Tips for Dealing with Desk Rage–Theirs and Yours

With rising fuel costs, longer commutes, and threatened layoffs, workplace morale is at an all-time low–and frustration is on the rise. In many cases, workers are being asked to do more work for less pay. The result? Frustration and desk rage are rampant in the workplace.

What do you do when faced with a hostile or difficult co-worker? What can you do if you feel rage rising in yourself? Here are some time-proven techniques to diffuse workplace frustration and dispel desk rage.

When someone rages at you:

Blank out your emotions. Stay emotionally neutral. Take a breath, keep your voice low and slow, and don’t take it personally. His rage is not about you. It’s about him. Don’t let fear or your own anger take hold.

Restate, restate, restate. Restate in your own words, as best you can, what you just heard. Don’t add judgments or interpretations. For example, the raging coworker says, “You screwed up my presentation by not having the report I asked you for! We’re gonna lose this client, thanks to you!” You might respond, “I know you’re furious with me. You’re upset that I didn’t have the report you requested, and you think this could jeopardize our client contract.”

Be a mirror. Each time he comes back at you, accurately reflect back what he just said. He’ll quickly see you’re not his enemy, and that you’re listening to him and understanding him. Watch how this simple technique converts hostility into reasonable dialogue.

When you’re feeling rage at someone else:

Just the facts, ma’am. Simply state the facts of what happened. Don’t interpret or analyze them. For example, you might say, “You agreed to be at work on time, and to call me if you were going to be late. Three days in the past week you arrived more than a half hour late–and one of those days was a staff meeting where I really needed your assistance.”

Give it a feeling. Next, use “I” statements to express how you feel. For example, “I am frustrated by this and feel disrespected.” Avoid “you” statements, such as “You made me angry.”

Need and want. Finally, tell the person what you need or want, using “I” statements again. So you might say, “I want an assistant who is respectful and responsible. I need you to honor your agreements.”

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David Wolf, PhD is a life skills coach and social worker, a workplace communications specialist, and the author of Relationships That Work: The Power of Conscious Living (Mandala Publishing, 2008, $14.95). He teaches transformative communication at Satvatove Institute (, a educational nonprofit organization he founded, based in north Florida.

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