Are you ready to deal with your employee’s emotional storm?

man in emotional ordeal

Dr Anil Behal (@BehalDr) describes an emotional storm as “an incredibly powerful constellation of emotions and feelings that must be sorted and worked through”.

As HR Manager, you don’t need a psycho-therapeutic or psychoanalytic background to know that emotional employees can be quite destructive in the workplace – like a storm or cyclone raging over those around them without much, or any, consideration of the impact they are having. You know too well of the devastation they leave behind for you and other managers to clean up.

Because of such experiences, our own feelings and internal narrative often mean we miss the opportunity to work with the “creative potential of such disruption and perturbations…rather than harnessing this creative potential [we] choose to think of these behaviours as counterproductive…something to be gotten rid of at all costs”.

British Psychoanalyst W.R. Bion wrote, ‘When two personalities meet, an emotional storm is created’.

In workplaces full of personalities, we are never going to be in a position to enjoy lengthy periods of ‘fair weather’.

So rather than bemoan an employee’s inability to understand their emotions and manage their behaviours appropriately, it makes more sense to accept the reality that in a workplace, a storm is always brewing.

Reclaim a calm work environment

Here are 5 strategies that will greatly support you to reclaim a calm environment:

  1. Emotional employees aren’t ready to have a logical discussion with you until you have acknowledged their emotions. Make sure you say something to them that shows you have identified their emotion i.e. you seem really upset (or angry/frustrated etc.)
  2. Emotional employees aren’t ready to have a logical discussion with you until they know you have heard and understood what has happened for them to be in this ‘state’. Make sure you repeat back elements of what they have said and ask questions that show you want to understand the situation from their perspective.
  3. Emotional employees aren’t ready to have a logical discussion with you until you have guided them to start engaging with their ‘logical brain’. Make sure (after steps 1 & 2), you start to ask questions about timeframes, order of events or ranking of the importance of incidents  – in a tone that shows you are seeking understanding rather than looking to be critical.
  4. Emotional employees aren’t ready to have a logical discussion with you until you have helped them find time and space to become calm. Hence your discussion with them should not be wrapped up in one minute or done as you are rushing off to another meeting (such that you are not calm). Make sure that you breathe slowly and deeply so the employee follows your lead and perhaps, if appropriate, ask the employee to write down what happened, what they think the ‘other person’ would say if they were telling their perspective and what outcomes/resolution they would like to see happen.
  5. Emotional employees aren’t ready to discuss solutions until you have completed steps 1-4. Make sure you don’t race into providing solutions, (no matter how simple and evident they seem to you), until you have supported the employee to move from an emotional state into a logical state.

Keep your emotions in check and be the calm, steady lighthouse in the storm.

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.