The True Cost of Workplace Anger: Building Teams that Interact Constructively
By Colleen Jolly, PPF.APMP

Proposals tend to be emotionally charged environments. Many people work late to accommodate tight schedules and many others are completely unfamiliar with the process and are surprised by the demands of an effort. Expectations to win are high and the stress level can peak often creating an aura of hostility.

Many people do not know how to cope with these ever-increasing demands on their time and emotions, and while some retreat into themselves, many explode in anger or frustration. Angry outbursts or more quiet, passive-aggressive behavior such as spreading rumors or small acts of rebellion (purposefully not refilling the paper in the printer or not ordering a specific person lunch with the team) can become common and often tacitly accepted in a workplace. Often teams are too busy to constructively help the many people involved in bid work through stress-related anxiety or other emotions that are leading to anger or conflict. However, what teams do not realize is the true cost of avoiding or ignoring potential inter-personal issues. According to the Anger Management Training Institute, “Studies show that up to 42% of employee time is spent engaging in or trying to resolve conflict. This results in wasted employee time, mistakes, stress, lower morale, hampered performance, and reduced profits and or service.”

Proposals are complex and fast-paced but not stopping to immediately address a concern will cost time and ultimately money. Dr. Tony Fiore, an anger expert, cites a study regarding the staggering statistics of ignoring potential issues: “in 1993 the national Safe Workplace Institute released a study showing that workplace violence costs $4.2 billion each year, estimating over 111,000 violent incidents. Further, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 500,000 victims of violent crime in the workplace lose an estimated 1.8 million workdays each year.”

I have seen many different proposal environments – some work together extremely well and others, well … others do not. Anger is a reaction to and a symptom of a potentially greater issue. According to Ari Novick, an anger and stress management expert, “Anger is usually a secondary response on the ‘emotional food chain.’ There is usually some other emotion that precedes it. Learning to understand our true feelings that get masked by anger is the first way to understand how we can express our anger more effectively.”

A team that is going to be successful and work together to win a particular piece of business or go on to win more business together needs to quickly identify and correct behavior that is not conducive to greater long term success. This is, of course, easier said than done. The old adage of “first you must admit you have a problem” is a relevant one. Simply pointing a finger at a colleague who is yelling and telling them “No!,” like you would correct an errant puppy, will not elicit a positive response. It is first and most important to create an atmosphere where people are comfortable working together and talking together. This takes time, trust, and a strong leader. It also requires everyone to share the same basic beliefs.

Here are seven core beliefs, by David Leonhardt of the Anger Management Training Institute, which a person must understand and agree with before they are able to change their extreme reactions to stressful situations:

  1. Anger impedes our ability to be happy, because anger and happiness are incompatible.
  2. Anger sends marriages and other family relationships off-course.
  3. Anger reduces our social skills, compromising other relationships, too.
  4. Anger means lost business, because it destroys relationships.
  5. Anger also means losing business that you could have won in a more gracious mood.
  6. Anger leads to increased stress (ironic, since stress often increases anger).
  7. We make mistakes when we are angry, because anger makes it harder to process information.

There are many, many strategies for dealing with anger. Some of them work and some of them sound really cheesy in the middle of a red team. The one that I have found most successful is the concept espoused by Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” Most conflicts start from simple miscommunication. Avoiding clarification of issues can exacerbate the severity of those issues. Days, weeks, or months of not directly seeking to understand an issue can cause serious personal distress, often that the original person or organization “responsible” for such issues are completely oblivious to.

I am often quick to anger and must remind myself to think of the other person in the situation (as a person or a person-driven event ignites most anger) and try to see or understand what was their motivation. On our teams, our clients, colleagues, vendors, and other members ultimately share the same goal: to complete the bid. Arguably, most people want to win, but everyone wants it to end – to move on to the next opportunity or simply to take a break. If everyone wants the bid to end and most people want to win, then logically, anything that negatively impacts those outcomes would be opposite of the shared goal. If you interpret an action that in way then perhaps that is not how the action was intended and you misunderstood. Taking a breath or a moment after an initial reaction to analyze possible motives will help you to not only fully understand a situation but also to realize that most people on your team are all working towards the same goal and not against it. As one of my business partners wisely told me, “If I make you mad or upset and you leave, then I have to do all of your work. So tell me, why would I purposefully want to make you mad?”

Anger is a common aspect of life, and is particularly present in the proposal world. First realizing how seriously anger can affect a team dynamic and then working towards addressing individual concerns in an open and trusting environment will ultimately save money and create a better work product. Communicate clearly with your team and think first before acting. If you must say something immediately in an emotionally charged environment, try the two most powerful words in any language and tell the person who has perhaps unwittingly upset you “thank you,” and mean it. Thanking someone for taking the time to express his or her opinion is valuable. Perhaps later, once the environment is not as charged, you can discuss better ways to communicate in the future.

Colleen Jolly, PPF.APMP, a 10+ year proposal veteran, manages a global professional proposal graphic company, 24 Hour Company, with offices in the US and UK. Colleen is very active in the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) including Layout Editor for the APMP Journal and regularly contributes articles. She is a frequent worldwide speaker and trainer on creative and general business topics. She also manages the online APMP Special Interest Group/ Community of Interest on information graphics, a joint effort between National Capital Area and UK chapters. She holds a BA from Georgetown University, and is active in leadership roles and Board positions in arts and women’s non-profit organizations, including being a South East of England Woman’s Enterprise Ambassador. Colleen is an award- winning artist and business professional—most recently as a receipt of a 2010 British Airways business grant supporting face-to-face business, and as a finalist for the Stevie Awards Creative Professional of the Year, 2009. Her company won entry into Inc. 5,000’s Fast Growing Companies in 2007 and she has been published three times in a women’s entrepreneurial calendar.

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