Workplace Anger Can Be a Catalyst If Properly Directed

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CHICAGO -- The inability to express anger in the workplace might be robbing supervisors of a useful tool, experts suggest.

The expression of healthy, measured anger mobilizes behaviors that improve communication, working relationships, and work outcomes; reinforce limits; and facilitate the upholding of corporate beliefs or needs. Particularly for enlightened individuals, healthy anger also can be a catalyst for personal growth, Dr. Sandra Kopit Cohen said during a panel discussion on the topic at the annual meeting of the Academy of Organizational and Occupational Psychiatrists.

"Anger is an important signal, and I think we're scared to use that signal at times," she said.

She described the all too common scenario in which an employee asks a supervisor if they are angry, only to be met with the response, "No, I'm not angry; I'm concerned."

This type of response actually presents peers and subordinates with a confusing mismatch of content and affect, said Dr. Kopit Cohen, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. Just as a parent would not try to convey to their child the importance of not hitting a sandbox playmate through a sweet sing-song tone, an angry affect and tone might be appropriate to convey corporate values in the workplace.

When those values or norms have been violated, measured anger directed at the correct person can also send a "community" message, said copanelist Dr. Stephen Heidel, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.

For example, after a member of a substance abuse counseling team tested positive for marijuana, the firing of that worker sent an important message to the other workers. …