Recently a client called me as they had a team member in tears in their office, and they were at a loss as to how handle it. The client asked me “Leigh, you deal with these type of feelings, can’t you handle this?”. My reply was simple “I can, but it’s best you deal with it, and I’ll help you to figure out how!”
There’s a lot going on!
The reality is that so many managers are having to help their teams get through a range of emotions at the moment. Our workplaces have had many twists and turns to deal with, whether it’s been coming from within or outside our businesses as people deal with the on-going reality of the quickly changing Covid-19 landscape.
For managers, these uncertain times have meant an intensified role, in particular dealing with more emotions from their people than they’ve ever seen before. Each manager plays a key role in being able to help their teams get through these emotions and build a stronger workforce. To do this, sometimes it’s about knowing how to deal with the rollercoaster of emotions.
The top three common emotions
There are a range of emotions – not just tears! – that managers are facing on a daily basis at the moment. Across all of the managers I’ve been working with, they’ve been facing three common types of emotion: anger, crying and silence. Anger can quickly turn up on the shop floor with one workmate yelling at the other, while tears might erupt over some tough feedback from you, the manager.
Silence is an emotion often not considered as something that managers may have to deal with, yet is one that I often discover when getting to the heart of a team member’s issue. In one instance, a manager couldn’t get a straight answer out of their staff member, and felt like they were holding back from sharing key information from a project. Yet in reality, their valued team member had so much happening at home that they just didn’t have their head completely in the game at work, not feeling confident enough to share this with their boss.
Your key strategies
Whether we like it or not as managers, we need to deal with emotion. Your people are going to bring their stuff to work – it’s human. As managers, it’s part of your role. Your team is your number one priority. It can be daunting for those managers, especially if tears or anger are not your speciality, so here are some key tips to set you up to succeed with the three common types of emotions.
When it comes to an angry workmate, always start by remaining calm. If you can’t stay calm, walk away and come back. One manager “adds water”, passing the person or himself a glass of water to calm the situation down. This change of action is a good way to break the angry emotion so both you and the person can re-group and come back to what’s really happening.
Avoid interrupting the person while they’re venting. Let them run out of steam and focus on listening to them and letting them know that they have been heard. Paraphrase where you can with phrases such as “you must feel so angry right now” as an angry person wants to know you’ve heard them. One thing with anger is safety for you and the team member. If the anger goes to an unacceptable level, such as the use of bad language, stop them immediately, communicating that this behaviour is not okay.
When the tears are flowing
When it comes to someone crying, start by getting them to a safe and quiet space that is private and confidential. Like anger, keep it calm and add in some open body language. For example, avoid crossing your arms which is an indicator to them that you’re not actually interested in their emotion. Alongside this check in with your tone – making sure it’s caring and gentle. Above all with this emotion, listen – just listen.
For those that are being emotionally silent, start off with some open-ended questions such as “what’s going on for you right now?”. Remember, you might not still get an answer and, even if you ask once, it may take a few times. Silence is an indication that the person needs time to think or has a decrease in trust, so give them time and don’t force them into sharing their thoughts. If you’re a person that does like to talk, then take time to be comfortable with silences. Give them some space to come ‘out of the silence.’
For all emotions
For all of these emotions, also remember to apply empathy, showing that you understand their perspective. Never shut down or deny the person’s emotion. This feeling is real for them, so give them time to share it.
Keep your listening strong throughout the conversation, and check in if this is time for advice. One great manager I’ve worked with in the past would always ask a team member who was struggling with an emotion, “Do you want me to listen or give advice.” Nine times out of 10, their team member just wanted them to listen.
Don’t forget your own emotions
Never forget that managers have feelings too, so you can use the above strategies for yourself as well, helping you to deal with your own emotions. It’s important to make sure you’ve got your own emotions in check before helping others deal with theirs, so make sure you’ve got someone to talk to as well.
Every day I see managers do an exceptional job throughout the country, helping so many of their team members get through these extraordinary times. At Tradie HR, we are here to support managers all over New Zealand, so please get in touch, in confidence, for more details on dealing with any emotional work situations you may have.
This article is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice.