Anger at Work: Can Mad be Good for Leaders?

anger is ok at work sometimes
Learn how to effectively manage your anger at work! If you're a leader, this article is for you.

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While it might seem pretty logical that leaders should try to be as pleasant as possible with followers, is it always possible to be happy? Or is it even good for the team if you’re never mad? Leaders, like everyone else, need to manage emotions at work. It’s really important that folks are conscious about authentically displaying emotions at work. However, when you’re a leader, all eyes are on you. You might have to make choices about which emotions to display, depending on what will help your team succeed. One common emotion leaders might have in stressful work environments is anger. But, is it ever ok to show that you’re mad? The answer: it depends. Learn more below!

What Counts as Anger at Work?

First, it’s important to recognize how and when you might get mad at work. Many of you have probably felt this emotion when working before. Anger occurs when you perceive that someone or something has wronged you. Often, experiences of anger also include a motivation to make things right. So, when you’re mad, you want to fix that feeling by addressing the source of your anger directly. For this reason, anger is an active emotion. This means that when you’re mad, that feeling might drive you to do something in response.

Like all emotions, anger can be felt in the moment, in reaction to something you perceive as wrong. But, it can also be a trait. There are some people who are just more angry than others. This means that they are more likely to become mad at a broader range of things. They might also stay mad for longer. It might be ok to be angry at work sometimes, as we discuss below. But, it is probably better for leaders to learn how to better cope with their emotions if they are high on trait anger. So, if you are continually feeling angry with others at work, you might want to find ways to de-escalate your anger in general. This is especially true if you feel you are often getting angry at things that aren’t very important or that others don’t perceive as justified.

everyone feels anger sometimes
Everyone feels anger sometimes. But, you might need to make sure that your anger isn’t constant or directed at meaningless things!

How Do Others Perceive Anger at Work?

Classic research on anger at work suggests that coworkers will only sometimes perceive being mad negatively. So, it might be ok to express your anger if you feel it. When you feel angry, you have to decide if you are going to show it. If you suppress anger over a long period of time, it can build up into resentment. You might also miss out on opportunities to change the situation that is making you mad. Generally, if you are mad about something reasonable and your relationships are suffering because you’re holding anger in, research suggests that you express your anger healthily.

Decided to express that you’re mad? Remember that, if your anger becomes too much, people will not perceive it positively. Anger will only be perceived positively if it isn’t too intense. It also matters whether or not you’re getting mad regularly. When employees perceive you as a person who is mad all the time, or who gets inappropriately angry, they will not perceive you positively. Further, if you aren’t perceived as legitimate (i.e., good at your job) or emotionally intelligent (i.e., good at building relationships), your anger may be viewed more negatively as well. Finally, your gender matters. Women are viewed less positively for displaying anger at work, compared to men. So, if you are a female leader, you may need to monitor yourself when you’re mad even more (or find a workplace that is less biased)!

stay within the bounds of acceptable anger at work
It feels good to let your anger out at work. But, make sure you stay within the bounds of what is acceptable!

What is the Outcome of Being Mad at Work?

If you’re a leader who is mad at work, there are some outcomes associated with your emotions for your team. First, when you are moderately mad and the situation calls for it, anger can actually increase team performance. For example, coaches who show some anger during halftime speeches when the team is losing, can motivate the team to play smarter. However, if the anger crosses the line, performance will take a hit. This means that if you are physically violent, verbally intense or attacking, or offensive toward others, your team will become less productive. Related, being exposed to anger may also make employees less creative.

Overall, leaders are given more leeway to be angry, because they have more power. But, they also impact their subordinates more than others do (e.g., a coworker who is mad) when they’re angry. So, if you’re angry at work, ask yourself a few questions. First, ask yourself what you’re mad at. If you’re mad at something that is morally wrong or something that is important, you probably want to express that you’re mad somehow. If it’s something petty or somewhat meaningless, you might want to let it go.

Second, ask how you want to display your anger? If your first inclination is to put your fist through a wall, curse someone out, or send someone a degrading email, slow down. Give yourself some time to calm down and come up with a strategy before acting. Finally, ask yourself what you’d like to see happen moving forward. If you have a good solution to solve the problem you’re angry at, you’ll see greater progress. It’s ok to be mad – we all are sometimes! But, it’s what you do with your anger that counts.

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