You're giving feedback to a manager and suddenly he starts to get angry and defensive. Before you even realize it's happening, your emotions start to boil over, too.

There are ways to avoid such blow ups. Ron Friedman, who hosts online health and productivity webinar Peak Work Performance Summit, writes in Harvard Business Review about the "psychological need for connection" and how to use that connection to help prevent emotional outbursts at work.

Friedman quotes Anthony Suchman, a physician and professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, who says that every workplace conversation operates on two levels: a task channel and a relationship channel. "Occasionally the two get fused, which is when disagreements intensify and collaborations break down," Friedman writes. 

When you have an emotional disagreement with an employee, it is usually because they interpret your criticism on a task or idea as a statement about your relationship. Your employee will interpret your feedback as a personal attack, Suchman says.

"So it becomes: 'If you like my idea, you like me,' and 'If you don't like my idea, you don't like me,'" Suchman says. "That puts a huge encumbrance on the task channel and makes it really hard to speak openly."

In order to defuse an emotionally-charged situation, you have to separate the task and relationship. Suchman says that to do this, you need to reaffirm your commitment to the relationship between you and your employee or colleague. He suggests using statements based on the acronym "PEARLS":


"I really want to work on this with you."
"I bet we can figure this out together."


"I can feel your enthusiasm as you talk."
"I can hear your concern."


"You clearly put a lot of work into this."
"You invested in this, and it shows."


"I've always appreciated your creativity."
"There's no doubt you know a lot about this."


"This would be hard for anyone."
"Who wouldn't be worried about something like this?"


"I'd like to help you with this."
"I want to see you succeed."

While these phrases might seem a bit forced, they are effective. The key is to reaffirm and reestablish your relationship so the employee doesn't question your respect, loyalty and support. Think about it from the employee's perspective: if you thought your boss didn't like you, you'd get insecure about your role.

The goal is to solidify the foundation of your relationship so you can both focus on the task and not question the relationship.

"When fear enters the equation, it's impossible to get people to do their best work, which is why restoring confidence in the relationship can be a powerful tool," Friedman says.