30

Recently some co-workers were called in for a stern chat with the boss because they had expressed anger during a meeting, when the boss was out. 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. And they were frustrated that the other lower managers still hadn't gotten around to passing on their concerns. We later began getting memos reminding people to have a "positive attitude".

In US workplace culture, is expressing anger not acceptable? Is it room for a reprimand or dismissal?

  • 4
    I wouldn’t say it’s a norm in US culture but it’s certainly been the case in many places where I’ve worked. I’ve also worked in places where it would be considered weird to not express anger when anger is warranted. – AffableAmbler Nov 5 at 5:36
  • 14
    "Expressing anger" is too ambiguous. Yelling loudly inside a quiet meeting room, outside of an emergency or understandable circumstances (e.g. you need to call for someone in another room and you need to speak very loudly to be heard because you can't just go in the other room or call on the phone, etc.), is uncalled for. Is that what happened here? – Brandin Nov 5 at 5:43
  • 1
  • 3
    Attacking the way a message is brought is an often used tactic of not having to reply to the body of the message. Your boss is deflecting and not solving problems. – Pieter B Nov 7 at 9:22
25

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:

  1. "The anger seemed reasonable"
  2. "not directed at anyone in the room, but at a general frustration"
  3. "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?!

and

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:

  1. showing one's feelings (including anger);
  2. 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.

From Wikipedia:

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.

  • 8
    I think it is not correct to say that U.S., or any other country for that matter, are not a special place. The rules on showing emotions and sharing opinions vary greatly across the world. What is considered honest in Germany or Czech Republic would be seen as rude in the United States. – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Nov 5 at 14:57
  • 1
    In my opinion, the anger they express about their manglement can be completely reasonable. Next step is either manglement changes their attitude or the workers put in their notice. In an optimal world, the outcome depends on how hard it is to hire/train replacements in time, but in this case, manglement may decide to let the ship sink instead of biting the bullet and making any concessions to anyone. – Alexander Nov 6 at 9:13
  • @Alexander: you are mostly right. However, it is good practice (or at least good training) to do those things without giving in to the anger. Even more, the anger can be managed better if several people agree together to the action plan - nobody will feel alone in the battle – virolino Nov 6 at 9:32
14

Specifically, two co-workers were shouting, not directed at anyone in the room, but at a general frustration

In this situation yes, it would be unacceptable in any sane company. It's potential hysteria which is unpredictable and contagious.

5

In US workplace culture, is expressing anger not acceptable?

Expressing anger as an emotion is really frowned upon, period. What does an expression of anger solve exactly? It just shows that you are a person that is okay with making people feel really uncomfortable or threatened when your emotions get the best of you. Expressing anger is akin to "Hey look, I'm a child!" and will swiftly ruin your reputation assuming you had any to begin with.

Unfortunately sometimes the anger comes from someone who controls your paycheck so pick your high-horse wisely.

Expressing frustration or disagreement with calm, articulated, and logical speech is wholeheartedly welcome in the correct setting.

Again, pick your battles wisely because if the boss is trying to paint a vision of the company direction to a large group of people then that is absolutely not the time to express disagreement especially if you haven't been invited to present your opinion before-hand.


Is it room for a reprimand or dismissal?

Anger alone really isn't a reason to reprimand someone. If it was then employees wouldn't be allowed to be quietly angry at their desk.

However, making someone feel threatened or undermining those above you can certainly cause you some great issues.

5

In the mandatory safety training (videos with quizzes after) that we have to take as a large contractor at a federal agency, we are supposed to report to management if someone is showing anger.

In theory, that person is at a heightened risk of causing Workplace Violence. So that's one data point.

  • 3
    Expressing anger is not a reasonable thing to do at the office but I strongly disagree about heightened risk of causing workplace violence (as well as capitalizing word violence unless it's not a text in German). – shabunc Nov 5 at 15:40
  • 2
    I'm just reporting on what the corporate training claimed. The caps were sort of to be like scare quotes, but less pronounced. They were always capitalized in the video. – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Nov 5 at 15:54
4

In most of the United States, employment is "at will". That means you can be fired for any reason, or no reason, at all (provided they're not illegal reasons).

So yes, you can be fired for acting out your anger (definitely).

And yes, acting out your anger can scare people. Especially if you're big, and/or are male, and/or are more than one person doing it.

Furthermore, given our climate of zero-tolerance policies this day and age, and the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, you two were very lucky that you just didn't get fired for that outburst.

1

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.

I'm guessing this meeting is set up to address concerns about the workplace? But the bosses, or decision makers are never there? So the question of why these meetings take place is asked?

At the end of the day, employees have very little control over how or what they do in their work place but they are still being paid. So by being angry or having angry outbursts seem irrelevant in such a case because you are being paid, which is the end result of working.

If anything being angry while being paid might end in you being fired. After all nobody wants to pay some angry person who is prone to yelling and screaming.

The only time being angry is reasonable is if you're 1) not being paid, and 2) being forced to work while #1 is taking effect.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.