significance of negative circumstances may not
become evident to those affected until later. For example, although you may be relieved by employees’
initial acceptance of organizational shakeouts, don’t
miss or ignore what often follows. Sadness can
emerge as reality sets in about losing colleagues or
routines. During this time, don’t dispassionately
direct employees to put the past behind them.
The impact can be depleting. As an information
technology (IT) manager who survived layoffs
explained, “The new leaders keep warning us,
‘It’s time to move on.’ I resent it. They make it seem
like having legitimate concerns is a personal
Dealing With Anger,
Fear, and Sadness
Anger, fear, and sadness are three primary negative
emotions commonly encountered in the workplace.
Knowing more about these specific emotions can increase your skill at handling them and build the
confidence you need to take effective action.
Anger This may be the most prevalent negative
emotion at work. It is certainly the most acceptable.
As I have observed in field research and found across
surveys and interviews, displays of anger can be so
common and powerful in some organizations that
employees sometimes learn to habitually use anger
to get their way.
Working with and around angry people is exhausting: It wears others out, undermines their drive,
and suppresses their cognitive abilities. When individuals dare to respond to anger, brain chemistry can
cause them to have difficulty communicating well or
thinking clearly. 13 Unfortunately, inferior responses
can strengthen angry employees’ self-serving biases
about being right, stoke their confidence, and reinforce their use of anger.
Angry encounters can spin into long-lasting re-
sentment and unhappiness. Based on thousands of
survey responses regarding incivility, research col-
leagues and I found that ( 1) employees who are treated
angrily typically seek retribution, harbor animosity, or
both; ( 2) some employees who simply witness or hear
about others’ angry outbursts may seek recourse;
and ( 3) employees in anger-tainted workplaces find
ways to get even with offenders and with their
organizations. 14 The following guidelines are im-
perative for effective managerial response to anger.
Don’t let yourself get sucked in. When anger is
stirring, expect your own anger or fear to rise.
Whether you are the target of anger or a referee
among angry employees, aim to slow down the situ-
ation. Do what you can to quiet yourself and the
environment. Remain still. Listen carefully. Aim to
project a composed, neutral demeanor by speaking
calmly, clearly, and deliberately, but do not be conde-
scending. When you are the target of anger, do not
attempt to justify yourself or argue the point. Rather,
strive to contain your own negative emotions.
When dealing with anger in the workplace,
calmly try to unknot and understand the full situa-
tion without being absorbed by it. Speak with
individuals one-on-one to ascertain their perspec-
tives. Help angry employees consider appropriate
ways of handling heated issues, by discussing prob-
lems and developing plans to deal with similar
challenges more effectively in the future. When
anger is directed at you, fully evaluate whether
complaints are justified. If so, apologize and take
action promptly to correct the problem. If not, aim
to remain respectful and carry on.
Don’t side with an employee you think has
been wronged. Doing so can harden negative attitudes, making the situation more brittle and more
resistant to improvement. Instead, aim to speak
from a position of neutrality. Resist the temptation
to empathize with negative comments about any
individual or the circumstances. Do not attribute
harmful intentions, even if they seem obvious. As
an executive at a public-sector organization recommended, “Create an environment where employees
understand the personal costs if they’re not pulling
for the team. Help angry employees consider and
initiate forward-focused thinking and action in a
solutions-based environment, rather than dwelling
on the negative.”
Fear Full-scale organizational crises, dismal
quarterly results, and even off-the-cuff negative
comments by those in charge can kick-start fear in a
workplace. When fear strikes, the physiology of survival readies individuals to fight, flee, or freeze.
However, organizations expect employees to carry
on, even when employees’ perceptions of personal or