Dealing with an angry employee

As a manager, when faced with a member of your team who is angry, it can be quite daunting.  It may help you handle the situation better if you remember these points:

  • First of all, acknowledge them – if you ignore them, it will exacerbate an already inflamed situation.
  • Don’t sit down first – ensure you stay at the same level as them. Ask them to sit and if they refuse, stay standing with them. If you sit down and they stand, they will have a psychological advantage of being “bigger” than you. Equally, don’t stand whilst they sit, as you want to create a collaborative environment.
  • Let them talk – they will probably have already planned what they are going to say and interrupting them will just serve to annoy them more. Use active listening skills, let them talk, then summarise key points at end to check your understanding.
  • Acknowledge their feelings – you can’t argue with feelings, so say things like, “I can see how upset you are”, “I sense you are feeling emotional about this”, or “I understand this is making you angry…” This helps them feel they are recognised and can help reduce tension.
  • Respond to the facts – when people are annoyed, they often throw anything and everything into the melting pot. It is incumbent on you to sift through all that information and pick out the actual facts to respond to.
  • Don’t be afraid to suggest taking a break – saying something like “Let’s take a breather before we look at how to resolve it” can help everyone to pause and take some deep breaths before continuing.
  • Thank them for being open and frank – show that you are open to and appreciate feedback.
  • Recognise any positives – have they been working hard, making an effort? If so, tell them you appreciate it and value them.
  • If you need more information, ask them – use phrases such as “Tell me more – I would like to understand”, as it shows you are willing to listen properly to them and take time to understand their situation. “I wasn’t aware of this, please tell me more” shows them you are interested and want to listen further.
  • Find points of agreement – hopefully you won’t disagree with everything, so attempt to find some areas of commonality or agreement, as this will help smooth the way towards resolving issues.
  • Generate solutions – work with them to see how the issues can be resolved. Check they are comfortable with any suggestions before implementing them. Use language such as “Let’s have a look at what we can do to resolve it and fix it together”, to show them you are willing to work with them, in collaborative partnership or “What can we do to improve/change the situation?” giving a feeling of collaboration.
  • Take action – don’t just leave it there. If no action is taken, this will make them even more angry. Take action and keep them informed of progress.

Here are some examples of phrases you may consider using:

  • I wasn’t aware of the situation. Please tell me what happened
  • I understand you’re upset but yelling at me won’t help
  • I really appreciate you being willing to discuss this
  • I want us to talk even though things might not get resolved
  • So that we’re clear, what I heard you say is…
  • I need a little more information
  • Let’s rewind and start over
  • Tell me more, I would like to understand
  • I hear that it is important to you. I am asking you to consider my perspective
  • I wasn’t aware of that, please tell me more
  • What do you think we can do to improve this situation?
  • I’m sorry you feel that way
  • I value your opinion but I don’t see it that way
  • Can you elaborate on what you just said? I need to put it in the context of what we were talking about yesterday
  • I will bear that in mind going forward
  • Thank you for being so open, I appreciate your feedback
  • How can I support you?
  • How should we proceed?
  • As we’re not agreeing, I think we should arrange another meeting at a later date
  • Let’s see what we can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again

It is always better to create a co-operative, collaborative and positive environment, so that people feel listened to and respected, whatever the final outcome.


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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay