Leadership Concepts: Diffusing an Angry Employee 101

In any given workplace, no two employees are alike. Each individual is motivated by unique factors, driven to communicate in their own unique ways, owns different expectations for their peers and their leaders, and becomes hurt and angered by varying comments and circumstances. The result? Occasional reactions that can feel at best surprising, and at worst like a flaming personal attack. 

These tips and tricks can assist you in diffusing the situation and shifting the topic of conversation from the problem to the solution. 

Delay the conversation if necessary. 

If you feel the employee might become physical or is too upset to participate in a productive discussion, let him or her know that you respect how they’re feeling and would like to schedule some time to meet to discuss when it work for both of you. 

Example: “I want to ensure this topic gets the attention it deserves. Can we meet at 1pm?”

Acknowledge their feelings.

Acknowledge the employee’s feelings without commiserating or dwelling on them. Acknowledging and validating how the employee feels creates a safe environment to discuss the situation further and encourages him or her to let their guard down and avoid language that’s aggressive in nature. 

Example: “I can tell you’re feeling very hurt right now. I would feel hurt, too, if I were in this situation.”

Assign ownership. 

While leaders often feel inclined to commiserate with an angry or upset employee, commiserating is agreeing that the employee is a victim and not an active participant in their circumstances and current situation. Assign ownership by challenging the employee to consider their role in the situation or conflict. 

Example: “Can you think of any way that you may have contributed to this problem?”

Focus on resolution. 

After allowing the employee to share their concerns and acknowledging the way they feel, work to shift the focus to the resolution as quickly as possible. 

Example: “What one step can you take today to get closer to resolution on this?” or, “How can I help you to resolve this?”

Most importantly, remember that angry employees should still be held to high standards of conduct. Remind any employee who is unable to control their temper of the Code of Conduct in place in your organization and consider corrective action if the steps above don’t help diffuse the situation.