Every employer or HR representative dreads having to manage emotional employees. Whether it be the tears, anger, or screaming fits, it can leave both parties feeling embarrassed and stressed.
How can you stay calm and get your point across when faced with emotional employees? Learning how to direct and manage emotional conversations in a productive way should be essential in your supervisor’s toolbox.
However, when an emotional outburst occurs, your top priority is de-escalating a volatile situation. This isn’t the time to sit down with the employee to discuss consequences and accountability. Here are 8 tips for managing these types of situations:
- De-escalate the situation
Asked the employee if they would like a few moments after they “explode,” if that’s not an option, consider sending the employee home for the remainder of the day.
Remember to refrain from letting your own emotions cause you to make a quick decision, like firing an employee in the heat of the moment. You both need time to recover after the heated conversation. Suppose the employee clams down and does want to talk. Try saying “I’m having a tough time understanding the issue. Could you explain that a little more?” You want the employee to mirror your calm response; don’t get louder or talk over them.
- Don’t take it personal
Keep an eye out for your own defensiveness, and keep in mind that difficulty is usually the cause of outbreaks in the workplace. Stay focused on performance issues, is this likely to occur again, and keep your tone respectful and professional.
Once everyone who was a part of the conversation has calmed down, you can prepare to discuss performance, consequences, standards, and accountability with the emotional employee.
If the thought of confronting the issue again sends your blood pressure through the roof, you’re probably not alone. Your employee is embarrassed, and they’re probably not looking forward to the discussion, either. It’s up to you to maintain a productive conversation that focuses on performance, not on personality or hearsay.
- Plan ahead
Nothing beats being prepared when it comes to these types of situations. Know your player. Does the person tend to be sensitive to criticism or quick to get angry?. Have they been under a lot of stress?
Think in advance about what you want to say and how to say it. Discuss in a private setting away from other people. Start with a positive, especially if you think the decision can take an emotional turn. This sets the tone for your entire conversation and can help the employee engage with what you’re saying later, even if it’s difficult to hear.
Build your remarks to fit the acronym THINK, which stands for True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind. Ask yourself “does my words fit into those parameters?” Keep in mind that the point of this discussion is not to criticize or further upset your employee. Be positive and affirming, and ask yourself if your words, as well as your body language, are succeeding that goal.
- Focus on performance
Remember to stay focused on the performance, yes the employee may be annoyed, but that’s not the point. Instead of criticizing an employee for how they responded to the situation, explain how the response heightened the situation.
If these skills as a manager don’t come naturally to you, you’re not alone. No one is an instant expert at learning how to manage emotional employees. It takes practice, but doing so is well worth your time. Don’t let your anticipation of the discussion blow things out of proportion by visualizing worst-case scenarios. Try to stay positive, and stay on track when you’re in the middle of the discussion.
- Acknowledge and listen
Sometimes all an employee needs is a little venting to feel like they’ve been heard.
If tears happen, showing empathy is entirely appropriate to express.
If your employee becomes angry, acknowledge their frustration. However, if their anger takes a turn, quietly clarify that you will not condone foul language or threatening behavior.
- Pay attention
As your conversation progresses, watch your employee’s body language and tone of voice, as well as your own.
If the conversation begins to escalate, try to remain calm. A simple comment can be, “what do you think we need to change?” If it seems like the employee may not be taking in what you are saying, consider taking a break. Sometimes, managers tend to keep plowing through a conversation, not recognizing that it has stopped being productive. Taking a few minutes to regroup can be helpful for both of you.
- Consider a re-do
Sometimes giving someone a private moment to collect themselves can help them preserve their dignity and self-respect and allows you both to come back ready to have a productive conversation.
Be sensitive to signs from your employee. If there are tears, hand over a box of tissues, and leave your employee a few minutes by leaving the room. Use that time to reflect on the conversation and compose yourself.
Managing emotional employees isn’t always enjoyable, and it will probably never be the favorite part of your job. However, it is crucial to maintain a positive work environment where all employees feel valued for their contributions and are motivated and engaged.
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