Picture this scenario: a co-worker constantly belittles and mocks another in meetings. He spreads nasty gossip about the victim around the office. He’s always heard being verbally abusive.
Would witnessing that behaviour make you angry? Of course, if you have a modicum of a sense of justice.
Yet in the real world, bystanders and witnesses of workplace bullying almost never show indications of anger at the injustice, despite the life-changing effects bullying can wreak on a victim.
An upcoming paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology attempts to rehabilitate the image of anger – usually maligned as a primal, knee-jerk reaction that gets in the way of logical thinking and cooperation.
In reality, anger is often rationally deployed. And when deployed in the correct set of circumstances, it can positively influence a situation’s outcome.
An angry witness of workplace bullying is much more likely to act on their anger – in the form of reporting incidents, defending the victim in channels like HR, or directly calling-out the bully.
Here are some tips on how to deploy anger effectively and appropriately:
- Direct your anger at the problem, not the person. Whether confronting the bully directly or discussing the issue with HR, focus on the problematic actions. Personalization risks further inflaming tensions.
- Make sure the bully isn’t your senior. The research indicates that if the target of anger is more senior than you, there’s virtually no chance of inducing a change in behaviour. Instead, try expressing disappointment.
- Don’t fake it. People are good at detecting mock-outrage, and they’ll just perceive you as untrustworthy if your anger isn’t authentic.
So if you’re feeling anger while witnessing an injustice, don’t try to suppress it. Take it as a call to action, and always remember that witnesses have the power to change lives.