How to Tactfully Handle Outbursts from a Co-Worker at the Office

Difficult times, such as pay cuts, salary freezes, loss of bonuses, layoffs or organizational change causes great stress among employees. No matter what environment you’re in, chances are your team gets anxious … burned out … and feels disconnected. 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.  Occasionally, you’ll find yourself having to handle outbursts from an emotional team member or co-worker.

Oftentimes 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.

If a team member reaches his/her breaking point and you’re forced to handle outbursts:

  • 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.
  • When 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.
  • If 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. The only way issues are resolved is through open communication. 

It’s easy for employees to get discouraged or be overwhelmed with anxiety about what the future holds. Workplace conflicts are facts of life. Build stronger workplace relationships and get more done by handling confrontations better and working through disagreements. Few skills are as critical to your success as the ability to effectively handle outbursts and conflict with your co-worker!

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