How To Deal With An Over Emotional Person At Work
“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems not people; to focus your energies on answer not excuses.”
– William Arthur Ward
I was away on a well-earned vacation 5,399 miles away from the office. I checked in with my assistant manager, who was newly promoted into the role, a few days into the vacation to make sure all is ok. But all was not ok.
It turned out there was a situation at the office that had was getting out of hand. One team member, lets call her “Angry Smurf” was being very aggressive with her colleague who was actually senior to her. Without getting into details, there was shouting and a poor choice of words, which naturally got the recipient to complain to the assistant manager.
My assistant manager and I were quick to agree that the situation needs to be dealt with immediately before it boils over. We also agreed that Angry Smurf, who was a feeler, was thinking more emotionally than rationally. So, we had to take into account the emotional aspect rather than just approach it with a straight-laced logical approach.
My assistant manager was naturally apprehensive about dealing with situation and Angry Smurf. So I coached her on how to go handle it. Here are the guidelines I shared with her:
1- Take each of the two people aside to talk one-to-one privately (not together!). In this case, it was one person who had an issue so most of the focus was on her.
2- Start by briefly stating the purpose of the meeting: (i.e. to discuss the problem causing and fuelling the friction and aggressive behavior)
3- Listen to her point of view
i- Do a lot more listening than talking to start. Let her explain what is bothering her. Ask questions for clarification only to better understand her point of view
a- Find out the underlying issue that triggered the clash (e.g. disagreement about how to do something, etc)
b- Find out what is causing the overly emotional response (e.g. personal issues at home, etc)
ii- Rephrase it back to her in your own words to ensure you understand we point of view and she sees that you do. This starts the process of diffusing the emotional charge since the person feels she is being heard
4- Explain that her behavior was wrong regardless of whether there is good reason for it or not
i- More specifically, explain to her that disrespecting a colleague and having shouting fits in front of everyone is just wrong
ii- Highlight to her that the proper course of action was to address the issue calmly with her colleague. If the issue was not being resolved, then she should have reverted to the manager, or assistant manager in this case, to help address the issue
5- Throughout the entire process, remain calm and don’t get caught up in the situation
i- Don’t take sides! If someone tries to pull you to take sides, remind her that we are all on the same team
ii- Keep a calm tone of voice and body language. This has a calming effect on people
iii- Focus the discussion and your feedback on the behaviours instead of the person (e.g. “you should not be shouting at colleagues” instead of “you’re a psycho“). If someone takes your feedback as a personal attack, clarify that you are discussing behaviours rather than the person
6- Now that you diffused the situation and the built-up emotions, start resolving
i- Summarize the issue(s) and the mistakes made
ii- Get each person to acknowledge her mistake (i.e. shouting and disrespecting colleague)
iii- Agree with her to apologize to her colleague. Give her the choice to do it individually or with the three of you together. If you feel there might be some tension, then make sure you are there for that session
iv- Address the underlying issue that triggered the problem in the first place. If someone is doing something wrong that is causing problems for the other person, then point out the correct action to fix that. If there is a hole in our system, then make a note of it and we will discuss it together to fix it for the whole team
Naturally, you might be wondering how it went. It worked like a charm. My assistant manager managed to diffuse the situation, get Angry Smurf to acknowledge that she was out of line, smoothed things out between the two people, and addressed the underlying issue that was causing the friction in the first place.
I was very glad because in addition to resolving the issue, this served as a great learning experience for my assistant manager that was worth more than any course she can attend. She learned by doing and resolving such issues became second nature to her. This was one step in preparing her to take over managing the team.
What about you? Do you have experience dealing with an overly emotional person? How do you deal with such situations?