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7 tips for combating desk rage

Knowing how to cool coworker is a vital skill

By Kate Lorenz Editor

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It has happened to almost all of us at one time or another -- a clash with a coworker. But when a minor disagreement turns ugly, it can turn into desk rage.

According to a recent article in HR Magazine, "Desk rage is a real issue with serious implications." Overworked employees are burned out and stressed out. When a supervisor or coworker punches one too many buttons, some people can come unglued.

From yelling and verbal abuse to throwing tantrums or punches, knowing how to cool a coworker's anger before it reaches the boiling point may be a vital workplace skill.

1. When a clash occurs, take control of your emotions. Resist the urge to keep an active argument going. If anyone is going to behave badly in your workplace, let it be your opponent. Rarely has an employee been disciplined for not responding in an argument or other emotionally-charged situation with a colleague.

2. Take the time to consider what happened that prompted your colleague to fly off the handle. Did you make an unwelcome suggestion about a project for which he or she was responsible? Did you ask a question in a manner that he or she may have found condescending?

If the disagreement that occurred was a result of something you did, admit it and apologize. A sincere apology goes a long way toward creating a harmonious workplace.

Avoid confrontations in the future by taking any comments or questions about a project being led by your fly-off-the-handle colleague to a supervisor rather than approaching him or her directly.

3. Encourage everyone to breathe deeply. Help your coworker calm down by suggesting he take a deep breath and discuss the situation calmly. If you are both standing, offer him a chair. If he's sitting and leaning into your space, back up your chair, take a deep breath and pause.

Many times people will mirror your actions and body language. When you engage your opponent in conversation rather than confrontation, he's likely to calm his anger.

4. If the feud has been going on for a while, take it outside the office. Invite your rival to lunch or for coffee to discuss the situation. Often, leaving the workplace to discuss an issue with a coworker is helpful.

Denise and Lucy had worked together for about two years when Denise was promoted, leaving Lucy behind. The issue erupted between the two coworkers one afternoon when Lucy told Denise that she was more deserving of the promotion. To make matters worse, Lucy added a few demeaning remarks that really hurt Denise's feelings.

Denise kept her cool and tried to show empathy for her colleague. A week later, Denise invited Lucy out to lunch where they talked through their feelings and patched things up.

5. If a colleague's attitude seems particularly nasty on a given day, ask her if there's something you can do to help. She may be overloaded with work and need assistance. Your offer may be the relief she needs to calm down and get back on track.

6. Keep your tantrum-throwing colleague or associate at arm's length. If you know a coworker or client is prone to losing his cool, steer clear whenever possible. You don't need to tiptoe around him, and by all means, don't outright ignore him. Just limit your contact for those need-to vs. nice-to situations.

Jack was a talented and highly emotional sales manager with a staff of 12 reporting to him. When his staff failed to meet their quotas for a given month, everyone in the office knew trouble was brewing. Jack probably didn't even realize it, but everyone -- from the office manager to the custodial staff -- stayed as far away as possible until he settled down.

He eventually resigned his high-stress position and joined the clergy -- totally true!

7. If you see a coworker yelling at a colleague or calling fellow employees names, his behavior should be considered bullying and must be reported. Don't interject yourself into the argument, or you could end up on the receiving end of the rage. Head straight to your human resources department and report what you saw and/or heard.

This behavior is inappropriate in the workplace -- or any place -- and must be stopped.

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
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