what to do when you're pissed off at your team

Your boss has completely dropped the ball on reviewing something you gave him. Now it’s last-minute and you are going to have to stay late AGAIN to help him finalize it. You are seething! You have bent over backward to accommodate his schedule and told him endlessly how hard it is on your family when you have to work late without notice and, quite frankly, you don’t see why it’s so hard to just review things on time, especially when you blocked time on his calendar to do so! Obviously, he just doesn’t care.

Your team has completely screwed you up. You have an important client coming in at 8 a.m. You move heaven and earth and tick off your spouse to get into the office by 6 a.m. to review everything, and now that you are there you can’t find it. It isn’t saved where it should be. You can’t find any notes about it and your assistant isn’t answering her phone. Clearly, she doesn’t care.

We’ve all been there. You’re at work and you are PISSED at your boss, at your team, at everyone. It happens to the best of us, usually when we are overwhelmed or pushing hard for a goal/deadline or things seem to be falling apart. When intensity levels get high, so do emotions. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it tells us something is important – but how we handle it can create long-term echoes throughout our business, good or bad.

There is nothing wrong with the emotion of being angry. It’s usually an indicator something is not working. But how we communicate when we are upset is key because our harsh words can cause our boss or team to have a lasting fear of what happens, and that will take your entire team five steps backward and cause them to shut down communication. The cleanup work after a blowup can take months or years? and sometimes it can never be reset. And 100% of the time I’ve done this, or have been on the receiving end or witnessed it in a firm in our Team Empowerment Academy, the outcome was NEVER what the pissed-off person wanted to happen.

Team members usually do one of two things when they are ticked off:

    • They shut down and hide from you. They are “afraid you will see on their face” how ticked off they are. They don’t know what to say or how to say it, so they hide. To you, this often shows up as a lack of caring.
    • They snap. This may show up as crying or in a more angry way, but it’s high levels of emotion, so not much actual communication can be done at that point – from either side. Both sides are frustrated and often decide to just “let it go” or water down what upset them in the first place.

Bosses usually do these things when they are ticked off:

    • They start taking things back. (“I’ll do that myself, I got it, never mind.”)
    • They have a “come to Jesus” meeting with you telling you to “step up.” (And you don’t know what that actually means.)

The team gets really tentative (which is the opposite of stepping up) because they know the boss is ticked, but they don’t fundamentally know what to do differently. Just like the boss doesn’t fundamentally know how to get things reviewed on time and stop pissing off the team.

The key is to communicate perspective and clarity on action/results needed when you are pissed. The emotion is fine, but fuzziness around how messages are delivered isn’t. You are still responsible for how you show up, even when you are pissed.

Signs you are NOT communicating clearly when ticked off:

    • You are repeating key statements like “Never mind, I don’t understand why this happens, I stayed late to do that.”
    • You are anchoring to one or two isolated facts, such as “But I stayed late to do that, I spent hours doing that, I asked you five times to have this done on time.”
    • You take it all back on; “I’ll do it myself, I’ll do that, I got it so never mind.”
    • You are exuding emotion but won’t say “I’m really upset.” This not only puts people on edge, but people can misread why you are upset. Is she upset because she stayed late, because she is stressed, or why?
    • You become a martyr. You keep pointing out everything you’ve done, typically including the number of hours you’ve worked on it or the number of times you asked the other person to finish something. Typically no one is disputing this ? or unappreciative of it so it’s an empty statement that evokes guilt from others but doesn’t necessarily move the situation forward. Typically no one wanted to make you “do all the work.”

What to do instead:

    • Identify if there is an immediate crisis or time-sensitive issue at hand. Is a client coming in within the hour? Does something need to be completed TODAY? If so, handle the issue at hand. Anchor down to specific results that must be completed and who is doing what. Being pissed and taking it all back on yourself won’t solve the problem. So it would go like this:
      • The client is coming in an hour. The documents were not saved where they should be so I could review them at 6 a.m. Here is what needs to be done: I will review all five. As I finish each one I will email it to you. Please made sure the edits are marked and print them. Don’t wait for them all to be finished; edit them as I send them to you. Please ask the receptionist to hold my calls and yours. Once this is done, later today let’s talk about how to handle this going forward so it doesn’t become a crisis.
      • Completing whatever the “issue/crisis” is will greatly reduce the emotion and stress, allowing you to have a more productive conversation. But don’t hide the fact that you are upset and that a conversation needs to occur. Don’t make people walk on eggshells. State it, but move on to the time-sensitive issue at hand.
      • When the conversation occurs, anchor to “works/doesn’t work,” which is outlined in detail in our book, “Don’t Be a Yes Chick.” State what didn’t work – it doesn’t work for me to disrupt my family home life and get here hours early to review something for a meeting, only to not have the documents I need. I know it also doesn’t work for you to bust your butt finishing them, only to not have them available to me. So, let’s state how we’d like this to happen in the future.
      • Outline your rules or process.

You can use your emotion and let your team or boss know how disruptive the issue was to you, but the drawn-out venting of emotion, particularly while not communicating helpful information about how to move the conversation forward, only increases your frustration and alienates everyone else.

Instead, make pissed off a productive process with the steps outlined above.

If you need to help yourself and your team to communicate in a way that moves situations forward and reduces recurrences, consider our Team Empowerment Academy, where these tools are taught, practiced, and implemented.

employee playbook


Everything you need to turn around your people, processes, productivity and profitability is right here in this free e-Book.


Feel like your people—and their productivity—are a mess? Don’t worry, this book has your back! Download this book for free and follow our advice about how to empower your employees to step up and lead!

You have Successfully Subscribed!