Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Anger in the workplace

I lost my temper with an employee last week. I was working with a manager from another department first thing in the morning when I spotted her. I turned and said, “By the way Sue I need the numbers for the XYZ report as soon as possible.” She responded with, “A good morning would be nice.” Sue has a reputation for being rude and difficult to work with. Many days employees will try to engage her in pleasantries (such as saying good morning) only to be completely ignored. I wrote about her previously here. She doesn’t work for me, but she does create some of the spreadsheets I work with and provides me with numbers for her department. She doesn't consider the work she does for me a priority and I struggle to get the information I need on a timely basis. I finished working with the other manager and stormed over to her desk proclaiming, “You should talk about Good Morning, we are lucky to get a good morning out of you once every six months.” She stomped off muttering something under her breath.

I went to her manager and asked him to have Sue email me the numbers I needed A.S.A.P. They were emailed to me within a couple of minutes. I ran into another manager while still worked up, telling him what had occurred and proclaiming I’ve had it with Sue I am pulling my spreadsheets from her and giving them to someone else.

First he high-fived me for standing up to her. Then he patted me on the back and told me to calm down, “You know this is a women thing. Women can’t work together and they never forgive.”

At the time I wasn’t in the mood to start another argument, but what does both Sue and I being women have to do with anything. When I lost my temper it was because I am a woman (by the way I can count on one hand the number of times I have lost my cool with an employee). Or the fact that Sue is rude to everyone is because she is a woman. When one of the other managers (who loses his cool all the time) gets angry people don't say it is because he is a guy they say, "Oh that is just the way Scott is."

Did my angry outburst accomplish anything?
I did get my report and I made the point that I am not going to sit back and take rude behavior anymore, but my relationship with Sue is now more strained than ever. Now when she sees me she turns her head or walks the other way. I will have figure out how to work with her all over again. Work relationships shouldn't have to be this hard. I refuse to apologize.

The real problem:
The real problem is that Sue has been allowed to treat her co-workers poorly for years with no repercussions. Her manager refuses to acknowledge that she is a problem. My own manager always says we don’t have to like each other we just have to learn how to work with each other. I think learning how to work with each other should include treating each other with courtesy and respect.

For another take on anger in the workplace see FrauTech's post where she asks: Can anger be an effective tool in the workplace? Or is it always out of line?

What are your thoughts on anger in the workplace?


  1. You don't really need/want me to say this, but... taking the spreadsheets away from Sue is rewarding her for her bad behavior.

    That said, boy didn't it feel good?

    That said, too, anger in the workplace is usually not so good - at least in my experience. You said it - your relationship with Sue is now worse. You probably should apologize for your anger, but if you do, you MUST separate the apology for that one, single event from any sort of letting her off the hook for her bad behavior - a hard tightrope to walk.

    I don't like the characterization that women can't work together, but I do agree that we hold grudges way too long. Men somehow know how to have a blow up and then walk away to start fresh the next time. I think that skill is learned very early on the playing field, and we don't get that experience. By the time we are playing competitive sports, we're already learned not to forgive and forget.

    Perhaps you and Sue can agree to disagree, but to get the work done. You don't have to like her, but you do deserve to have your work done on time and to be respected as a manager. good luck!

  2. Webb,
    Yes, you are right I can't pull the spreadsheets. That is the 1st piece of advice my Cos. HR Manager gave me when I told her about the situation. Plus, it wouldn't work well to take them from her. She uses them to generate reports for her dept. as well. Can you imagine how awful she would treat the poor lady I was planning on assigning them too. During the training phase and when she needed them for her reports.

    And yes it felt good. It was a long time coming like 13 years.

    What I said about saying good morning once every six months is actually a pretty true statement. You wouldn’t believe the number of employees that have come to me saying Sue never responds to their good morning. The problem was my delivery - I was spewing anger. I may ask my HR Manager to coach me on how to rebuild my working relationship with Sue. She sees Sue as a real problem.

    In hindsight, I should have addressed the real work problem - the little games Sue plays not giving me the info I need until the last possible second a long time ago. She is very good at knowing exactly how far she can go without crossing the line. Her hesitation in giving me my numbers one more time is my true frustration with her. When she threw in the good morning statement I just snapped.

