Is expressing anger prohibited in the American workplace?
Even though it might not be explicitly prohibited, expressing anger violently (even if only verbally) is NOT welcome in any place. Not even inside one's family. Therefore, not even "in the American workplace".
The anger seemed reasonable. Specifically, two co-workers were shouting, not directed at anyone in the room, but at a general frustration for the boss not being there ever to listen and address their serious concerns.
Well, if I understand correctly, your statement is quite confusing:
- "The anger seemed reasonable"
- "not directed at anyone in the room, but at a general frustration"
- "the boss not being there ever to listen and address their serious concerns"
While 1. and 2. might work together, 3. cannot fit with either of them. Why?
Why in the world am I frustrated?!
Why isn't the boss doing his job?!
are definitely two VERY different statements.
And I tend to believe that those colleagues did not use the first statement.
And they were frustrated that the other lower managers still hadn't gotten around to passing on their concerns.
Now you actually confirm that the anger was not against the frustration, it was against the direct boss AND other bosses as well.
I think it should be useless to say that making public angered statements against your own bosses is never a good idea. Not for the current workplace, not for the future workplaces (especially if they have a chance to find out about it - and they do, if they want).
We later began getting memos reminding people to have a "positive attitude".
Well, I am telling you the same thing, and many other people would tell you the same. While it feels good for the moment to let out some steam, that steam will turn back and burn you later.
So the sensible conclusion is that
The anger seemed reasonable.
is a false statement, and the anger was not reasonable at all.
It is always better to solve the things with (apparent) calm, even if it might be (very) difficult.
To reach a "place" from where one can deal with such situations better, one needs to actually make an active effort to study and to train for this purpose.
A few ideas:
US is a country with a highly diverse mix of cultural backgrounds, as diverse as the ethnicities of the people living there. To make things more complicated, the US had a rather tumultuous history, and that deeply influenced how people think and act.
As a result, they make use of a wide array of rules of "good behavior", and because there are so many cultures mixed, these rules do not always work, and sometimes these rules do not even seem to make sense. Not for an "outsider", at least.
From my point of view, the bottom line is:
- the US is the way it is; if you want to be there, accept their culture; when in Rome, do as the Romans do;
- violence (even if only verbal) is NEVER the best answer, in any situation, in any place; much better results are possible if things are dealt with (apparent) calm.
A note: please do not confuse the following two aspects:
- showing one's feelings (including anger);
- being (verbally or otherwise) violent, as a result of the feeling (anger).
While 1. is acceptable and even recommended, 2. is definitely not. All my answer above relates to 2.
Showing the feeling without acting on it means to let the feeling be visible on your face and body, and make a verbal statement about it (e.g. "Now I am very angry!") in a controlled voice.
Screaming (angered or happy), jumping around, breaking things, shaking colleagues - is definitely NOT the better way.
The term hysterical, applied to an individual, can mean that they are emotional or irrationally upset
where the keyword is "irrational". Being irrational cannot be acceptable in a civilized society.