Angry at Work: When Emotions Interfere with Progress

Anger is a Secondary EmotionThe workplace can be a fascinating study in emotion, principally in relation to anger. There are those coworkers who appear void of any angry tendencies, and those who seem to be the embodiment of rage, flying off the handle on a daily basis. We’ve all witnessed the spectrum, and have a pretty good idea of where we fall on it, but this doesn’t necessarily leave us any more informed about the triggers of anger, and the maintenance thereof.

Angry Baggage

I would categorize myself as somewhere mid-spectrum— calm and cool on the outside, feeling anger occasionally, but rarely finding the need to express it. Emotionally, it’s a comfortable place to be, and took some evolving to achieve. However, it put me in an odd position in my various workplace environments of the past, wherein colleagues, sensing no threat, would confide in me, often expressing their dissatisfactions with other coworkers or managers behind their backs. Over time, this transformed my mind into a lethal database of who resents whom and why….not the best kind of baggage to be dragging through life. Had my coolness backfired on me?


I’ve heard it said about those who act on their anger that there is a lack of Emotional Intelligence (E.I.), which is described as that special ability to control one’s own emotions while effectively navigating the emotions of others. I was first made aware of E.I. about a decade ago, when Janeane Garofalo would use the term on her radio show when referring to politicians who weren’t hesitant about signing on for war. Fast-forward to this past Tuesday, and I was reminded of the term by a friend and colleague, who stressed the necessity of E.I. in the workplace as a vital anger management tool. Unfortunately, it remains another one of those subjects not sufficiently tackled during higher education (something that ought to anger us all).   

Were so many of my previous coworkers truly void of E.I., or were they just victims of mismanaged work environments, launching their own legitimate missions to manufacture more victims? And was I smart not to engage in the game? Some insight might rest within these words of wisdom, shared with me periodically by an even-keeled and compassionate Deborah: Be kind to others— even those who perpetuate belligerence, for beneath the surface, everyone is fighting their own battles.

Help on the Way

While it is true that many workplace outbursts stem from factors unrelated to the recipient of the anger, and that using E.I. to acknowledge this is an effective way to ease one’s own mind, there remains a deeper challenge. When we find ourselves in an environment permeated by anger that’s unaddressed, it can compound into internalized conflicts, and carve away at everyone’s productivity, even those armed with high stamina. Licensed social worker and WAC specialist Ginny Brown adds perspective when she informs us that the angry people are not just the ones who throw tantrums; there are less-obvious forms of anger in all of us, disguised as disappointment, mild frustration, or even unclear thinking, and we need to be aware of these symptoms in ourselves, while looking at ways to lend our support to others. Ginny will be the speaker at WAC’s January 29th event, which will focus on anger management in the workplace. I will be there with bells on, determined to uncover the mysteries regarding this crucial matter that often gets swept under the rug. If you’d like to join me, sign up here, and let the transformation begin.