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Workplace Rage: knowing how to manage it is becoming increasingly important

It is possible to defuse negative emotions in the work environment before they get to be a problem. The first step is to have a strong, clear company policy.

Workplace Rage: knowing how to manage it is becoming increasingly important

Workplace Rage – Managing negative emotions in the workplace

Article by Massimo Picozzi (Criminologist) and Paolo Gasca (Head of Professione: Manager, The European House – Ambrosetti)

Rage is not a feeling, an emotional state that lasts for long. It is not a deeper, devastating passion. It is not even a frame of mind or an underlying mood whose trigger is not clear.

Rage is an emotion, something that arises in relation to an external event and, as such, is always social in nature. Its primary role is to continuously process what is happening in the environment around us so that we can react appropriately. Our emotional system is constantly recalibrating our behavior in relation to the incoming flow of information and together it regulates our bodies, preparing us in the event of the need to take action.

Rage is, therefore, a natural and primal emotion, one that is necessary for our survival. It is the answer to a threat, to frustration, and it helps us to fight for our own safety, providing us with the emotional and physical energy to solve the problem. Getting angry is not necessarily wrong, therefore, because rage—if properly controlled and mastered—can be a positive and constructive force. It can be an emotion that allows us to assert ourselves and negotiate what we need.

At the same time, through emotions, we communicate our intentions, often with greater intensity and efficacy than we can with words. Finally, we should not forget the value of emotions for us, the people who experience them, and their capacity to give us the ability to examine ourselves, our priorities and our choices.

Naturally, all this can also take place in the work environment. No one can claim to be immune to moments of rage and, within the gamut of emotions that ranges from simple annoyance to an outbreak of irrepressible wrath, everyday we witness (and experience ourselves) some degree of irritation.

Nothing new about this. But people who are familiar with the work environment and can sense the climate that permeates it, have not failed to note that in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to control and manage resentment and frustration. This difficulty is seen not only in aggressive behavior, but also in poorer performance and small acts of sabotage which have inevitable impact on the emotional atmosphere, on productivity and company profits, creating a vicious and destructive cycle.

Naturally, this is a complex issue and it is impossible to identify one single reason to explain the current aspect, but the economic crisis has certainly played in the past and continues to play a decisive role. Downsizing, reorganization and radical changes in the workplace all inevitably bring with them humiliation, fear and rage.

And alongside macro- and micro-social change, there is also always the human factor. The much-vaunted ability of the people involved to accept and experience as positive changes and flexibility implies a tremendous capability to adapt which, in turn, is based on individual self-esteem and feeling secure about oneself—rare commodities in these times.

On the other hand, annoyance and rage are only aspects of a much broader problem: the way in which we experience and react to emotions. Many are able to control them, but others are not. This can depend on an unfortunate genetic legacy, or personal family history. Our way of thinking also influences our approach to rage. Taking for granted what is positive, emphasizing the negative or being overly perfectionist are all aspects that can trigger feelings of irritation and rage, as can personal beliefs about the concept of justice and equality.

To diffuse these negative feelings before they can become a problem, poisoning our decision-making processes and causing – unconsciously – poor, uneconomic choices, action needs to be taken on a number of fronts. On one hand, a strong, clear company policy must be adopted that prohibits even “minor” forms of aggressive behavior, ones that are more frequent and seemingly less-sensational. But at the same time, and above all, a culture of trust in people must be constantly fostered and spread, together with respect between managers and employees.

This also assumes that those in management positions have a new and more-sophisticated ability to “read” emotions in themselves and others, and are able to manage them well in order to avoid them becoming disruptive elements within a corporate environment already put to the test by the general business and social climate.

Understanding and controlling the profound relationship between emotion, cognition and behavior; transitioning from conflict to cooperation through correct interpretation of professional relations; knowing how to manage stress and endemic dependencies recognizing even their weak signs; controlling decision-making processes under emergency situations: these are the unavoidable challenges for anyone today who really wants to play a managerial role effectively and successfully.




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