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Don’t let anger beat you at work – Anger Awareness Week

Did you know the season of good will begins with National Anger Awareness Week? Yes, it’s the season of goodwill and yet in the midst of preparations seasonal spirit can be, well, thinner on the ground than Christmas snow – especially when it comes to giving and receiving services.


Anger – let’s set the scene


Remember 80s cult classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles? Ok, it’s about Thanksgiving not Christmas. But people get that same ‘must get home in time to celebrate’ angst. In short Steve Martin sees his previously simple travel plans become a three-day misadventure – thus the title. Part way he hires a car. Except it’s not there. Now at the end of his tether he goes to the car rental service desk…


The customer service agent is on a personal call. She’s planning her holiday celebrations. He waits for her to wind up the call. She doesn’t – oblivious to his rising frustration. Eventually he completely loses it – if you’re not offended by bad language you can watch the clip over on YouTube. To which she replies: “I really don’t care for the way you’re speaking to me.”




So, this Friday we’re taking a look at anger at work. Why it happens, how to manage it and what to do about it when it, well, explodes.


Anger – the fact & figures


Government records show:

  • 698,000 incidents of violence at work occured in 2015/16 according to CSEW stats
  • 329,000 of those were assaults – a broadly stable figure
  • 369,000 were threats – a significant increase, due to work-related online threats being included for the first time
  • 54% of violent incidents were caused by a known offender – most likely to be clients or a member of the public known through work


What is anger?


According to the Mental Health Foundation: “Anger is caused by a combination of factors such as a trigger event, the qualities of an individual, and the individual’s appraisal of a situation.” Anger has three parts:

  • Physical – the ‘flight or fight’ response. Think: an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and tightening of muscles, etc…
  • Cognitive – how we perceive and think about what is angering us
  • Behavioural – from raising one’s voice to slamming doors or storming off


What causes anger?


As mentioned above anger is a kind of equation of varying factors – including temperament and even past experiences – but there will be a trigger event:

  • Trigger is the key word here – think: a driver cutting you up or someone being rude to you, or your rental car not being where it’s supposed to be…
  • BUT the trigger event alone isn’t to blame for anger – otherwise we’d all react in the same way to similar scenarios!


But, of course, some situations are prone to create a kind of anger-melting pot.


Yes, Christmas can be a great a trigger


And, guess what? Psychologist Dr David Lewis claims that Christmas shopping can be one such trigger. He found that:

  • Nearly a quarter of Britons say they find Christmas shopping more stressful than rush hour traffic!
  • Plus, heart rates tend to increase by a third – on a par with running a marathon! – another study by eBay suggested


The result? Our flight or fright responses are set in motion. And, we’re more likely to see red (and, no, it’s not just the Christmas lights). But what’s really the matter? So, if it’s not actually Christmas crowds / traffic jams / rude coworkers that are the problem, what’s behind all this anger?


A great article on the customer services-focused Relate by Zendesk website advises:

  • “Knowing what contributes to customer anger and frustration…” .


It goes on to say:

  • “There are a lot of feelings that might be coming up for [the angered person] — guilt, anxiety, fear, loss of self-esteem, powerlessness, and even protective defensiveness…”.
  • “We can’t see into someone else’s mind, only what they express to us.” – but having an idea of what might be behind it all can help us empathise through challenging interactions
  • Read more here.


In short we need to develop our capacity for empathy.


Anger in other people


In fact, an HBR article on customer stress highlights the importance to businesses (and thus workers) of being ready to respond to high emotion situations. It emphasises the need to empathise with the emotions behind anger – not just simply responding to the anger you’re experiencing / receiving.


“In times of duress, the impressions left by service providers are long-lasting and can heighten the impact of a service experience, for better or worse. A failure to recognize and quickly respond to their emotional states leaves customers feeling scared, frustrated, powerless, and ignored.”


Want to improve your ability to deal with negative workplace situations? You’re in luck. According to customer service expert Jeff Toister: “More than any other topic, frontline employees ask for advice on how to serve angry and upset customers.” You can find his online course on


Dealing with your anger

  • Nearly a third of people – say they have a close friend or family member who has trouble controlling their anger according to the Mental Health Foundation


When star chef Heston Marc Blumenthal nearly shot, yes shot, someone in an incident at his dad’s house he was forced to take a long hard look at himself: “Before, I’d always blamed other people for me losing the plot. Like they made me get angry. I thought my own actions were justified. What was really worrying about the shotgun thing was how calm I felt throughout it all. I felt fantastic. It felt fantastic. Powerful. I thought I could rule the world. That’s what scared me most, not that I had the capacity to do that, but that I actually enjoyed doing it,”


He told the Daily Mail.


“How on earth did he transform himself from a would-be killer to the darling of the gastronomic world, then?” They asked. “The short answer is that he got help.” For help controlling a bad temper try the NHS for starters. Or the British Association of Anger Management has specialist advice.


Using anger to your advantage


But remember anger in and of itself isn’t bad. Several studies published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that angry people are more likely to be creative (see what happened to Heston?!).


It’s how we use our anger that really matters. An interesting Psychologies article gives the following tips on how to channel our anger:

  • Find creative solutions – “Anger brings up memories of past hurt and can inspire imagined outcomes. These imaginings can lead us to innovative thinking and creative problem-solving.”
  • Strengthen your resolve – “Anger can help us focus and energetically provide us with the persistence needed to overcome obstacles.”
  • Become more self-aware – “Acknowledging when we are angry and understanding our triggers can be a useful tool for self-growth. Just that recognition can take the edge off and allow us to direct this energy into creative pursuits.”
  • Brainstorm – “High emotions can inspire unstructured and atypical thinking. These are the moments that allow us to think outside of the box. So get yourself a pen and paper and note down ideas.”
  • Get fit – “The intense surge of energy supplied by anger can help push you through physical exhaustion. Use this energy to realise your fitness goals and release those feel-good endorphins.”


Next Steps: How do you deal with challenging behaviour in the workplace? Got any advice or experiences to share? We’d love to hear your thoughts:

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