Have felt agitated in the workplace or felt like you’ve been targeted by a colleague?

Most of us spend the majority of our time at work. Communications with colleagues is bread and butter in our careers and sometimes, disagreement and unhappiness can arise, leading to feelings of agitation and frustration.

In view of COVID-19 situation, many of us have transited to a work-from-home or a hybrid setting (toggling from home and workplace). While we may find that it is a relief that we can save time on commuting and have a more flexible schedule, others may be experiencing another set of stressors and challenges from working from home (Jacobs, 2020). There has been a trend that anger-inducing online behaviour from peers and managers have been increasing due to various reasons such as overworking, under recognition and contentious interactions (Liu, 2020).

In this post, we will be talking about agitation that can stem from relationships between colleagues and how to you can learn to manage your emotions in a work environment. It is inevitable that difficult situations arise between colleagues and both parties end up feeling displeased.

What you may face…

Some may have encountered individuals who are difficult to work with. An individual’s behaviour may generally be unpleasant for other colleagues, or this person may be criticizing, gossiping about you, or undermining your professional contribution (Heathfield, 2021). Some may desire to show their superiors that they are excellent that they compete for the spotlight to your detriment (Heathfield, 2021). Other forms of such situations may be the use of sarcasm, having verbal outburst, showing rudeness to colleagues.

With our work going virtual, it is inevitable that we lack the face-to-face experience, which leads to more room for miscommunication and harming of others’ feelings. Moreover, it is more likely that individuals may fade into the background and become unheard, especially when certain individuals are louder and tending to dominate the conversation. Work-from-home burnout is also common, and this results in feelings of being drained and stressed which is likely to lead to aggressive behaviours.

When do such situations occur?

Some of us wonder some individuals performs certain unhelpful behaviours. A look into the literature tells us that the use of sarcasm is an attempt to hide feelings of anger, hurt or fear. These individuals could be trying to disguise their feelings of vulnerability. When the deliverer of sarcasm becomes angry or defensive at the recipient for being too sensitive, they are invalidating the other person’s feelings and avoiding the sense of guilt for causing such pain to the other person (Bloom & Bloom, 2019).

While such experiences are inevitable, we can take action to deal with such situations. Try not to leave the situation unaddressed, as they often spiral into worsens to more work-related problems. Take heart, as there are practical ways to deal with this situation.

How to deal with this situation


For those who are at the receiving end of the negative remarks or situation:

Practical tips

Start by reflecting on yourself

Ensure that the root cause of the issue does not lie within yourself (Heathfield, 2021). Try to observe if there are particular patterns that exists during your interaction with other colleagues. Are there any hot buttons that may trigger you easily? Start with a self-examination to confirm that the situation is really due to the other party’s behaviours. You may also want to talk about the situation with your trusted friend or colleague.

Have a discussion with the person you’re having problems with

Attempt to discuss with the coworker on the situation and try to reach a consensus about positive and supportive actions moving forward. Focus on one or two actions that affects you the most. While talking to your colleague, try to talk about your experiences using “I” messages (Heathfield, 2021). This helps to focus on the situation instead of seeming like you are accusing the other party. Stay polite and agreeable during the conversation, as they may not be aware of the impacts of their actions on you (Heathfield, 2021).

Decide if you would like to have a follow up discussion with the person. You can think about whether a further discussion would improve the situation. Weigh between how much you want to make peace with the person, how much you value your current job and whether there is support from your boss. You may choose to hold another discussion, if you prefer to continue to make peace, retain the current job, with the support from your superior (Heathfield, 2021).

Online work tips

When colleagues and supervisors realise that individuals are becoming quiet or something is off, he or she should come from an empathetic and curious point of view and ask about how they are doing (Liu, 2020).. Managers can also set rules to allow participants to have more opportunities to voice out (Liu, 2020). This can be done through using the “raise hand” and “chat” function. Take breaks when possible to prevent getting a burn out (Liu, 2020).

Mental tips

Don’t take it personally

  • Imagine a wall between you and the person and try not to take the comment or action personally (Ward, 2017).

You are not alone

  • If this particular person is unkind towards you, this person is probably mean to others as well. Recognizing this can help you avoid blaming yourself for this person’s action (Ward, 2017).

Remember that this is temporary

  • Remind yourself that there are different ways to get out of this situation. Consider the practical tips shared earlier and work towards resolving this issue with the person (Ward, 2017).

Need more help?

Should you still require help beyond the tips given earlier, it is perhaps time to involve others. Prepare to speak to your manager or boss.

  • Take note of how the issue is affect your work and productivity. Let your manager or boss know exactly what this person does.
  • Plan on how to address the issue.
  • Rally other colleagues who may also have the same problems with this person albeit carefully. This can help the manager or boss to recognize the level impact of this particular behaviour. However, be careful and know what works for your manager. Ultimately, you would want to remain objective and solve the problem, instead of looking like you are ganging up on another employee.
  • Limit the person’s access to you. Avoid working with the person when possible.
  • Consider switching your department within your organisation.
  • Decide whether the ‘good’ in your current situation outweighs the ‘bad’. If you are not willing to forgo your happiness and success at work, you may consider quitting your job (Heathfield, 2021).

If the ‘good’ wins, keep up the good work and get back to work. We applaud you for your courage to speak up about the situation and to play an active role in settling this behaviour.

For those who find yourselves being angry or agitated at work:

There are some situations which may trigger some form of anger within yourself in the workplace. As a result, one may engage in behaviours or say things that may possibly affect one’s colleagues negatively. Anger is a normal human emotion much like happiness, anxiety and sadness (Bicer, 2020). Everyone has experienced anger at some point in their lives and may display anger overtly. However, passive aggression is the expression of anger or irritation without displaying anger directly.

This hidden anger spoils work relationships, joy and work in the organisation (Bicer, 2020). Unfortunately, sarcasm does not aid in getting what one desires, those at the receiving end may resort to similar sarcastic humor, reduce their work effect or undermine you (Hurt & Dye, 2019). This does not help to build creativity and build positive behaviours (Hurt & Dye, 2019). Additionally, sarcasm at another person’s expense can create doubt and negative energy – which is counterproductive (Hurt & Dye, 2019).

What can I do now?

Rapport and trust are essential to build a strong team.

  • Determine what results you are looking out for. Before using sarcasm, pause for a moment and ask yourself what you desire the team or your colleague to have (Hurt & Dye, 2019).

Address issues directly

  • Using humour to deal with performance issues only creates more problems and does not help with the situation. Address them professionally and directly (Hurt & Dye, 2019).

Reflect on yourself

  • One may be dealing with insecurity or hurt right now and this may have indirectly impacted one’s actions with others. Take some time to reflect on what is going on inside. If it is necessary, it may be helpful to consult a counsellor to talk about the concerns that you may have(Hurt & Dye, 2019).


Discussing about problematic situations or behaviour can go a long way in ensuring the productiveness and happiness in the workplace. With a shared understanding between colleagues, this helps to enhance working relationships and promote a more enjoyable workspace, where you spend most of your time in.


Camellia Wong (M.A), Tan Khai Teng


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Ward, M. (2017, Oct 24). Stanford psychologist shares 5 mental strategies for dealing with a toxic coworker. Make It.

Bloom L. & Bloom C. (2019, July 28). Sarcasm. Psychology Today.

Hurt, K. and Dye. D (2019, Oct 28). How to Stop the Destructive Power of Sarcasm at Work

Jacobs, E. (2020, Apr 16). Homeworking: isolation, anxiety and burnout. Financial Times.

Lim, J, (2020, Apr 23). Commentary: Putting in 50 hours while WFH, it’s a struggle to draw the line between work and home. Channel News Asia.

Liu, J. (2020, Sep 24). What happens when toxic office behavior moves online while working from home. Make It.

Heathfield (2021, Jan 18). How to Deal With Difficult People at Work. The Balance Careers.

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