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How to Handle Feelings of Frustration and Aggression at Work

The truth is that many workplaces are becoming increasingly pressurised. This is leading to a rise in the amount of anger and aggression being expressed and experienced. The root of this aggression is often frustration – both with the organisation and its systems and with co-workers too.


  • Do a lot of people seem angry and dissatisfied in your office?
  • Do you often feel enraged to the point of exploding?
  • Is someone in your team a source of stress for you?



If you feel as if your blood pressure starts rising as soon as you get to the office, it’s important that you learn how to recognise and handle it. Otherwise it could be bad for your physical and mental health – and your career.


If you’ve ever had a heated discussion in the office that's backfired, you need to find another way to handle the aggression of others or your own angry feelings. After all, you don’t want to be in the position of losing your job because of an angry outburst.


The thing to remember is that aggressive behaviour within the workplace seems to be on the rise.  However, if you're a victim of aggressive behaviour it's not a reflection of you but the other person instead.


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The key is to always believe in yourself - it doesn't matter what anyone else says about you. Another person's opinion of you is not important. What matters is what you believe about yourself. Take time today to focus on your vision, thoughts and dreams and know that what you want for yourself workwise is POSSIBLE. Read below to discover how to handle aggression or unpleasant behaviour in the workplace.



Where does all this workplace frustration and aggression come from?


Workplace aggression can come in many forms, from verbal spats to physical attacks. It can be direct aggression in the form of aggressive language, passive-aggressive behaviour, insults and rumours. Physical violence may be rarer, but the threat of a punch or slap can be just beneath the surface.


More importantly, aggression can cause enormous stress that can cause demotivation at one end of the spectrum and depression at the other. Worst of all, it can result in people leaving their job voluntarily or even being fired.


But what’s at the root of all this aggression and anger?


Three main types of workplace aggression


Workplace aggression comes in several forms, with some more obvious than others.


  • Physically violent behaviour, such as shoving, slapping, punching, kicking or hitting.
  • Passive aggressive behaviour, such as consistently missing deadlines, showing up late for important meetings or turning in subpar work. It can also be in the form of deliberately ignoring someone at work, refusing to thank the person for something or giving no feedback or praise where it is due.
  • Verbally aggressive behaviour, such as abuse and speaking in a way that’s intended to demean and intimidate.


If it isn’t dealt with quickly verbal aggression and passive-aggressive behaviour could escalate into physical violence, so don’t ignore it or play it down if you spot it.


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Apart from anything else, aggression can have a seriously negative impact on a workplace causing stress, illness, poor engagement and poor performance to many, even if they’re not directly involved.


How aggression leads to demotivation in the workplace


Workplace aggression is extremely damaging on both a personal and organisational level. Even if you aren’t being targeted yourself, you may still feel unsafe or worried that you’ll be next. It could lead to you feeling less confident about sharing your ideas or questioning decisions.


If you’re on the receiving end of aggression, you could end up suffering with depression or anxiety. Even a general atmosphere of aggression at work could reduce the quality of your work as bad atmosphere’s are exhausting and distracting.


It could be that you respond to aggression by being more aggressive yourself. Ultimately, if the situation persists, you might feel the organisation doesn’t value you, leading you to consider resigning rather than confronting the damaging behaviour around you.


Does frustration lead to aggression?


There's a theory that the rise in the amount of anger in the workplace is directly related to a rise in frustration. The frustration-aggression hypothesis was first formed by Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mower and Sears in 1939.


The frustration-aggression hypothesis states that frustration – defined as the emotion that results from someone being thwarted, blocked or held back in some way – results in aggression. What’s more, when the source of the frustration can’t be challenged, the theory is that it gets directed towards innocent targets.


This means that if your line manager is feeling frustrated by a decision made by the management team and he hasn’t been able to adequately challenge it, he will take his anger out on you or your team.


However, this theory hasn’t been proven. In fact, it’s more likely that the frustration might just as easily be stored up and directed at someone in a random way.


That’s because anger often leads to more anger. Someone being angry or aggressive towards you can result in you feeling angry yourself. If you don’t have an outlet for this, it can burst out in an unexpected situation, leading you to react in a disproportionately aggressive way in response to a minor issue.


It’s easy to see how frustration and aggression can lead to a lot of unhappiness in an office. Especially if the source of the problem – someone’s behaviour, a system that frustrates everyone, equipment that doesn’t work, ridiculous deadlines – is never adequately dealt with or acknowledged.



How to Spot Passive-Aggressive Behaviour


One of the most damaging sources of anger and frustration in the workplace is passive aggressive behaviour. An example of this is when a colleague says they’re going to do one thing when in a meeting but then does another afterwards. They blank you or fail to acknowledge you when meet in the corridor or at a work event, and they talk over you in meetings.


The worse part of passive-aggressive behaviour is that it can be difficult to confront as the aggressor will deny anything is wrong and say it’s all in your head. But when you ask to speak with the other person about it, they insist that everything’s fine and the problem is all in your head. If you come across passive-aggressive behaviour, here are some tips on how to deal with it.


