When you're the boss, everyone else's problems are your problems. But the stigma that comes with expressing emotions in a professional setting might have you trying to plug any waterworks or rage before things get too intense.
The problem with plugging up emotions is that you're really just adding pressure. The longer employees bottle up their emotions, the more severely will they express them when they finally have to.
"Don't allow an emotional person to postpone, dilute, or drag out an issue that the business needs you to resolve. Instead, take the outburst for what it is: a communication," Liane Davey, vice president of team solutions at employee development firm Knightsbridge Human Capital, writes in Harvard Business Review. "Emotions are clues that the issue you are discussing is touching on something the person values or believes strongly in."
Each emotional expression gives you three pieces of information, Davey says: "emotional data; factual or intellectual data; and motives, values, and beliefs."
Leaders usually get stuck on emotions and facts, but don't explore the motives, values, and beliefs component. "When someone starts yelling, for instance, you might think he's mad (emotion) because his project has just been defunded (fact)," Davey writes. "Many managers stop there, because they find feelings uncomfortable or aren't sure how to deal with them."
To find out how to handle emotional outbursts more effectively, check out the three myths about in-office emotions below.
1. An office is no place for emotions.
As a rule of thumb, the office isn't the place to be emotional. But that doesn't mean emotions don't belong in the office at all. "If you have humans in the workplace, you're going to have emotions too. Ignoring, stifling, or invalidating them will only drive the toxic issues underground," Davey writes. "This outdated notion is one reason people resort to passive-aggressive behavior: Emotions will find their outlet. The choice is whether it's out in the open or in the shadows."
Instead of saying things like "The office is no place to cry," or "The office is no place to be angry," you need to determine what an employee is communicating, get it out in the open, and deal with it.
2. The office is too busy for feelings.
No one wants to be in an office that is too touchy-feely, because that would prevent work from getting done. But if you think you don't have time to talk about people's feelings, then you should consider what putting them aside could ultimately lead to. "Avoiding the emotional issues at the outset will only delay their impact. And when people don't feel heard, their feelings amplify until you have something really destructive to deal with," she writes.
You need to take time to listen to your employees' concerns, ask questions, and help them come to a resolution by appealing to their values and beliefs. Davey says if you're closing an office and laying everyone off, people are going to get emotional about it. If you came to your decision using logic they don't understand, you need to hear them, assess their emotions, and determine which of their values or beliefs they feel are being trampled; you can then validate their emotions by acknowledging them in a meaningful way.
3. Emotions corrupt decision-making.
The last myth Davey refers to is that "emotions will skew our decision-making." She points out that "emotions are already affecting your decision-making. The choice is whether you want to be explicit about how much of a role they play or whether you want to leave them as unspoken biases." She says that when you've come to understand the employees' values--which they feel are being compromised, causing the outburst--you're almost there.
"This is critical because your criers and screamers are further triggered when they don't feel understood," Davey writes. "The key is to have a discussion that includes facts, feelings, and values. People will feel heard and the emotion will usually dissipate. Then you can focus on making the best business decision possible."
The key is to work through the three data sets--emotions, facts, and values. You need to tease out the values. This is where progress occurs.
"Although taking the time to draw out the values might seem slow at first, you'll see that issues actually get resolved faster," she writes. "And ironically, as you validate emotions, over time people will tend to be less emotional, as it's often the suppressing of emotions or trying to cobble together facts to justify them that causes irrational behavior."