Handle an employee’s outburst with dignity

Bud to Boss Take 5

Handle an employee’s outburst with dignity

Problem: One of your team members has done something wrong—missed a major deadline, spoke rudely to a customer, bullied a teammate or something similar—and, because you’ve made a commitment to stop avoiding conflict, you know that you must address the issue. However, when you speak with the person about the behavior, you’re shocked that the employee reacts by crying or shouting. How do you handle that kind of unprofessional meltdown?

Solution: It can be difficult to stay composed when you’re blindsided by that sort of behavior. However, if you lose your cool, you’ll risk worsening the situation, ruining your relationship with the employee or tarnishing your reputation with the rest of your staff.Follow these tips to handle an employee’s meltdown with aplomb:

  • Stay calm. Whatever you do, don’t escalate the problem by responding argumentatively. If you call the person a “baby” or even “unprofessional,” you are likely to increase the tears or shouting, not diminish them. If you respond to the person’s shouting with more shouting, you won’t prove your point. More likely, you will grab the attention of everyone in the workplace, and they will think you’re as unprofessional as the employee. Keep your tone even and your words to the point. Excuse the person from your office. Say “I don’t think we can have a productive discussion while you’re in this state. Take some time to compose yourself. We can talk about this in an hour.”
  • Consider the employee. Think about what you know about this person. Has he or she displayed that sort of outburst before, to you or other team members? How has the person reacted to criticism in the past? If the meltdown is out-of-character: Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Everyone has bad days, and maybe your feedback arrived the morning after he or she lost a pet or stayed extra late covering for a friend at work. Having a bad day doesn’t excuse the behavior, of course, but if the person is generally a good, reliable, even-tempered employee, you can forgive the outburst. If the meltdown is in-character: Let the person go. That sort of volatility is dangerous for your team.
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting. If you’ve decided you need to fire the employee, follow your organization’s protocols. Be sure to have an HR representative in the room, especially considering the person’s history of unpredictable outbursts. If you’ve decided to hold on to the employee, approach the meeting as a coaching opportunity. Express your surprise at his or her reaction, because you view the employee has a dependable professional. Listen to any explanation the person offers and be empathetic, but also explain assertively that the behavior is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated in the future.
  • Put the incident behind you. Remember that as awkward or uncomfortable as the employee’s outburst was for you, he or she is probably feeling far more embarrassed than you are now. Once you’ve resolved the issue, let it go.
  • Reflect and make changes, if necessary. Take advantage of the growth opportunity for yourself too. Think about whether something in the workplace contributed to the problem. Are your employees overworked? What can you do to alleviate some of that stress and to raise morale? Also reflect on your initial meeting with the employee. Did your tone come off as accusatory or condescending? Were you flippant? If, upon reflection, you find that you could improve your workplace environment or your feedback techniques, make a commitment to do so.

Inspired Leadership

Inspired Leadership

Propel your employees to new heights!

Leaders play an enormous role in the lives of their employees and in the success of their organizations. People succeed and organizations succeed because their leaders succeed.

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