Can Blowing Your Top Be A Good Thing?

Anger is an important emotion. However, what about

our responses to feeling anger? Work cultures teach

us to avoid showing any anger at all, lest we be seen as

poor service providers or, worse, unprofessional or even

deviant or violent. While, of course, there are times when

the expression of anger is harmful or unprofessional, we’ve

taken this view so far that we now teach people to suppress

perfectly normal emotions. It is inappropriate to ask

people to behave in abnormal ways, and there is even more

evidence about the organizational and personal costs of

such suppression.

Emerging research shows that suppressing anger takes

a terrible toll on individuals. One Stanford University study

showed, for example, that when individuals were asked to

wear a poker face during the showing of the atomic bombings

of Japan during World War II, they were much more stressful

conversation partners once the video was over. Other research

shows that college students who suppress emotions like anger

have more trouble making friends and are more likely to be

depressed, and that employees who suppress anger feel more

stressed by work.

There is a better way. One recent study showed that even

when employees displayed anger deemed inappropriate by

co-workers, if co-workers responded supportively to the anger

(for example, by listening to the angry employee), favorable responses

such as constructive work changes were the result.

Yes, managers must work to maintain a positive, respectful,

and nonviolent culture. However, asking employees to suppress

their anger not only is an ineffective and costly strategy, it ultimately

may backfire if appropriate ways to express and release

anger are blocked



Yes, anger is a common emotion. But it’s also a toxic one. The

experience of anger and its close correlate, hostility, is linked

to many counterproductive behaviors in organizations. That

is why many organizations have developed anger management

programs—to blunt the harmful effects of anger in the workplace.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 16 percent of

fatal workplace injuries resulted from workplace violence. Do

we think the individuals who committed these acts were feeling

joyful and contented?

To reduce anger in the workplace, many companies develop

policies that govern conduct such as yelling, shouting profanities,

and making hostile gestures. Others institute anger management

programs. For example, one organization conducted

mandatory in-house workshops that showed individuals how to

deal with conflicts in the workplace before they boil over. The

director who instituted the training said it “gave people specific

tools for opening a dialogue to work things out.” MTS Systems,

an Eden Prairie, Minnesota, engineering firm, engages an outside

consulting firm to conduct anger management programs for

its organization. Typically, MTS holds an eight-hour seminar that

discusses sources of anger, conflict resolution techniques, and

organizational policies. This is followed by one-on-one sessions

with individual employees that focus on cognitive behavioral

techniques to manage their anger. The outside trainer charges

$7,000–$10,000 for the seminar and one-on-one sessions. “You

want people to get better at communicating with each other,”

says MTS manager Karen Borre.

In the end, everyone wins when organizations seek to

diminish both the experience and, yes, the expression of anger

at work. The work environment is less threatening and stressful

to employees and customers. Employees are likely to feel safer.

And the angry employee is often helped as well.



Sources: B. Carey, “The Benefits of Blowing Your Top,” The New York Times (July 6, 2010), p. D1; R. Y. Cheung and I. J. Park,

“Anger Suppression, Interdependent Self-Construal, and Depression Among Asian American and European American College

Students,” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 16, no. 4 (2010), pp. 517–525; D. Geddes and L. T. Stickney, “The

Trouble with Sanctions: Organizational Responses to Deviant Anger Displays at Work,” Human Relations 64, no. 2 (2011),

pp. 201–230; and J. Fairley, “Taking Control of Anger Management,” Workforce Management (October 2010), p. 10.