How to Deal with Angry Coworkers

angry man

I once had a very unpredictable coworker. One day, she’d be your best friend and help you out with any questions or favors you needed. You’d think to yourself, “I’m so lucky to work with people like this.”

Then one day I’d walk in and make a joke or say good morning and I’d get a death stare. Which would make me pause—death stares are not a good way to start your day. Then I’d bump into her in the kitchen and it felt like she was really angry at something.

Something I did to her.

It was the weirdest feeling, and it made everyone around her fear her a little bit. I would just try to stay out of her way, even if was supposed to get something from her to do my job.

I was scared.

I would think about it and worry about what I did to her and what I could do to alleviate this horrible feeling I’d get whenever she was in one of these moods.

And then I had an epiphany. I overheard her talking about some personal issues she was dealing with and that’s when I realized the whole time I had been thikning about myself and what I had done, instead of realizing she was probably just going through some stuff in her life and she had taken it out on the people she worked with.

A Theory of Power

Studies show that job satisfaction is correlated with the amount of control you have over your job. If you feel like you have no say about how you do your job and are just taking orders, odds are you won’t be very happy at work.

So here’s my theory on power:

In life, we have to get that feeling of power somewhere. Some of us get it from work, where we get to dictate how our day will go, what we’ll do in the coming months, etc. We’re in control and that’s one way to get our power fill.

Some of us prefer to just take orders and go about our day without having to think about stuff too much. And that’s fine. But most of these people have some other outlet where they get their power from. A hobby, a sport, a side business, volunteering somewhere, etc.

Diversify Your power

During the spring and summer, I play in a competitive baseball (not softball!) league. For the most part, I do pretty well and for those months it’s a great source of power for me. I have those moments where I do something good, my teammates acknowledge it, and I feel great about it.

And then you have your bad games, and you get the opposite feeling: that you suck and your teammates hate you.

On those days I come home, shower, and go straight to my daughter. She could care less about any of that. She loves me 100% of the time, all the time (unless I refuse to take her to Dairy Queen, so let’s call it 95% of the time).

Boom—power restored no matter what kind of day I had at work or at baseball.

And then there’s work. Work is another up-and-down proposition, especially when you’re starting a new gig. You’re learning the people, the process, and you’re careful not to step on anyone’s toes (at least that’s how I am at new jobs).

Not very conducive to power.

Anyway, that diversification is one way to increase your odds (just like diversifying your investments or your income or anything else) of always having at least some power over your life.

When the baseball season is over I definitely struggle a little bit to adjust because I’m less diversified. The idea is to find something that’s reliable and you have control over. This is why people love to say “at least you have your health.” That’s one thing that can take away any sense of control you have over your life, regardless of how everything else is going.


Let me see how I can say this without getting too cheesy. Family is something you should be able to rely on at all times. You have that certainty that, no matter what happens, your family is going to be there to support you and try to see you in the most positive light imaginable.

Family should be a consistent, reliable source of power for you.

If you have a bad day at work and it’s winter so you can’t hit a double down the line and celebrate with your teammates—you should be able to come home and be loved. And love is power.

OK this is starting to sound like a Bob Marley song here, but do you know what I mean? That blood bond is unlike anything else. No matter what happens or what you do or they do or how angry and frustated you get and you just want to give them up forever—you don’t.

Because that’s family. It’s forever. And for people that don’t have that one, steady source of power available to them during the bad times—it can be hard. It can cause acting up. Violence. Crime. Disillusionment.

How you can use the power theory

It’s helped me in a few different ways:

  • Recognition: Sometimes I’m in a bad mood and can’t figure out why. Usually I can trace it back to someone either wronging me or not having had any power to exercise in a long time. Once I realize that, it takes some of the weight off. Solution? Go play with my daughter and hang out with my wife.
  • People: Once you look at the way people treat you in these terms, you realize that most people don’t hate you or are out to get you, they just need to feel some control. Some power. And if raising their voice at you or being snappy is their way to do it, then it is what it is. Do I think that’s a cool way to manage the balance? Of course not. But you start to feel empathy for someone that just wants to have a little bit more control over their life. You start to understand.
  • Cycle: This is part of a cycle. Don’t let yourself get too high and don’t let yourself get too low (it’s like being a closer in baseball). Power comes and power goes, but try to stay somewhere in the middle so you don’t lose all self esteem or become a cocky jerk.

This theory of power was a huge shift for me. Whenever someone was rude or mean to me at work or anywhere else, I figured they were just having a bad day. Or bad couple of days.

Solution? Show some empathy. We’re all human beings here and we’re all on the same boat. Try to show some humanity and be nice to people when you can.

And then just take them to Dairy Queen for  good measure.

Image by Jelle

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