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These Subtle Behaviors Give Away How Angry You Are—Even If You Don’t Realize It

People often say that it’s better to release your emotions than to bottle them up, but is that true in the workplace? What about professional settings where your ability to collaborate calmly collaborate with your coworkers is the difference between life and death?

The answer, according to the authors of Thriving in Healthcare: A Positive Approach to Reclaim Balance and Avoid Burnout in Your Busy Life, is a firm no. “The truth is that an unbridled expression of anger does only one thing — it makes you angrier,” Gary R. Simonds, MD, MHCDS, and Wayne M. Sotile, PhD, write. “The more frequently you act angry, the more likely it is that you will feel anger. And frankly, when as an outburst ever made a situation better?”

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This important point should serve as somewhat of a talisman in healthcare settings, where conflict pops up often. After all, you can’t necessarily control what makes you feel angry, but you can prevent yourself from showing that anger. To do so, it helps know the verbal and non-verbal cues that communicate anger and aggression.

Subtle signs that you’re angry

Drs. Simonds and Sotile organize these behaviors in six categories:

Verbal behaviors

  • Cursing
  • Threatening
  • Giving ultimatums
  • Giving unwanted advice
  • Blaming
  • Being sarcastic
  • Criticizing
  • Exaggerating
  • Refusing to discuss a topic

Nonverbal sounds

  • Sighing
  • Moaning
  • Grunting
  • Groaning


  • Shouting
  • Snickering
  • Tense, overly controlled
  • Whining
  • Mumbling
  • Flatness
  • Disinterest

Hand and arm gestures

  • Balling fists
  • Shaking fists
  • Point fingers
  • Folding arms
  • Placing hands on hips
  • Waving hands, suggesting dismissal
  • Pounding or tapping table
  • Chopping motion

Facial expressions

  • Refusal to make eye contact
  • Raising eyebrows
  • Rolling/narrowing eyes
  • Frowning
  • Grimacing
  • Scowling

Body movements

  • Shaking head, indicating
  • Pacing
  • Shrugging shoulders
  • Kicking
  • Foot tapping
  • Pushing or grabbing

How to prevent yourself from showing anger

The key is to pause when you start to feel yourself becoming what the authors call “activated.” Then, ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 100, how stressed (or rushed or excited) am I right now? On a scale of 1 to 100, how angry am I right now?” This gives you time to pause, calm yourself and consciously avoid the above behaviors.

RELATED: 5 Steps to Create a Culture Where Staff Feel Comfortable Reporting Mistakes, Unsafe Conditions

Drs. Simonds and Sotile also recommend in your mind’s eye watching a movie of yourself in the anger-inducing situation because it removes you from the situation, allowing you to manage your emotions and behaviors more easily.

Another strategy is to practice empathy, which all too often is reserved solely for patients. Remind yourself that your fellow health professionals are, for the most part, doing the best they can to cope with their circumstances.

And when in doubt, try repeating one of these affirmations to yourself:

  • I may not like it, but this person is probably doing his or her best right now.
  • Will this matter five years from now?
  • If I am still this angry tomorrow, I’ll deal with it then.
  • Calmness is not the same as weakness.
  • Hostility is bad for my health.
  • Being in a hurry just makes me irritable and not nice to be around.
  • It takes real strength and maturity to show love and kindness.

Do you have any strategies for coping with anger in your healthcare workplace? Share them in the comments below.

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