Handle Employee Outburts Safely

angry-man-274175_1280Your office door bursts open.  An employee bounds across the room, slams a fist against your desk and hotly protests another overtime assignment.  Here’s what you can do to defuse his or her anger.

 1. Keep cool. 

If you add fuel to the flame, you’ve started a wildfire which is sure to burn out of control.

Sit down, or if already sitting, stay sitting.  If you jump up, the employee might feel you’ve switched into an aggressive, combative mode.  And if you manage to keep enough wits about you, try taking deep breaths.  It counteracts your body’s instinctive call-to-arms.

2. Let the employee fume.

Sooner or later, the storm will blow over.  Also, it does the employee good.  Venting goes a long way towards releasing inner tensions built up inside him.

3. Listen.

When we humans are attacked, our natural response is to assume a defensive posture: “I’m right. You’re wrong.” But if you take time to listen to the employee, you might learn something you never before knew.

4. Empathize.

This is one step further than listening.  You put yourself in the employee’s shoes and try to appreciate his or her feelings.  When you speak, use empathetic statements: “You feel X because of Y.” Empathetic statements help reflect back to the employee his or her feelings. Example: “You feel angry because your supervisor asked you to work another overtime shift.”

When you reflect back frazzled feelings, the employee appreciates your understanding of his or her feelings.  Empathetic statements also identify and sort through the jumble of emotions the employee is feeling.  Just don’t overdo it.  If you do nothing but echo what the employee has said he or she may feel you are being patronizing or mocking.

5. Stand your ground. 

Empathizing doesn’t mean you automatically bow to an employee’s demands.  It may be necessary to gently, but firmly hold your ground.

Example: “I understand that you worked two overtime shifts last week.  But at the time of your hire, I explained our business cycle requires overtime during crunch periods.  You agreed then to this condition of employment.”

Stand your ground, but also leave yourself plenty of room to maneuver.  The employee could be under pressure at home and might benefit from a special exemption from overtime for a short time.

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