Defusing the Drama Queen

Some people are just emotional. When faced with mood swings and constant personal ‘dramas’, can you tell an employee to ‘get a grip’?

You don’t need a background in psychoanalysis to know that employees dealing with emotions such as anger or anxiety can be a destructive force in the workplace – like a storm raging over those around them, they don’t have much, or any, consideration of the impact they are having.

Because of such experiences and our own feelings we  often miss the opportunity to work with the “creative potential of such disruption rather than harnessing this creative potential”, according to Larry Forsyth, Senior Manager WHS/HR Consulting, for Australian Business Consulting & Solutions, a Certified BarOn EQ-i Practitioner. 

“We sometimes choose to think of these behaviours as counterproductive, something to be gotten rid of at all costs.”

Rather than bemoan your employees’ inability to understand their emotions and manage their behaviours appropriately, he adds, it makes more sense to accept that stormy weather is a part of every workplace and implement strategies to help employees process and use their emotions more positively.

5 tips for talking to an emotional employee
1. Acknowledge their emotions. Make sure you say something to them that shows you have identified their emotion, for example, “you seem really upset”. Name the emotion and then let it dissolve.

2. Make sure they know you have heard and understood what has happened for them to be in this “state”. Ask questions that show you want to understand the situation from their perspective and repeat back elements of what they have said. Being curious about a person helps build rapport.

3. Help them engage with the problem with their “logical brain”. Make sure you start to ask questions about timeframes, order of events or ranking of the importance of incidents. Use body language, appropriate words and tone of voice that shows you are seeking understanding, rather than looking to be critical.

4. Help them find time and space to become calm. Avoid wrapping your conversation up too quickly or trying to squeeze it in as you are rushing off to another meeting. Make sure that you mindfully breathe slowly and deeply so the employee follows your lead. 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. 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 to one that is emotionally self-aware.