Do You Know How to Handle the Most Dangerous Workplace Emotion?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Is there any emotion with a more dangerous undercurrent than anger? Likely not, according to Maurice Schweitzer and Jeremy Yip at Wharton. As a leader, you need to find ways to manage your anger and to help your team members with this issue.

In their paper, “Mad and Misleading: Incidental Anger Promotes Deception,” Schweitzer and Yip focus on deception as an outgrowth of anger, and the damage this behavior can do to individuals and organizations. Specifically, the researchers set out to determine whether anger that stems from one incident leads an individual to engage in deceptive behavior following the incident.

You may blow up because a co-​worker has failed to meet a deadline, despite repeated assurance that all was well. Following this incident, your emotions will be running high. At that point, you’re less likely to feel empathetic toward other team members. You’re far more interested in self-​preservation. The researchers find that if you have an encounter with another co-​worker, you’re likely to lie. For example, you may claim you’ve finished a report, when you actually haven’t. Schweitzer and Yip verified this behavior in 4 different studies.

Why would you or any other employee lie in these situations? It may come down to a need to feel in control.  In the short term, you may feel better about yourself after lying, but in the long run, you'll take a hit to your reputation.

As a manager, what should you do to alleviate this situation? Monitor your own behavior after you become angry. If necessary, leave the office, mentally review what happened and give yourself sufficient time to settle down. Being aware of how you behave can help you monitor your response after the next emotional outburst. Pay attention to team members who seem to have the most difficulty reaching an emotionally balanced state after an altercation. Talk with that team member as soon as you become aware of a problem. If she is unable to control her emotions, encourage her to take a break and return the next day.

Schweitzer and Yip also suggest “perspective-​taking” as a coping strategy. Here, you’ll want to help your team member see the situation from the other person’s viewpoint, in order to help her develop more appropriate responses to triggers in the future. Doing so can result in a calmer and more welcome work environment for everyone on the team.