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Irritability and anger- destructive emotions

Posted by admin 5:40 am, 7 September 2015

Writing my session notes last week one common theme that most of my patients had was a sense of frustration, irritibality and anger they had at the workplace. This issue is probably one of the most common reasons people tend to get anxious or depressed and so it is crucial to address before it impacts our family  by carrying that stress home.


The failure to deal effectively with conflict at work can contribute toward an unhealthy work environment marked by poor communication, sagging morale, excessive employee absenteeism or turnover, and customer service problems. Business owners and managers unable to control their own anger or frustration will likely find that the business suffers. Likewise, organizations that fail to recognize and deal effectively with workplace conflict or anger may end up with serious problems. Even if you believe your company features a positive work environment and staff that enjoys their jobs and relates to one another in a professional manner, conflict is certain to arise from time to time. One employee who lashes out inappropriately can cause a decline in a company’s general morale, can cause friction with colleagues, and may cause enough distraction that productivity declines or safety is compromised. And the impact on customer service, your organization’s lifeblood, can be dramatic.


Recognizing potential conflict

With so many factors that can contribute to workplace anger and frustration, how do you create the healthiest possible work environment?  It begins with awareness and sensitivity to employee behavior, both verbal and nonverbal, so you can address the causes for that anger and hopefully head off an incident before it occurs.

Here are behaviors that may signal a need for intervention:

  • Sarcastic, irritable, or moody behavior
  • Apathetic and/or inconsistent work performance
  • Prone to making direct or veiled threats
  • Aggressive and antisocial behavior
  • Overreaction to company policies or performance appraisals
  • Touchy relationships with other workers
  • Obsessive involvement and/or emotional attachment to the job
  • Bullying



Putting out fires before they spread

Another common cause of workplace anger, irritability and hostility is peer conflict. These conflicts are usually caused by differences in personality or perception, moodiness, insensitivity, impatience, or sensitive emotional states such as jealousy, annoyance, and embarrassment. When these rivalries evolve into outbursts, conflict may damage those involved as well as others in the vicinity. Since work relies heavily on the ability of people to interact in a cooperative and harmonious fashion, conflict between employees represents a serious breakdown of the effective and healthy working relationship.

Attempts to address inappropriate workplace behavior through negotiation and mediation are not always effective. In some instances, an employee’s conduct or performance must result in disciplinary action. But there are a number of steps that employers can take to address the issues of workplace anger and hostility before they erupt into full-blown crises.



Irritability and anger is caused by various personality traits or biological issues.  So what techniques can help to decrease these destructive emotions? 


1. Do some kind of mindfulness practice. Learn enough about the philosophy of mindfulness meditation that you know what you’re doing. Since most people won’t want to do formal practice everyday on a permanent basis, do it everyday initially until you feel confident with it, and then do it when you’re stressed and at least every now and then to stay familiar with it.

How it helps: You’ll be less prone to exploding when triggered. You’ll find it easier to let thoughts go. You’ll be able to recognize more easily when you’re reacting to a distressing thought that has been triggered by someone else’s behavior, not just the behavior per se.

2. If you’re going to respond when feeling irritable, “soften the start-up” (this phrase is from couples expert John Gottman).

How it helps: Obvious

3. Don’t try to figure out your thoughts or problem solve when you’re really fired up. Don’t attempt to problem solve while ruminating. Problem solving quality is impaired while people are ruminating.

How it helps: You’ll make better decisions.

4. Think about the emotional experience of the person on the other end of your outbursts, sulking, or withdrawal. What’s it like for your co-worker when you snap at them?

How it helps: Empathy and perspective taking.

5. If you’re good at containing your irritability sometimes but slip up other times, do some gentle exploration of that. Do you have any issues with sense of entitlement (you’re getting irritated because other people aren’t doing exactly what you want)? Are you leaving yourself vulnerable to irritable outbursts by not eating regularly etc?

How it helps: Less blaming others. More taking personal responsibility for not leaving yourself vulnerable to irritability due to poor self care, taking on too much etc.


Dr Sandra Darmanin Psy.D;MA;B.Psy.(Hons.) ACPA