Human beings are messy, emotional creatures. We all feel anxiety, anger, fear and defensiveness at various points in our lives, and we often succumb to these strong emotions. It gets even messier when we have emotional outbursts in the workplace, which can happen quite often.At some point in your management career, you will have to handle a situation with an upset or angry employee. How you deal with this emotional outburst is crucial to maintaining a positive working environment, and if done right, can positively change the trajectory of the employee’s experience. But let’s face it: It can be overwhelming to work through an emotionally charged situation with an employee, and it’s easy to make things worse. The stakes are high, and a negative interaction could cause the employee to feel unheard or uncared about, decreasing overall satisfaction and resulting in the person leaving the company.
Appropriately connecting and communicating with an upset employee is essential to effectively turning the situation around. Here are some tips to help you manage highly emotional situations in the workplace:
Stay calm. The best thing you can do is let the person be emotional and express his or her feelings. Take a few deep breaths to keep yourself from getting amped up. The last thing the person needs is for you to match his or her intensity or for you to try to end the conversation as quickly as possible because you feel uncomfortable.
Show concern and listen. Make eye contact, lean forward and listen to what the person is telling you. Avoid interjecting too soon. If the person is crying, hand him or her a tissue. Be personable and professional, show empathy, and don’t judge or make the person feel bad about having an emotional outburst.
Get to the facts. Most people make incorrect conclusions about why a certain situation is happening, so it’s important to get to the facts. For example, your employee might say, “I can’t deal with Larry anymore. He’s condescending and is always picking apart my work. He’s a jerk, and I’m ready to walk out and never come back!” Your natural inclination might to be to agree or disagree, but instead, try saying, “Tell me exactly what happened so I can understand the facts.” Getting back to the facts helps others step away from their conclusion and provides you with the details you need to eventually resolve the problem.
Resolve the problem. Once you get the facts and the person is calmer, let him or her know you want to help resolve the issue. Discuss a path forward, making specific agreements on how each of you will handle the situation. Be sure to have a clear follow-up plan so the issue doesn’t go unresolved.
Keep it private. Creating a scene is never helpful, so make sure you allow the person to have his or her emotional outburst privately. Move into a quiet office or go for a walk so coworkers don’t witness what’s happening. Allow the person time to collect himself or herself before going back to work and, if necessary, allow him or her to go home. Offer to collect any personal belongings if he or she doesn’t want to face fellow coworkers at that moment.
That’s it; this is a simple plan to deescalate an emotional situation. If done right, it can help both you and your employee walk away feeling better and more optimistic about finding a resolution.
There are some other things to keep in mind when dealing with emotionally charged employees. I recommend you don’t:
Let an employee go home angry. Even if you don’t resolve the issue before he or she leaves, it’s important to acknowledge the situation and deescalate the emotional response. It’s far better to have him or her go home feeling heard.Correct minor details. When a person is upset, it’s not helpful to try to change unimportant details in his or her narrative. Does it really matter that it happened on Tuesday instead of Wednesday?
Quote policy. No one wants to hear, “Well, it’s company policy…” when the person is angry or upset. This will only make a bad situation worse.
Tell the employee to calm down. This almost always adds fuel to the fire, as it can come off as patronizing and uncaring.
For more information, contact Kerry Siggins at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read her blog, visit www.kerrysiggins.com/blog.