This is our first guest Blogger, Tomiko Buchanan, with a word of encouragement for all those who find themselves in heated situations at work. Be sure to check out the Prayer for your Career this week as well. Happy Valentine's Day to everyone and thanks for your support!
Diffusing Anger in the Workplace
By Tomiko L. Buchanan, J.D.
When we are at work, we should never lose focus on our real purpose for being there. We do not want to stand out as a troublemaker. We want to blend in and say all the right things at all the right times. We want to maintain a professional demeanor with the company’s customers and our colleagues. The purpose of this article is to explore how to diffuse anger in the workplace. Just because we are not “going postal” on our colleagues or making crude remarks to customers, it does not mean that anger does not manifest itself in our lives in the form of stress, anxiety, verbal or physical anger. We tend to overestimate the way we will react to a situation or dilemma until we are confronted with the situation. If you don’t already have a plan in place to deal with rude or disgruntled co-workers you are already half way to the unemployment line.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 639 workplace homicides in 2001 in the US out of 8786 fatal work injuries. One out of every 4 employees will be attacked, threatened, verbally or physically harassed, at work each year. In 1993, the National Safe Workplace Institute released a study showing that workplace violence costs $4.2 billion each year, estimating over 111,000 violent incidents. Further, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 500,000 victims of violent crime in the workplace lose an estimated 1.8 million workdays each year.
First, in order to diffuse anger in the workplace, we have to realize that what we say is important. It is still important to think before we speak. It is essential that we choose our words carefully. According to Proverbs 15:28, the heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words (New Living Translation). While in the workplace, we must be conscious of the fact that we will be interacting with colleagues and customers with different economic, spiritual, educational and social backgrounds. We have to remember that time is finite. In order to keep the listeners attention, we must make a point in the first 3 minutes of speech. We have to consciously edit our idle remarks with colleagues and supervisors, refrain from using slang, and avoid phrases and comments that could be offensive. If we practice goal setting, then we will not have time for idle conversation and we will be more productive on the job. In additional to being consciousness of how long we talk, it is important that we use kind words and that we tell the truth. Telling the truth includes sharing all pertinent facts and not misleading others by leaving out essential details during the conversation.
Second, if we want to diffuse anger in the workplace, we must exercise self-control. According to Proverbs 16:1, a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. When someone on your job tries to provoke you to argue or engage in a shouting match, be conscious of your tone and volume. If you feel yourself becoming angry, you have to make the decision to speak slower and to lower your voice. Often, we are not conscious of our volume, tones and facial expressions; those three factors can escalate a disagreement into a fight. If the debate escalates, then we always have the choice to walk away.
Finally, if we want to diffuse anger in the workplace, we must perfect our active listening skills. In addition to being aware of our body language and looking the speaker in the eye while they are speaking, active listening skills can easily be the difference between a good performance evaluation and a pink slip. One of the best active listening skills is restating. To show that you are listening, paraphrase what you heard in your own words. Next, there is validation, which is acknowledging the individual’s problems, issues, and feelings. When you validate a person’s ideas you listen openly and with empathy, and try your best to respond in a sincere and interested way. Finally, do not forget the art of silence. When silence is utilized as a tool when speaking to someone, it slows down the conversation and gives the person the time to think as well as talk. Silence also is very effective in diffusing an unproductive interaction.
In summary, if we are conscious of what we say, the way we say it, and practice active listening, then we can contribute to the productivity of our interpersonal relationships and our careers. As we make an effort to be a better communicator then our skills and our talents on the job will shine brighter.
 U.S. Administration on Aging. The Art of Active Listening. Washington, DC: National Aging I&R Support Center, 2005.