January 14, 2012

Management by Anger

How many of us have seen, heard, or been on the receiving end of a supervisor, or manager, yelling or losing their temper at work?  Based on my experience working for all types of employers, I am guessing the number is very high.  Since many employers today are more leanly staffed, with correspondingly high workloads, it is probably happening even more now than in the past.

The reason I bring this up is because I do not think it is talked about near as much as it should be.  Yelling or losing your temper at work in many instances probably does little to correct whatever behavior triggered the response and indeed may needlessly create other, likely larger, problems for all concerned.

When someone yells or “goes off” on you, how do you react?  Are you inclined to be more introspective and say or think “gee, I really screwed up and need to correct myself?”  Or is your reaction more likely to be “wow (fill in your bosses name) is really acting like a (fill in your favorite cuss word) today?”  I am guessing that more would agree with the latter than the former.  Since most people have probably figured this out when they were young, why do many of us still use anger when managing others?

Without getting into the psychology of it, which is far better left to those with clinical backgrounds, for whatever reason they are doing it, and it happens a lot!  An example of what I am talking about occurred when a young Army officer became upset with a seasoned subordinate soldier because she failed to follow a process correctly.  The officer yelled at the soldier who became so upset that she cried and he angrily dismissed her.  She left his office, visibly upset, and was called into the Commander’s office as she walked by.  He asked her what was wrong and she said that she just spoke with her supervisor and he yelled at her for something that was done by another soldier. He was so upset that he did not allow her to explain that important detail to him.

The officer ended up being “talked to” by his supervisor, the Commander, which could have been avoided had he simply not allowed his anger to control his actions.  The soldier he yelled at also lost respect for her supervisor, which negatively effected office morale.

Another example of management by anger happened when an assembler in factory accidentally dropped some expensive precision bearings on the ground that he should not have moved in the first place.  The manager yelled at the employee who then yelled right back at his boss!  Unfortunately, for both, the general manager was in the area and overheard much of the exchange.  Both manager and subordinate were severely disciplined as a result!

In another situation, a supervisor in a sales division yelled at an employee for being late the minute he stepped into the office in front of several other staff members.  The employee had already been talked to and disciplined once for the same offense and the supervisor really needed him that morning.  Unfortunately, the employee later told a friend what had happened and he told his neighbor who was at that time considering doing business with the company.  The neighbor decided, in part due to the incident, to take his business to another “more professional” organization.

Unfortunately, I could provide many more examples, but regardless of whether the employee deserved it or not, the majority of the outcomes were negative for the organization as well as the individuals involved.  What truly amazes me is that, though most of us know this, the behavior of managing people by anger continues in organizations everywhere.

In managing employees, the goal should be to simply correct undesired workplace behavior, whenever it happens, and encourage productivity, however that is defined.  Managers and supervisors should not take advantage of an employee’s inappropriate behavior to unload on her or him, however much they feel it is deserved.  Even if it is deserved, and we all know this, the behavior really will not get fixed that way!

When faced with these situations, managers and supervisors who are really upset at an employee should do the following;

  • Be sure to get all the facts before to talking to the employee (this is often not done but can make a big difference in your understanding of the situation!)
  • If it can wait, delay having the conversation until after you have calmed down
  • If it cannot wait, do what it takes to calm yourself down first, or have someone else talk to the employee instead
  • Once you do speak to the employee, ask them to tell you what happened and do not assume, even if you think you have all the facts, that you know why or completely how a certain situation happened (i.e., giving anyone a chance to explain their actions, will almost always help in successfully resolving situations)
  • When they speak be sure to really listen to what they have to say and reserve your judgment until after you have completely heard and understand their explanation
  • If it is a complex situation, take whatever time you need to fully understand it, so you will be able to come up with the best solution
  • Lastly, even the best employee has an off day, so when you are thinking about how to respond to a situation, be sure to take that into consideration as well!

A lot of solid research has been done try to understand human behavior, and misbehavior, especially within organizations.  Nonetheless, the art of managing people in professional organizations is still very much in its infancy, so when you are practicing your particular craft the golden rule still applies!


  1. This is a great post! I think we all could learn from this.

    Comment by Jeremiah Diehl — February 19, 2012 @ 9:19 am | Reply

  2. I recently took a class at my job about this very topic and you are stop on, the only thing I would add is, Be aware of the tone of your voice, people can get a lot more from the tone you use also a harsh tone in your voice can even cause people to stop listening to you completely. I hope that more people learn these skills, they are so important in all areas of life not just the work place. Thank you for sharing them.

