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How to Handle 'Desk Rage' in Your Office

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Every office has one, or at least it seems that way.

That "one" is the office firecracker, the guy or gal who can't keep their anger in check and seems bent on making everyone in the workplace a target of their temper.

The data on anger at work is surprising and alarming. A U.K. study says the average worker experiences desk rage at least twice daily.

That's a lot of hot air released in the office. If you feel some of it headed in your general direction, what can you do?

Steven P. Cohen, president of The Negotiation Skills Co. and author of The Practical Negotiator, says dealing with an angry co-worker is easier if you understand the situation, plan for it and keep a cool head yourself.

Here's what Cohen advises when confronted with the office blowhard:

"First you have to ask yourself, 'Do I really need to deal with this person?,'" Cohen says. "Assuming the answer is yes, there are steps to follow":

  • Listen hard to the substance of what the "yeller" is saying. He may be expressing deep feelings or revealing very significant interests.
  • Don't respond immediately. One possibility is to sit there with a poker face in silence. In effect of this is letting him know that what he said or, more specifically, how he said it, is offensive to you.
  • Another response is to talk in a very soft voice. Speaking very slowly. Make him listen to you, even to the point where he asks you speak a little louder.
  • Your responses should begin with indication that you were listening, "If I understood you correctly ..." While you may understand what he said, that doesn't necessarily mean you agree with it. Make that point clearly.
  • If the yelling produces an emotional reaction from you, you might say a version of "When someone yells at me I feel hurt/insulted/misunderstood/as if we are not communicating."

Most of all, learn to manage the situation, and focus on disarming the red-faced blowhard, Cohen says.

"When someone yells at you, it is reasonable to say -- very gently -- that you do not have a hearing problem but that you are interested in what is being said," he adds. "This is also a time to take a deep breath, give yourself time to think and find a creative, unexpected way to respond. A surprise often throws the 'yeller' off-kilter, making him consider ideas that may not have occurred to him initially."

Anger is as pervasive in the workplace as a water cooler or a copy machine. Just as you can pull the plug on those items, use the tips above to pull the plug on the office bully.

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