    You are also right I have not learned how to have a blow out with someone and start fresh next time and neither have many other women. We just never speak to them again and gossip about them behind their backs. I have also seen men that have not learned this skill as well. Instead of not speaking to them again, men typically plot their revenge.

  3. Anonymous12:59 PM

    I'm hesitant to say this because it's clearly contrary to how you see it, but have you considered that Sue isn't the only one here who isn't behaving maturely? Refusing to apologize and "spewing anger" over something like this aren't good signs. You also mentioned that you can count on one hand how many times you've lost your temper at work, but one is really too many, let alone two, three, four, or five! People remember these things, and even just once can give you a reputation as someone who's difficult to work with. Think about how your manager must have felt having to talk you down from this, and how it will impact how she views you.

    It's not just this situation though; the whole workplace sounds immature. If multiple people have really cared enough to complain that she doesn't say good morning, this is not an office that's functioning at a high level. But you can only control the part you play in that, not anyone else's.

  4. Anon,
    Thanks for your comment. It is always helpful to look at things from a different perspective. I did read your comment to my hubby and he said you don't know all the facts, but in saying that you are right about two things: My office is not functioning at a high level – it has been this way long before I started working there and I should not have gotten that angry. An apology may be a good way to open discussion with Sue. Something like, “I am sorry I got angry the other day, but I've been frustrated with some of your behaviors lately.” Give examples. Discuss how to improve the workflow and talk about courtesy in the work place.

    Actually I got angry in the workplace two other times. Once was also with Sue. She sent a nasty email about one of the ladies who works for me to the entire company. I went up to her and told her she is never to do that again. (She was upset that I didn’t call her into my office, instead of reprimanding her in front of everyone. She was correct about that.) The other time was with an employee who kept telling me about his sex life and the women he thought were hot. Then he would ask me how much I weighed and looked me up and down. Once morning he came into my office and said he had a dream about me last night and I let him have it. In hindsight this dream may not have been sexual, but at the time I did not want to hear about it. Again I let things go too far. After the first conversation that clearly crossed the line, I should have said, “You know I'm not interested in this conversation and it isn't appropriate for the workplace. We have reconciled our relationship and he is back to occasionally telling me about his sex life (or lack of one) and complementing my weight. Now I just shake my head. I kind of feel sorry for him.

    You’ve also given me incentive to once again consider what I want to do with my life. I do not want to work in this place for another fifteen years.

  5. This is so frustrating. I am a teacher, and when we get angry at each other it becomes divisive. I hate the 'talking behind closed doors' thing, so I try to confront the issues honestly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I always know I've been true to myself.
    stopping by from the hop and following!

  6. Hmmm, I get in trouble for my behavior way too often at work. (I finally had to tell my boss that there is a medical reason for my mood swings and that I am on medication for it.) Still, it is not something about which I am proud and I always try to fight that urge to lash out. It is not productive and does more harm than good. This is one lesson I've learned the hard way.

  7. Mamawolfe,
    I think you are on to something - confront the issues honestly. Instead of everyone talking behind closed doors about Sue's rude behavior just tell her she needs to change it now. I waited too long then spoke from anger.

    Actually one of my male co-workers did exactly that. Since the incident Sue has been a bear towards everyone in the office. Our HR Manager overheard one of our salesman tell Sue, "I need you to lose the attitude now."

    Monday morning I said good morning to Sue. She responded likewise. She even said thank you when I placed an envelope in her in-box. Today she approached me with a work problem, explained it in a professional manner and even made a copy of her paperwork for me to keep as a backup.

    I'm not sure if the salesman's comment was what made the difference, but I like the change. And I like his comment. Lose the attitude sounds much better than please stop throwing your spreadsheets at me.

    I hate to keep harping on the male/female thing, but look how diplomatic the seasoned male salesman handled her rudeness. I bet he didn't go home complain about her to his wife or write a post about the incident on his blog either.

    Learn how to be more upfront and honest would be a good lesson for my teenage self.

  8. Michelle,
    I have followed your journey and am aware how hard you've worked on self-improvement. I also know how hard fighting that urge to get angry is. Perhaps it is time for me to get back on my own self-improvement track. Thanks for sharing.