    Comment by ivystracener — February 19, 2012 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

  3. I have found that practicing calm and patience is the best way to subdue anger in any form – whilst also realizing anger will not always get what we want. A person is more willing to listen too when they feel comfortable, anger doesn’t allow that person to feel comfortable. There are many bad leaders out there who cant give criticism/feedback in the correct way and simply abuse their power.

    Great read, thanks.

    Comment by Jay Rando — February 20, 2012 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  4. A very interesting and worthwhile post.
    Many people would benefit from such advice.
    Years ago my ?latent anger was visible and affected my personality and actions.
    After some regular shiatzu massages, many things changed, including the anger characteristic which decreased and/or worked its way further below the surface, I think the latter.
    Several family members are anger affected and I will take your message on board.
    What an interesting coincidence that you mention the golden rule, which is where I “come from”.
    Your commentor ‘ivystracener’ makes a very good point about tone of voice. This can extend through having an ‘attitude’ and body language.
    As you say “it happens a lot”.
    Thanks for following my blog!

    Comment by Ken McMurtrie — February 28, 2012 @ 5:54 am | Reply

  5. My last job certainly forced me to fast and pray – A LOT! The store manager was a bully and a tyrant. The supervisors under him were afraid of him, hated him, and adopted his evil managing style to keep their jobs. And of course, the subordinates that did all the work were tortured in many ways, especially subtly. The management team was evil – and I am not joking.

    They were literally “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” You would get a smile and a stab in your heart at the same time. An on the job injury caused me to become permanently disabled. In spite of the constant pain and discomfort, I am actually happy to be released from Satan’s den. I do not believe that God caused my accident, so that I could spend more time building my ministry. But I do believe that He took a horrible situation, and made it work out for my good – and for the good of the Kingdom of Christ.

    If you do not run with the crowd, do as they do, and strive to live for Jesus Christ in the midst of the un-saved and carnal Christians – you will suffer. Management was all about numbers, bonus, and endeavors to reach their goals by any means necessary – even torture. This company is one of the largest retailers in America. It has been said that at their corporate meetings, there is a lot of “chanting” going on. I am not surprised that “devil worship” had been alluded to concerning this company. Not surprised at all.

    “Managing by anger” works, and is very effective. It works for those dishing it out – but eventually – they suffer heart attacks, high blood pressure, and many heath ills all for the sake of making money. it works because people do not want to lose their positions, and desire promotions. Sad.

    Thank you for this post.


    Comment by ssofdv — March 10, 2012 @ 12:05 pm | Reply

  6. My brother just had this happen to him tonight….walked in and asked the manager what he could do to help – it’s his second day on the job – and she said “You can get out of my face!” How can people get away with this?

    Comment by spuddysworld — March 16, 2012 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

  7. Seems so obvious when written out – so sad that many seem to have ‘losing it’ as a default. During my career as a teacher, I have to admit that there were times when I would ‘shout’ at students/classes, usually when there was a ‘health & safety’ issue – at the time I believed that it was a valid tactic as it grabbed attention, and I thought I was pretty much in control, just giving the impression that I was angry. There were a couple of times when I did genuinely lose my temper and after these occasions I felt very uncomfortable as I had lost control and the outcomes were unplanned and unsatisfactory.

    Comment by dgstrachan — April 21, 2012 @ 4:16 am | Reply

  8. Anger is poisonous and it really reflects more on the person being angry, than the victim of the anger – in my opinion. I think anger is a “safe” go-to emotion for other people. It allows them to feel something without feeling the root of what’s actually causing the problem… but that’s getting too psychological 🙂 I’ve definitely had experiences where a manager has yelled at me, of course. It’s hard for it not to be demoralizing because this is a person who signs your paycheck. When the anger coming from a deeply emotional place, people can say and do hurtful things that they don’t really mean. In time, it’s possible to move past it and not take it as personally, but it’s really hard. I agree with your tips!

    Comment by Celiac and Allergy Adventures — November 9, 2012 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  9. In managing employees, the goal should be to simply correct undesired workplace behavior, whenever it happens, and encourage productivity, however that is defined. Managers and supervisors should not take advantage of an employee’s inappropriate behavior to unload on her or him, however much they feel it is deserved. Even if it is deserved, and we all know this, the behavior really will not get fixed that way!

    Comment by silver price — November 14, 2012 @ 9:34 am | Reply

  10. Hi, after reading this awesome article i am too
    cheerful to share my know-how here with colleagues.

    Comment by Photography Classes — January 4, 2018 @ 2:11 am | Reply

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