How to Respond to an Angry Employee

Don’t ad lib when emotion is high.

Prepare yourself to respond to an angry employee. Develop a plan.

How to respond to an angry employee:

#1. Emotion comes first. Diffuse hot emotion before solving tough issues.  Hot emotion, like stress, makes people stupid.

  1. Show respect. Treat people with courtesy, even if they are discourteous.
  2. Listen quietly until their emotions cool.
  3. Confront crude or insulting language.

#2. Stop conversations when people disrespect or insult you.

If you’re seated, stand up. Speak quietly but firmly. “You’re not going to speak to me that way. I’m interested in your concerns. Would you like some time to gather your thoughts?”

Taking time to cool off is not an excuse for avoiding tough issues.

#3. Buy time for yourself if you’re upset.

When under stress, adrenaline turns your brain to mush. Additionally, adrenaline causes some people to shake. You’ll need 20 or 30 minutes for adrenaline to run its course.

#4. Turn complaints to goals.

In this morning’s post the complaint was, “She accused me and our company of not valuing her opinions and is threatening to quit.” This complaint came after an employee received corrective feedback about her work.

Possible goals:

  1. “I want to value your opinions. What would be happening if your opinions were valued?”
  2. “Help me understand how my feedback connects to not valuing your opinions.”
  3. “I see that my feedback was upsetting. How would you like me to give you this kind of feedback in the future?”
  4. “If you would like to quit, let’s begin the process after you’ve had time to think about it.”


  1. Angry people aren’t happy about anything. Don’t let a conversation about burnt toast end with, “You’re just like your mother.”
  2. Make a plan for the future that includes consequences if they blow up again. Include, “Here’s what I expect from you…”

What should be on a leader’s plan for responding to an angry employee?