How to Handle an Outburst From a Team Member

Difficult times create stress and can sometimes involve layoffs, bonus cuts, and organizational change. No matter what environment you’re in, chances are your team gets stressed out … burned out … and feels disconnected. As a manager, you probably feel the same way from time to time. You know that leads to lower morale, decreased productivity, diminishing employee performance, and ultimately a decline in company performance.

Unposed group of creative business people in an open conceptOftentimes communication is the number one culprit to these feelings. Misunderstandings lead to conflict. A lack of information leaves people feeling in the dark or confused. In short, bad communication plummets morale. Normally healthy communication can turn heated without warning, so it helps to have strategies in place to minimize the effects. Here’s what you need to do if one of your team members has reached his/her breaking point.

• Don’t overreact to an outburst. Try to stay calm and just listen until you figure out what’s going on. The more centered you are, the more quickly the situation may begin to deescalate. Don’t be drawn into a battle you didn’t know had been scheduled.

Businessman screaming and fighting at a young colleagueWhen you do speak, don’t be defensive, and watch your body language. Once you determine the exact nature of the other person’s concern, then you can choose whether to defend your position or chalk up the behavior to a really bad day.

• Ask questions to gain a deeper understanding of the other person’s point of view, and reflect back what you’re hearing (whether or not you agree) to be sure you’ve got the right picture.

• Once you’ve listened to the initial outburst and reflected the other person’s concerns back to him or her, explain your intention for the rest of the conversation. Maybe it’s to schedule a meeting later when you have more time to focus, or maybe it’s to let the person know you appreciate his or her feedback. Just state for the record what you plan to do as a result of this conversation.

Stick of dynamite litIf the conversation doesn’t cool off relatively quickly, acknowledge the strong emotions and suggest that you both take a break, then agree on a time and place to meet again when heads are cooler.

• Take the high road and thank the other person for his or her honesty and decision to come directly to you with the issue. This will keep the lines of communication open, which is the only way the issue can be resolved.

It’s easy for employees to get discouraged or be overwhelmed with anxiety about what the future holds. Workplace conflicts are facts of life. Those who excel at working through disagreements and handling confrontations build stronger workplace relationships and get more done. That means few skills are as critical to your success as the ability to effectively work through conflict with your team!

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