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Anger awareness - 7 tips for ‘keeping your cool’

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A great place to work, Health & Wellbeing
Anger management expert Mike Fisher
Mike Fisher

For National Anger Awareness Week (1 to 7 December), Civil Service HR’s Paul Carter interviewed anger management expert Mike Fisher to understand what causes anger and how you can stand up for yourself without losing your temper or worrying if you won.

Although a range of emotions and behaviours – and not just anger – can lead to conflict, in both work and personal life, anger management can help you stay in control, say what you need to say and listen to others to settle disputes in an empathetic and professional manner. 

Why do people get angry?

Britain has a reputation for being a nation of imploders – bottling up anger and letting it fester until you finally explode. People often internalise anger because it’s difficult to communicate emotions and resolve conflict with others. There is a fear of what might happen if you say something, so you stay quiet or display it in other ways. Instead of addressing the situation or individuals causing your anger, you take it out on friends, family, colleagues, customer service and motorists. This causes further stress and unhappiness, making it difficult to cope.

Anger management is relevant to the workplace, as people are expected to treat each other with dignity and respect and personify corporate values. But angry people are often very critical of themselves and they project this judgement and criticism onto others. This creates conflict, the tension builds and the anger spreads.

Dealing with confrontation is difficult and people are often dissatisfied with the way they settle differences with others. Can you discuss a problem at work without losing control of your emotions? What happens if you are challenged, criticised or ignored? Do you act politely even though you are fuming? Do you suck it up, while your colleague has their say? If you lose your temper, how will you deal with the guilt and repair that relationship? All of these questions flying around your head have an emotional impact.

How can you stand up for yourself without getting angry?

You need to be assertive and have strong self-esteem to stop anger overwhelming you. If you are angry, be open about how you feel, why you are upset and what you need to resolve this anger. Being defensive makes it harder to have this conversation and understand what all parties need to feel valued, safe and listened to. It has to be a two-way conversation with mutual respect, especially if you are senior in grade to the person or group you are in conflict with.

Create time to think about the consequences of the event that angered you and your reaction to resolving it. It’s your chance to say how you are feeling – ‘What I want is for you not to speak to me this way’, or ‘What I want is for you to value my work’. 

These tips on anger management during 'difficult' conversations can help you express your feelings – while keeping your cool – and reach a resolution: 

  1. Stop, think, and take a look at the bigger picture - what you want to achieve and how you will do it.
  2. Practise what you are going to say so you feel prepared.
  3. Remind yourself to 'keep your cool' and try not to take the issue personally.
  4. Be certain about the facts relating to the conflict.
  5. Accept it’s OK for people to have a different opinion.
  6. Listen carefully to what other people are saying and empathise.
  7. Stay in control and always say, ‘thank you for listening to me’.

If you are on the receiving end of an angry outburst, remember not to take it personally. Nothing others do or say is because of you. What others do and say is a projection of their reality onto yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to tolerate unprofessional behaviour in the workplace and should follow internal procedures for conflict resolution including mediation.

Is anger a mental health condition; and, if so, what is the prognosis?

There is a clear link to mental ill health, as research indicates that general depression is anger turned inwards. The more depressed, stressed or anxious you are, the more likely you will act out your anger. There is often a history of shame and using anger as self-defence to protect yourself, which affects your ability to let go of the anger and develop coping strategies for managing future conflict. 

Treating the underlying causes and symptoms of shame and mental health conditions can aid the development of coping strategies for anger management. Although ‘taking a deep breath and counting to 10’ helps, treatment has to be psychoeducational, with people training their brains and finding anger management strategies that suit their personalities and responses to stressful events. This can be done through professional anger management training courses and online resources.

Free anger management techniques for life

  1. Use your support network when you need to talk to someone so your anger doesn’t get out of control.
  2. Keep a journal to record how you feel about what happened, and your views on resolving a problem.
  3. Try breathing techniques, mindfulness, yoga, walking and other exercises.
  4. Let go of any expectations you might have. 
  5. Remember life is unfair!
  6. Take up a relaxing hobby, e.g. gardening.
  7. Relax in a bath whilst listening to chilled music.
  8.  Listen or dance to soothing music.

The Civil Service is the largest organisation providing internal workplace mediation in the UK, through the Civil Service Mediation Service (CSMS), with over 250 trained mediators. Mediation is a highly effective option for those who are in disagreement or dispute. Not only does it resolve conflict at the most informal and positive level, it can also be transformative for those involved and the organisation around them, building resilience and longevity in relationships.

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Paul for sharing this with us. I would agree with much of what Mike has said about this particular topic and some useful tips.

    I do recall being advised to consider what the trigger points are prior to expressing anger and to be aware of these in the future when they arise and to look to take action to avoid the situation escalating.

    With respoect to the link to Mental Health. I would agree with his comments and the importance of talking to someone about how you are truly feeling. This can be a close friend, colleague, MHFA or EAP Counsellor.

  2. Comment by Mike Glassey posted on

    This is one of the best blogs I've read this year, many thanks for taking the time to write and share it.