HR & Management

5 Tips on how to respond to workplace emotions

5 min read

26 October 2018

Corporate and SME life coach Michelle Zelli offers some tip tips on navigating the uneasy terrain of office-based emotions.

With one in four of us suffering from mental illness at any one time, being ’emotionally qualified’  is becoming a prerequisite for successful business leadership.

However, very few of us are schooled in human behaviour, nor how to get the best out of a tempestuous staff member or an emotionally volatile situation.

On the one hand, commercial constraints dictate that we look for exemplary performance and production, both from individuals and teams.

– On the other hand, we’re mindful of effectively managing the wide range of human sensitivities coming at us every day.

We know that the pressure of tight deadlines, ambitious KPI’s, long working hours, mounting workloads and staff shortages contribute to emotional outbursts in the workplace.

– They can become all too familiar, at many companies I work with, these volcanic eruptions are even normalised.

Rather than wait for mental health to take its toll I recommend teaching your staff to navigate this potential minefield.

– Perhaps today is as good a day as any to consider the financial cost to your business that these emotionally related burn-outs produce.

Providing your management team with relevant training is the best way to stem these emotional and financial bleeds, – here are a few top tips to start the conversation:

1. Respond to a colleague’s emotions

When a staff member is emotional, let them vent. Take care to listen.

– Avoid the temptation of jumping in to offer a solution, or making a judgement.

Allow them to purge their pent-up feelings and grievances – you are embarking on a journey of discovery together, you must remain open, calm and ready to receive the other person’s grievances.

The more you understand what makes a team member tick, the greater your ability to help them uncover the best version of themselves.

2. Affirm their emotions

You don’t have to agree with their points, but take care to empathise with how they are feeling.

– “For example, saying, ‘I can see this has brought up great anger for you, it’s a difficult situation, but we can seek to resolve it when you’re feeling calmer,’ will help pacify the situation by removing the hyper-emotional aspect from the conversation.

3. Get into the habit of using their name, several times, in each meeting

By using a name, we affirm the person’s individuality and importance.

When someone is angry they’re showing you they feel their’s needs are simply not being met.

They may be thinking they’re not valued in the company and may feel that their feelings don’t matter.

“It’s worth noting, however, that generalisations do not have the same positive impact on the human brain, nor does it serve to change their behaviour or attitude, for example, the phrase, ‘you were great in the meeting last week’, may elicit a smile, but it won’t be enough to produce a shift in the way they are feeling.”

However, when they believe you are both working towards the same goal and you are acknowledging their abilities, feelings, and efforts, you can expect their demeanour to change.

The vast majority of people need to feel their contribution is not only noticed –  but also valued.

“Be specific in your acknowledgments and validation of the person,– ‘Barbara, your work on the project was terrific, thank you.'”

4. Determine the perceived threat

Emotions are always driven by an underlying sense of not feeling acknowledged, validated, or respected.

Ask yourself, might they be feeling threatened by loss of approval or control?

5. If emotions get out of control, gently but firmly, let them know that you take their problem seriously

Calmly and assertively let them know how they’re communicating their message is not acceptable.

– Always insist on courtesy.

6. Work towards a solution together

Once they’ve been heard, resist going over old territory, and instead, continue to move forward in a positive manner.

Michelle Zelli brings two decades of experience covering a range of industries including media, engineering, medical and recruitment. For the past 15+ years, Michelle has become known for offering unique and powerful coaching to successful people who want more from life and themselves.