Have you experienced someone having an emotional outburst at work? I definitely have, most of which has been crying Have you experienced someone having an emotional outburst at work? I definitely have, most of which has been crying episodes. I have had several people cry in meetings throughout my career and had it has always shocked me. Not because we can’t be emotional at work. We have already discussed how emotions build connection and connection builds trust. So we have to be emotional. No, I’m surprised because I wasn’t prepared for the emotions they were displaying. And if this has happened during your time in leadership, I would imagine it has happened to you to. So how do you handle it?
If the emotions start flowing in a meeting or a discussion, you must determine if the emotions are a result of the discussion itself. If it’s obvious someone is dealing with a non-work related issue, respectfully, empathetically ask them to leave the meeting and tell them they are welcome back when they are ready. You or someone else should help them leave the meeting room (if in person), and whomever goes with them simply needs to have a caring conversation to confirm the person is ok, doesn’t need anything, etc.
If the emotions are a result of a workplace issue, maybe you are having a performance discussion, providing feedback, or maybe you are going through an internal restructure, etc. You expect emotions to be running high in those situation. But nonetheless, you will handle the situation in much the same way, but with one minor tweak. Should someone become emotional, crying, yelling, being disrespectful, it doesn’t matter the exact emotion, you should acknowledge it, give them about 10 minutes to collect themselves, then ask them to return to the conversation.
Yes, that’s different than the first situation in that you are asking them specifically to return to finish your discussion. Because you see, you cannot control the situation causing the emotions in the non-work related emotional outburst. In this second example, you are actually the direct cause (as the person delivering the information), of the pain or frustration. At the same time though, the conversation you are having must be had and closed out. If you are delivering a performance review, that review must be delivered. If you are giving candid feedback and setting expectations of a behavior/performance change, that conversation must continue. If you are reading talking points to the employee detailing the company’s restructure, that conversation must continue. Because of that, you must still acknowledge the emotion, give them time to collect themselves, but you must finish the discussion.
Saying something like, “I respect the fact that you are upset. Let’s take 10 minutes to let you collect yourself, you can step to the restroom, get a breath of fresh air, whatever you need; then let’s come back and finish this discussion.”
Give them the time to get themselves back on track mentally. You would want that if you were in their shoes. And, we all want to maintain some level of dignity at work. Beyond that though, you are having a conversation that must be heard. The entire point of the discussion is that the message has to be received and action taken as a result of the discussion; a change in behavior, a change in attitude, a change in job functions, etc. You need the person to collect him/herself so you can ensure they truly hear the message. When emotions are running high, messages are lost. Don’t let your conversation fall on deaf ears.
In both situations you want to maintain the trust you have built. Be empathetic. Give them time to collect their composure and their thoughts. If you are delivering work-related emotional news, ask them to come back to finish the discussion. Use your emotional intelligence.