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How to Deal With an Angry Co-Worker

Updated on April 7, 2018
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Sally is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky clean and drama-free.

My co-worker lashed out at me and I don't know how to respond.

Being verbally attacked at work can be extremely upsetting and distressing. It can rob you of your self-confidence, hinder your motivation, and cause unwanted tension and strife. Here's what to do the next time someone lashes out at you at work.

Dealing with an angry co-worker can be quite upsetting. But you don't need to hide your face in shame.  Keeping calm and maintaining your boundaries can help reduce the tension of work with someone who is mad.
Dealing with an angry co-worker can be quite upsetting. But you don't need to hide your face in shame. Keeping calm and maintaining your boundaries can help reduce the tension of work with someone who is mad.

How do you cope when someone you work with verbally attacks you?

Your gut response may be anger, disappointment or hurt feelings – especially if you had a good working relationship with that person before they lashed out at you. But if left unchecked, a personal insult can rob you of self-confidence, impair your decision-making abilities, and zap your motivation. If left unattended, an unfair insult or passive aggressive comment can undermine your sense of personal efficacy which can harm your career. Keep reading for ideas on what you can do the next time someone at work yells at you without just cause.

Step one: Focus on yourself. The next time your boss or a co-worker is rude or says something meant as an insult, take some time to process what happened. Remind yourself of all the good things you have to offer. Head back to your desk, grab a pen and start listing your personal achievements. Visualize the people in your life who matter to you the most and remember that they still care about you and love you, even if your boss just reamed you out. If you have time, go for a walk or call a friend just to hear a friendly voice. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself after an unfair attack.

Don't let toxic co-workers and bosses drag you down.

Do you work in a competitive, cutthroat office environment? You can rise above the office politics when conflict arises at work.
Do you work in a competitive, cutthroat office environment? You can rise above the office politics when conflict arises at work.

Step two: Aim for empathy. When you're ready and you've taken care of your emotional needs, you can also reflect on the factors that may have led your co-worker or boss to behave in such an abusive and rude manner. What stress might they be experiencing? Perhaps they have health concerns that are affecting their mood and coping skills. Could there be personal issues at home? You need not know the answers to these questions, but by reflecting on them you’ll remind yourself that there is more to the story than just you.

If this emotional outburst was a once in a blue moon occurrence, your co-worker may have just been having a bad day. That doesn’t excuse their behavior or mean that you have to be a doormat. But it does help to put the issue into context. Taking an empathetic approach may help you to move on from the negative outburst.

Fresh air can give you a fresh perspective on problems at work.

Try taking a break away from the office for a few moments after a co-worker yells at you for no reason.
Try taking a break away from the office for a few moments after a co-worker yells at you for no reason.

When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That's when you can get more creative in solving problems.

— Stephen Covey

Step three: Seek assistance if you think you are being harassed. If this type of exchange is becoming a regular occurrence, you may want to ask yourself if these regular insults are a form of harassment. Harassment at work is persistent threatening, or humiliating behavior including verbal assaults and abusive memos, emails, or phone messages. Harassment can also include withholding the resources you need to do your job effectively, spreading gossip about you, and any form of racial, sexual, or religious discrimination.

Is your snarling co-worker really angry, or just feeling insecure?
Is your snarling co-worker really angry, or just feeling insecure?

A 1999 study by the International Labour Organization identified workplace harassment and violence one of the most serious problems facing the workforce. Of those surveyed for the study, 75 per cent said they were bullied at work.

Source: 40% of Canadians bullied at work, expert says. www.cbc.ca

Video Tips: How to Deal With Difficult People

Have you ever quit a job due to unresolved conflict with a boss or co-worker?

See results

© 2012 Sally Hayes

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