“Personally Shawn, I think this entire process is crap.”
That was the response I had from an employee when I was recently interviewing members of her team to understand what changes they believed were necessary for the department (and ultimately the company) in order to improve productivity and efficiency.
I’ve been doing at least one of these interviews with a new client every month as part of my approach to assessing employee engagement for several years now, but I’ve never had one start quite like this. When I asked, “why the employee felt this way” I learned not just why the employee was responding so assertively, but I in turn gained some insights into how my approach needed to change if I was going to get the team member to open up.
This is the key to dealing with an irate employee…
In my experience, when a leader encounters an employee that pushes back or responds assertively, they in turn often respond from an emotional state which only serves to create more tension. As an effective leader what’s important to remember is that when we respond to emotion with emotion we only make the problem worse.
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So what’s the better approach?
Ultimately the brain has two sides – the emotional side and the logical side. Some people are predominantly more geared to one side over the other, however when it comes to dealing with issues or those things that we find irritating or upsetting, eventually we divert more heavily to relaying on and responding from the emotional side.
When dealing with an employee that becomes upset or irate, recognizing that emotions are already at play needs to become a trigger that signals a logical response is in need.
In such circumstances the steps I suggest are applied are as follows:
1. Stay calm. Check your tone, reduce your volume and soften your facial expressions and body language.
2. Ask questions. “Why do you feel this way?” or “What brought about these feelings?” are good phrases to use in order to flush out the origin of an emotional response.
3. Provide context. Often frustrations result from a lack of clear understanding that can be resolved when you provide reasoning that addresses or answers some of the emotional concerns.
4. Paraphrase. Use paraphrasing to confirm your understanding of the key issue(s) and diminish emotions.
5. Give space. When emotions are at play its a signal to give the other person you are dealing with some space. Be prepared to step away and suggest you pick up the conversation later once you’ve had a chance to reflect on the concerns discussed.
I’ve successfully helped dozens of coaching clients apply these steps consistently when dealing with troubled or irritated employees. So the next time you are faced with an employee who is clearly irate, listen and watch for emotions and then apply these steps.
© Shawn Casemore 2017. All rights reserved.