When you walk the streets of New York you should avoid eye contact with all people. Avoid eye contact with the crazies, the self-talkers, and even the handsome model types for those will turn on you faster than women can line up for a Prada sample sale or they can rush into a Filene’s Basement running of the brides sale. There are a lot of angry people walking the streets of New York. Mind you it is not that there are more angry people in New York. Did you see the study that said the happiest tweets come from Times Square in New York City? I am absolutely convinced that there are angrier populations throughout the United States such as Longview, Texas or Rockford, Illinois. Even our politicians pay heed to the anger. Congressman, Bernie Sanders made headline news last year, when he stated that the American people are angry. Back to the streets of New York. The reason there are so many angry people walking the streets of New York, is that there are many more people walking the streets of New York than most, if not all, places in the United States. Tokyo still beats New York City in that regard but I am not too sure about their rage. Apparently, it is a bit repressed.
New Yorkers feel comfortable being angry. Obviously not all New Yorkers express their anger outright in the streets. Yet, a zone of anger expression has clearly been established out in the streets of the City that never sleeps. Of course, sleep deprivation could be leading in part to the need to ventilate. Interestingly, recent research finds that when there is a lack of sleep, women are grumpier than men. Walking through the streets of New York City at 8am will confirm that finding for you. Speaking of the city streets, have you seen the steam rising from the ground? It is quite a site to see on a Monday morning. The foreboding is quite foreboding in itself.
The rising steam appears to seep into the collective public conscious as they are walking on by in their way to work. I was just walking through New York City’s Madison Park, where the US Open Tennis matches had been streamed live for a congregated audience of tourists and New Yorkers alike. The steam hung heavy over their heads. Which got me thinking, as I was heading in to work, how does one manage angry employees? They just don’t stay out on the street. Eventually these angry people make their way into a shared office space. Besides just interacting with them, how does one go one step further and mentor or coach angry individuals? What if you have a Jimmy Connor or McEnroe in your midst?
Angry employees seem to be more and more frequent in the workplace. Perhaps because wages are stagnant? Perhaps because there are more generations interacting with each other requiring more patience on the part of all to understand the different work ethics? Perhaps because some are being asked to do more with less? Not everyone responds to the workload in the same way. A new study was released this past week about the Generation Y workforce and their grand sense of entitlement. Accordingly, a job promotion is often expected even when they have not been long on the job. This ain’t your parent’s generation, that’s for sure. I have the distinct pleasure of supervising generation X, Y, Baby Boomers and the like. None, mind you is easy to manage and does require shifts in my perceptions, approach, and messaging. Feedback looks way differently from one generation to the next. Such shifts cause mental as well as physical whiplash. I kind of want to argue for hazards pay. Speaking of which, did you know that moving to work in DC came with such a hazards pay perk? It was a swamp way back when. Actually, it still is both in actual geological measures and in personality blowhards.
Generically, the workplace now resembles Washington, DC. Sticking with the swamp image, supervising such a wide range of ideologically and narcissistically varied group of individuals is a bit like reaching into a swamp and hoping you don’t get your fingers chomped off by an alligator. And, let me set this straight. There are curmudgeons in all generations. Hell, I have seen some curmudgeony babies in my lifetime. You know they exist. I am not saying they are ugly babies. I would never cross that sacrosanct red line. Anyway, have you ever had that moment when at a team meeting you look around and you see steam rising from the top of the heads. How should you respond when an angry employee asks a question that is off-topic, related only to their own situation, or tries to push another agenda?
What I have found in a decade of serving as a supervisor is that you have three types of angry employees. You have the John McEnroes, the Jimmy Connors and the sport fan. Let me explain. First off, the McEnroes. These are easy to identify off the bat. The second they enter the workplace, they are a walking, breathing ball of angry fire. They are just angry all the time. Even when they agree with you in a meeting, they come off sounding harsh and bitter. They want credit for being a rockstar yet their work quality ebbs and flows with their emotions. Oftentimes, these are also the employees that will point out your own lack of professionalism, or lack of adhering to protocols yet they blatantly disregard common sense and pick and choose which protocols they will follow. Many times they are over the line but refuse to recognize that call, blowing up wherever they choose. What is disturbing to me is that many of these angry-all-the-time blowhards are just plain old mean-spirited. Yet, they feel that they deserve to be mentored and nurtured. How can one mentor an angry person? Mentoring is a gift and should be recognized as such. Mentoring also means that the person receiving said mentorship is open to feedback and wants to grow. Internalized and externalized anger in such large doses impedes growth and clouds judgment. I have had over 70 research assistants and supervised over 30 employees. My style of supervision is to mentor. However, I have found that mentoring an angry person just leaves a very bad aftertaste. They are quite a bitter pill to swallow that needs a shot or two of rum afterwards in order to smooth the digestion.
Next, we have the Jimmy Connors. They are competent, longstanding employees. They have put in their time. They know their stuff. They are steady and more than hold their own against the McEnroes types. However, they are curmudgeons in the true sense of the word. At times, however, they are very stubborn to move psychologically once they have formed an opinion. They have gravitas and feel that status should carry them forward. Now these types of angry employees definitely come from throughout the different generations manifesting their curmudgeon ways accordingly.
Lastly, we have the sports fan. The really angry but hyped-up sports fan, that is. At first, the employee is seemingly easy-going. They act as a cheerleader, but deep down they are seething, ready to explode at whatever slight they perceive (oftentimes, misperceive). This group is a little bit like that Generation Y entitled employee. They seem to not only cheer on the team, but they cheer on themselves even more loudly. When things do not go their way, they throw a tantrum akin to the highly invested sports fan who is angry at the umpire’s call or the inexplicable inability of the player to score that easy point. I am reminded of a horrible tennis scene years back when Monica Seles was playing a tennis match and all of a sudden a deranged fan came onto the court and stabbed her in the back. I don’t know about you, but I have witnessed such a many times metaphorically-speaking that is. This type of angry employee is the type that goes around the office with a swelled head and as such disrupts various processes (whether they are team meetings or the like) because they feel entitled to be disruptive if the processes don’t follow what they believe to be the right course of action.
When interacting with these angry employees, it is best to keep some general rules of interaction in mind. Don’t entertain their badly-expressed anger in the moment, although at some point a corrective action needs to be taken. Note that active listening is only good when the person is in a state of calm. Further, don’t try to be their friend. That is just the worse mistake possible. Friendships in the workplace are fraught with a lot of politics as it is. Being friends with an angry person is just throwing fuel onto the flames. As for mentorship, take that on only if wearing a full body armor. Most of the time they don’t truly desire mentorship, they just want to be told how great they are. Treat the employee with respect and engage in a way that makes project expectations clear and provide proper guidance. Respond appropriately as a supervisor to any work-related issues, but avoid falling into the role of counselor. So many times, people want to place me in that role or that of being a mom. I am neither to them. The best you can do is provide them with the necessary tools to do their job.
So, before going into work get some coffee and let the steam just waft on by. That is your moment of zen.