Do you have a crier on your team? You know, the one with tissue-thin skin who expresses frustration, sadness, or worry through tears. Or maybe you have a screamer, a table pounder who is aggressively invested in every decision. These kinds of emotional outbursts are not just uncomfortable; they can hijack your team, stalling productivity and limiting innovation.
Don’t allow an emotional person to postpone, dilute, or drag out an issue that the business needs you to resolve. Instead, take the outburst for what it is: a communication. Emotions are clues that the issue you are discussing is touching on something the person values or believes strongly in. So look at outbursts as giving you three sets of information: emotional data; factual or intellectual data; and motives, values and beliefs.
We get stuck when we only focus on the first two — emotions and facts. It’s easy to do. When
starts yelling, for instance, you might think he’s mad (emotion) because his project has just been defunded (fact). And many managers stop there, because they find feelings uncomfortable or aren’t sure how to deal with them. That’s why the first step is to become more self-aware by questioning your mindset around emotions. There are several myths that often get in a team leader’s way:
Myth #1: There is no place for emotion in the workplace. If you have humans in the workplace, you’re going to have emotions too. Ignoring, stifling, or invalidating them will only drive the toxic issues underground. This outdated notion is one reason people resort to passive-aggressive behavior: emotions will find their outlet, the choice is whether it’s out in the open or in the shadows.
Myth #2: We don’t have time to talk about people’s feelings. Do you have time for backroom dealings and subterfuge? Do you have time for re-opened decisions? Do you have time for failed implementations? Avoiding the emotional issues at the outset will only delay their impact. And when people don’t feel heard, their feelings amplify until you have something really destructive to deal with.
Myth #3: Emotions will skew our decision making. Emotions are already affecting your decision making. The choice is whether you want to be explicit about how (and how much) of a role they play or whether you want to leave them as unspoken biases.
You and Your Team
Feelings matter at work
With your beliefs in check, you’ll be better able to get beyond the emotion and facts to the values the person holds that are being compromised or violated. This is critical because your criers and screamers are further triggered when they don’t feel understood. The key is to have a discussion that includes facts, feelings, and values. People will feel heard and the emotion will usually dissipate. Then you can focus on making the best business decision possible.
Spot the emotion: If you wait until the emotion is in full bloom, it will be difficult to manage. Instead, watch for the telltale signs that something is causing concern. The most important signals will come from incongruence between what someone is saying and what their body language is telling you. When you notice someone is withdrawing eye contact or getting red in the face, acknowledge what you see. “Steve, you’ve stopped mid-sentence a couple of times now. What’s going on for you?”
Listen: Listen carefully to the response, both to what is said and what you can infer about facts, feelings, and values. You will pick up emotions in language, particularly in extreme words or words that are repeated. “We have a $2 million budget shortfall and it’s our fourth meeting sitting around having a lovely intellectual discussion!” Body language will again provide clues. Angry (leaning in, clenched jaw or fists) looks very different from discouraged (dropping eye contact, slumping) or dismissive (rolling eyes, turning away).
Ask questions: When you see or hear the emotional layer, stay calm, keep your tone level and ask a question to draw them out and get them talking about values. “I get the sense you’re frustrated. What’s behind your frustration?” Listen to their response and then go one layer further by testing a hypothesis. “Is it possible that you’re frustrated because we’re placing too much weight on the people impact of the decision and you think we need to focus only on what’s right for the business?”
Resolve It: If your hypothesis is right, you’ll probably see relief. They might even express their pleasure “Yes, exactly!” You can sum it up “We’ve talked about closing the Cleveland office for two years and you’re frustrated because you believe that the right decision for the business is obvious.” You’ve now helped your team member articulate the values he thinks should be guiding the decision. The team will now be clear on why they are disagreeing. Three people might jump in, all talking at once “We are talking about people who have given their lives to this organization!” Here we go again…Use the same process to reveal the opposing points of view.
Once everyone is working with the same three data sets — facts, emotions, and values — you will be clear what you need to solve for, in this case, how will we weigh the financial necessity with the impact on people. Although taking the time to draw out the values might seem slow at first, you’ll see that issues actually get resolved faster. And ironically, as you validate emotions, over time people will tend to be less emotional as it’s often the suppressing the emotions or trying to cobble together facts to justify them that was causing irrational behavior.
If you’re leading a high performing team, you better be ready to deal with uncomfortable, messy, complex emotions. If there’s a situation you have failed to address because of an emotional team member, spend some time thinking about how you will approach it and then go have the conversation. Today. You can’t afford to wait any longer.