How to deal with passive-aggressive behaviour


Stay calm

Passive-aggressive behaviour is hard to confront and it’s likely your co-worker will try to make you look like the aggressor. So, it’s essential that you prepare for this so you can stay calm. You will be able to deal with the problem better if you can collect evidence of the behaviour so you have some specific examples to refer to.


What’s behind the behaviour?


If a person is behaving in a passive-aggressive way, it’s often because they are unable to acknowledge how they feel or speak about their feelings. Alternatively, they may just want to avoid conflict. Sometimes they think their own needs or feelings are more important than anyone else’s, so they simply do what they want because they believe they’re right.


Take responsibility


It takes two to tango so be aware of anything you may be doing to inadvertently contribute to the behaviour. Take responsibility for yourself and your feelings and be honest with yourself about how you’re behaving.


Understand the message


If your colleague is having difficulty working with you, it could be because you haven’t properly acknowledged what they’re saying. Listen to what they have to say and let them know you’ve heard their point of view.


Avoid labelling or judging


Talk to the other person and explain what you’re experiencing so they understand the impact of their behaviour. Work with them to find a better way of interacting with you and the rest of the team so you can achieve your common goals.


Check your response


It’s worth checking that others have interpreted the behaviour of your colleague in the same way as you. Be careful to seek out feedback rather than appearing to gossip. It’s easier to tackle a problem if you know others have also noticed a problem.


Create solutions for the whole team


Whatever problem you’ve encountered with one member of your team you may encounter with another. Make it easier for your team to say what’s on their mind and ensure you set up systems that support mutual accountability so everyone’s on the same page.


Get help from others


You may need to get help from your manager but tread carefully in case your manager has been taken in by the person who is undermining you or also has a tendency to avoid conflict.


Protect yourself


If you work closely with the person who's causing you a problem, keep records and track disruptive behaviour. Make sure you deliver everything you've set out to do and record this publicly by copying others into important emails. Don’t let the other person speak for you or represent you in meetings. If possible, limit your contact with this person to group settings.



Common sources of frustration and aggression at work


While behaviour, personality conflicts and poor communication between people are the most common source of frustration and aggression at work, they’re not the only root of angst. There are many small irritations that can cause frustration at work.


Sources of frustration at work include:


  • Ineffective or over-complex systems
  • Equipment that doesn’t work or is in short supply
  • Lack of space
  • Noise
  • Poor IT performance
  • Unrealistic deadlines & overload


When equipment doesn’t work or systems are ineffective, it’s easy to get stressed at work, especially if you’re already overloaded or you're working to a tight deadline.


If you’re constantly battling with an aging printer or the photocopier is always going wrong, it can add a huge amount of stress and frustration to your day.


Having someone near you who talks loudly on the phone, never being able to get the stationery you need and working with a difficult client or supplier can all lead to a feeling of frustration. It’s easy to feel powerless when you don’t have enough space for your paperwork or if booking a meeting room feels like climbing Everest.


These may seem like small things but if something more significant goes wrong or these problems persist over a long period, they can easily tip you over the edge if you’re having a bad day.


If there's a niggling problem, it’s worth trying to do something about it. Ask for a printer that works, ask for the photocopier to be serviced or replaced. Raise the point that the IT system is causing delays with your work.


How to handle frustration at work


Take a step back


It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you feel frustrated, so take a step back from the situation and figure out the real problem. When you know why you’re feeling frustrated it’s easier to solve it.


Look for the positives


Look for the opportunities presented by a problem. If the room-booking system is offline again, maybe that’s a good excuse to raise the issue with your line manager so the situation can be fixed once and for all.


Talk it through


You may want to avoid confronting a problem but deep down you know if you avoid a solution, it will probably get worse. Remind yourself that confronting a problem is better than enduring it and a calm conversation beats a heated confrontation hands down.


  • Don’t make it personal. Focus on what has caused the problem not on who has caused it.
  • Don’t blame or accuse the other person. They may have no idea they’ve bothered you.
  • Listen to what they have to say. It’s the only way you’ll understand their point of view.
  • Treat the other person the way you would like to be treated if you were in the same situation.


If your conversation doesn’t go well or the problem persists even after you’ve raised it with the other person, it may be time to seek advice and support from your manager. If your manager is the problem, you may need to talk to someone in HR or further up the chain of command to get help resolving the problem.


And breathe


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Before you react, take a few deep breaths and count to ten. Give yourself room to think and calm down rather that lashing out. Taking even a split second to think before you speak could be the difference between having a damaging showdown or resolving the situation calmly.



How to get help managing your emotions at work


If you regularly experience frustration at work and find you’re feeling angry and demotivated more and more of the time, it’s important to get outside help.


Recognising the problem is the first step to change. Continual frustration and anger may lead to depression, anxiety and illness.


Whatever you do, don’t just endure. Everyone has their limit and you don’t want to reach yours and lose control at work.


After all, if you’re going to walk away, you want to do it on your own terms rather than being shown the door.


Do reach out to us today be filling in the on-line form if you need to talk to a professional career advisor or if you feel you need help to move on in your career to a more healthy environment.


After all, you spend too many hours at work to be mis-treated, over-looked or to feel unhappy. Do something positive about it today, rather than wait for a more negative tomorrow.



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