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Faculty Challenges Conventional Wisdom on Responding to Workplace Anger

Anger in the workplace, while difficult for anyone to handle, is better resolved by a compassionate, understanding response and not by sanctioning or ignoring it, according to an article co-authored by a University of Baltimore Merrick School of Business professor.

"The trouble with sanctions: Organizational responses to deviant anger displays at work," written by UB's Lisa Stickney, assistant professor of management, and Temple University Fox School of Business Prof. Deanna Geddes, suggests that even intense emotional outbursts can prove beneficial if responded to with compassion.

Writing in the February edition of the international peer-reviewed journal Human Relations, Stickney and Geddes, chair of Temple's Human Resource Management Department, said that "when companies choose to sanction organizational members expressing deviant anger, these actions may divert attention and resources from correcting the initial, anger-provoking event that triggered the employee's emotional outburst."

This challenges traditional views of workplace anger, and suggests that even intense emotional outbursts can prove beneficial if responded to with compassion.

In their study of 194 people who acknowledged witnessing an incident of deviant anger at work, the researchers found no connection between firing an irate employee and solving underlying workplace problems. Geddes and Stickney also found that even a single act of support by a manager or co-worker and the angered employee can improve workplace tension.

Geddes and Stickney assert that more supportive responses by managers and co-workers after displays of deviant anger can promote positive change at work, while sanctioning or doing nothing does not.

Managers who recognize their potential role in angering an employee "may be motivated to respond more compassionately to help restore a favorable working relationship," the researchers wrote in the article.

If management shows "an active interest in addressing underlying issues that prompted employee anger, perceptions of improved situations increase significantly."

"Business codes of conduct are often about what we shouldn't do as an angry employee in emotional episodes, while few, if any, tend to address our role as observers of emotional episodes," according to the article. "Such guidelines, if available, could expand to include positive suggestions for those who witness, judge and respond to angry employees—formally or informally."

An abstract of the article is available on Human Relations's website.



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