Study: Compassion, not sanctions, is best response to workplace anger

April 14, 2011

Challenging traditional views of workplace anger, a new article by a Temple University Fox School of Business professor suggests that even intense emotional outbursts can prove beneficial if responded to with compassion.

Dr. Deanna Geddes, chair of the Fox School's Human Resource Management Department, argues that more supportive responses by managers and co-workers after displays of deviant anger can promote positive change at work, while sanctioning or doing nothing does not.

"The trouble with sanctions: Organizational responses to deviant anger displays at work," co-authored with University of Baltimore's Dr. Lisa T. Stickney, states that "when companies choose to sanction organizational members expressing deviant anger, these actions may divert attention and resources from correcting the initial, anger-provoking event that triggered the employee's emotional outburst."

In a study of 194 people who acknowledged witnessing an incident of deviant anger at work, the researchers found no connection between firing an irate employee and solving underlying workplace problems. Geddes and Stickney also found that even a single act of support by a manager or co-worker and the angered employee can improve workplace tension.

Managers who recognize their potential role in angering an employee "may be motivated to respond more compassionately to help restore a favorable working relationship," the researchers wrote in the journal Human Relations.

If management shows "an active interest in addressing underlying issues that prompted employee anger, perceptions of improved situations increase significantly," the researchers wrote.

"Business codes of conduct are often about what we shouldn't do as an angry employee in emotional episodes, while few, if any, tend to address our role as observers of emotional episodes," according to the article. "Such guidelines, if available, could expand to include positive suggestions for those who witness, judge and respond to angry employees – formally or informally."

The findings stem from the Dual Threshold Model of workplace anger expression, which distinguishes between suppressed and deviant anger. Researchers label the space between suppressed and deviant anger as the zone most likely to achieve positive change. The model distinguishes between muted anger – complaints to co-workers and friends who lack the authority to resolve the situation – as the least productive way to prompt change. Geddes created the model with Dr. Ronda Roberts Callister of Utah State University.

"Some of the most transformational conversations come about through expressed anger," Geddes said.

Explore further: Men More Prone to Maladies When Mad

Related Stories

Men More Prone to Maladies When Mad

February 3, 2006

If you're a male who has trouble controlling your temper, you might find yourself in the hospital the next time you get angry. After interviewing people who had been seriously injured, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher ...

Angry? Breathing Beats Venting

February 28, 2007

While it is a common assumption that an angry person needs to blow off steam or risk going through the roof, research in psychology shows just the opposite. According to University of Arkansas psychologist Jeffrey M. Lohr, ...

'Angry' extroverts should do best in the ring

December 28, 2009

( -- Boxers are renowned for upping the ante by trading slurs and insults at pre-fight weigh-ins or press conferences - but research by sports psychologists suggests that the role goes beyond showmanship. If effectively ...

Anger makes people want things more

November 1, 2010

Anger is an interesting emotion for psychologists. On the one hand, it's negative, but then it also has some of the features of positive emotions. For a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association ...

Angry at God? If so, you're not alone, says psychologist

January 1, 2011

The notion of being angry with God goes back to ancient days. Such personal struggles are not new, but Case Western Reserve University psychologist Julie Exline began looking at "anger at God" in a new way.

Recommended for you

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.