is where you need to draw the line.
  • Take The Focus Off The Anger.  Let this not become of battle of wills between you and the employee. This will only lead to you getting frustrated with yourself and pulled into an unprofessional behavior.  You never want to lose control of the conversation. Instead, pull the focus to “why”.  What the reasons behind the anger? Why are they behaving this way? What are the triggers? Get to the heart of the matter.
  • Let’s Find Some Agreement:  Many negotiators will tell you that you have to lay groundwork to for middle ground, foundation for agreement.  Look for a way both parties can agree that you want to see a resolution in some manner, no matter how small. Make some head by making a small step to lead to bigger agreements in the long run.

As much as we may try to intervene, there are times when an employee won’t calm down to have a meaningful discussion.  You can try to give them more time to cool their jets and that if that doesn’t work, you may just need to reschedule the meeting for later in the day or the next. However, you cannot give up and avoid the issue. You will pay the price down the road of avoiding this is bad morale and more frustration. You need to get back in the ring and go a few more rounds until this is settle. Both you and the employee deserve it.  Remember that when confronted with an angry employee, the person in control wins.  You need to maintain your control and with that control, you maintain the advantage to come to a constructive outcome.   There is another point to this as well, your other employees are watching you to see how handle this situation as well.  Even though you are having a private discussion, don’t think for a minute your staff doesn’t know about it….or hear about it. How you handle this will have ripples far reaching than just this one employee and affect your ability to your staff and their interpretation of your behavior in the future.  It’s in your best interest to play it cool.

Jennifer Olney
Over the course of my career, I have been sought after by numerous organizations to bring my talents in the arenas of sales, marketing and business development. As the Founder and Director of Business BEALEADER, I bring my experience to the table to expand the knowledge base for those seeking to find their own leader within. In 2011, I created BEALEADER to be a platform for individuals to share their expertise and leadership to make others better by being a resource of business, career and marketing solutions for those who are just starting out or maybe have a “few” years under their belt and need keep their skills fresh. In addition to the BEALEADER platform, I have developed the business units BEALEADER Business Services, which provides marketing, business development and human resource management services and BEALEADER Executive Coaching Services, which provides one on one and group coaching services to executives and individuals. These business units expand our ability and brand to make others better as we reach out to our audience with these unique product offerings. In 2014, I was named to the list of Top 101 Leadership Speakers and I have written for several publications such as Yahoo! Small Business, Business 2 Community and others. I have also co-hosted several podcasts and in 2015 will be hosting the BEALEADER podcast for our audience as well.
Jennifer Olney
Jennifer Olney
Jennifer Olney

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  • July 11, 2013


    Incredible post, Jen! LOL, sheesh…you can bet this is already printed and in my binder to head into the wilderness with me. Sigh. Professional Guides (and of course the Trainees) get into some intense, stressful and dangerous situations… it is the nature of the job. But your list of how to appropriately diffuse the slightly psycho situations I have witnessed will be a God-send, I believe. I understand the steps of advice above pretty clearly except for “Never Cater to their anger”. I see step 1 and 2 …but then I am confused on what this means to me- what does this mean I should do?…. and I do understand the last two as well. 
    I hope you all know, Jen, how MUCH I have learned, adjusted and tweaked in myself, simply by being here. #bealeader has made such an impact on my own life, and I hope, through me, our Trainee’s lives.

  • July 12, 2013

    Jen Olney

    AlaskaChickBlogThanks, Amber-Lee. Having had prior experience in these situations myself this posts takes on a personal tone for me. When dealing with emotions, we tend to have to settle down the situation quickly. We are all human and we have to remember that both sides are uncomfortable. On not catering to the anger. My point is that you can’t give in to their anger. There is where empathy will get you no where. You have to be strong in this moment, not give in to their outburst. It can be very tough to do. I hope that helps.

  • July 15, 2013

    Angela Goodeve

    This is very helpful not only for dealing with Employees who are angry, but with Colleagues, Business Partners, Clients, Etc…  One thing is for sure:  When you work with and serve others you will find yourself having to diffuse a situation like this at some point.
    Some coaching options to consider:

    If you simply acknowledge the person’s anger this may validate them enough initially for them to calm down. (Caveat:  Anger often comes from frustration, fear, or some other upset, so if you simply acknowledge anger you may not be getting to the core of the issue).  Try:  “You sound really upset”, then be silent.  If you hit it on the nose they will say something like:  “Yes I am”.  Be silent again and wait.  If they feel acknowledged they will start talking.  
    Once they vent a little as them what bothered them most about the situation.  It is probably not when they just finished venting about (the story they told).
    You are still in control in this situation with the questions you are asking, and are still in ‘Coach’ mode if you assert that you need to have a conversation without swearing, yelling, etc.

    Ang 🙂