Business Relationship Sabotage: How Anger Sinks Your Career

© 2024 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, The Business Partners Counselor

In the ever-evolving professional world, we often face interpersonal challenges and conflicts. One of these challenges, frequently overlooked, is managing anger. While anger is a normal, healthy emotion, how we express it can have far-reaching consequences. Unskillful expressions of anger can damage professional relationships, poison our work environment, and derail career growth.

Note: This article is part of a series on Healthy and Unhealthy Anger. Our original discussion of the distinction between healthy and unhealthy anger can be found in our previous article, "Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Anger: Can Getting Mad Be Ok?" This series explores the impact of unhealthy anger on various types of relationships, beginning with a discussion of romantic relationships and marriages and continuing with his analysis of anger in professional relationships.

Business partners having intense argument

Anger's Impact on Professional Relationships and Careers

Colleagues and coworkers become wary of interacting with a coworker known for bursts of anger, leading to isolation and strained communication. Furthermore, angry outbursts tarnish one's professional reputation, making it challenging to form new collaborations or advance in one's career. Understanding and effectively managing anger is crucial in maintaining healthy and productive professional relationships.

Excessive or poorly managed anger damages professional relationships by:

  • Creating a hostile work environment
  • Fostering mistrust and resentment of team members
  • Decreasing productivity
Business partners expressing unhealthy anger

10 common ways anger manifests in workplaces and negatively impacts professional relationships:

  1. Outbursts during meetings
  2. Passive-aggressive behavior
  3. Negative gossip or backbiting
  4. Impatience with colleagues or subordinates
  5. Non-constructive criticism
  6. Ignoring or excluding certain employees
  7. Overreacting to small mistakes
  8. Aggressive emails or messages
  9. Public reprimands
  10. Unfair allocation of tasks or responsibilities

What are the Power Dynamics of Anger in Professional Relationships?

Understanding professional relationships requires us to acknowledge and respect relevant power dynamics. These dynamics range from:

  • Relationships between superiors and subordinates
  • Peer relationships of coworkers
  • Clients and service providers

The expression of anger in these varied dynamics leads to constructive or destructive outcomes. For instance, an angry outburst from a superior can create an atmosphere of fear, while from a subordinate can be seen as disrespectful.

The Crucial Role of Boundaries when Dealing with Anger

What are appropriate boundaries for managing anger effectively in professional relationships? Expressing anger in healthy ways means clearly defining what was unsatisfactory and why it upset you without resorting to personal attacks or threats.

11 ways to establish good boundaries by respecting the other person's space and feelings while expressing your concerns:

1. Communicate expectations clearly:

What do you and your coworker expect from each other regarding work output, deadlines, and professional conduct?

2. Maintain respect:

Even in disagreement, always maintain a level of respect. Avoid personal attacks or disrespectful language.

3. Set limits on acceptable behavior:

Clearly define what is permissible and what isn't in the workplace.

4. Address harmful behaviors

Identify aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior and address it.

5. Regular feedback:

Establish a system for regular feedback to address issues before they escalate into major conflicts.

6. Respect personal space:

Avoid infringing on someone's personal space, including physical and mental space.

7. Practice active listening:

Listen to the other person's words before responding to show respect for their viewpoint and prevent misunderstandings.

8. Keep personal issues out of the workplace:

Don't let personal conflicts interfere with professional relationships. Keep them separate to prevent unnecessary anger or tension.

9. Encourage open communication:

Foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings to prevent a build-up of suppressed anger.

10. Avoid making assumptions:

Don't assume you know someone else's thoughts or feelings. If you need clarification, ask them directly.

11. Practice empathy:

Try to understand the other person's perspective. This can reduce anger and foster better understanding between colleagues.

Business partners getting defensive and frustrated

Striking a Balance: Healthy Expressions of Anger Can Maintain Professionalism

Expressing dissatisfaction or upset is natural and can be constructive if done correctly. However, it is essential to prevent the 'fire energy' of anger from escaping the fireplace and burning down the relationship.

The key is to address issues and be OK with facing conflict without causing unnecessary harm to the professional relationship. Do this by:

  • Checking your tone of communication. Is it overly harsh?
  • The volume of our voice.
  • The words we choose to express our thoughts and feelings. Are those words appropriate for a professional dialog in your workplace?
Business partners blaming one another

Choose Words that Focus on the Workplace Problem, Not the Worker, to Express Frustration Effectively

The language and tone we use when expressing frustration can significantly influence how it is received and interpreted. Please don't focus on the person as the issue; focus instead on the situation or the behavior that caused the upset.

This approach minimizes personal attacks and promotes a more constructive and solution-oriented conversation. Therefore, use respectful, clear, and direct language to manage anger in professional settings.

Preserve Professional Relationships by Balancing Anger in the Workplace

Understanding and managing the impact of anger on professional relationships are essential skills in today's workplace. By maintaining clear boundaries, using appropriate language, and balancing the expression of anger with professionalism, we can address conflicts effectively. Doing so prevents damage to our professional relationships and contributes to a healthier, more respectful work environment.

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