Be Glad They're Telling You Off

As a manager, have you ever been in a situation like this?

  • You’re dreading this meeting.  You’re rolling out the new changes to the benefits plan.  Of course employees are going to be paying more for less.  Your goal is to keep the reaction to a low roar.
  • One of your employees ambushes you in the hallway.  He doesn’t understand why Project X is being delayed, again.  “Why does this keep happening?” You try to explain.  He keeps interrupting you.
  • You notice something is a little off with one of your employees.  You ask to meet with her.  She responds to your attempts to get the conversation going with non-committal monosyllables. Finally the dam breaks. She lets you have it about a fellow employee getting a plum assignment that she wanted.

It’s part of the job.

Whether the grievance is warranted or not, you are going to be on the receiving end of situations like this occasionally —misunderstandings, hurt feelings, or legitimate frustrations.  It can be really uncomfortable.  But what if we reframed this?

All that emotion —it’s good news!

Yes, it’s good news. Focus on what you are learning from everything your employee is telling you.  Don’t hurry them. You will help them come down from the emotion by listening and taking them seriously, and not just waiting for a pause to tell them to “calm down.”

There’s more good news.  In many cases the level of emotion you’re seeing means they care.  They care about what is going on.  They are engaged. This is certainly preferred over the silent, resigned, indifferent, or burned out employee.

Your employees may not be presenting their concern well because they don’t know how.  They may not be laying things out logically because their observation is nuanced and hard to explain.  They may be wound up because they are frustrated they aren’t expressing themselves better.  Add to that the potential importance of the situation and the level of “charge” they are showing can be high.  For the moment, let's assume they wouldn't be in your face if it weren’t important.

Leadership is taking people seriously, no matter what.

Take them seriously, even if you don’t understand the emotion.  They may appear to be jumping to conclusions or making assumptions.  Muster up the desire to legitimately understand.  The ironic part of this is, when we aren’t being rushed to calm down, when we feel taken seriously and heard, the wind goes out of our sails and we begin to come down in that moment.

When you as the manager make this shift in perspective, you open up opportunities for discussion that wouldn’t have surfaced if your sole focus had been on calming them down.  As a leader, it’s your job to help them find the nugget of the important point they are trying to make.   Over time, your effort can also result in a more solid, trusting working relationship.

As a leader, what tips do you have for handling emotional feedback?

Image with whistle: iStockphoto: marcello mooij

Flowers: Microsoft Clipart

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