Handling Emotional Reactions in Others

In any type of managerial position, there are going to be times when your team members are emotional. Of course they are people and they come connected to families!

Handling strong emotional reactions from others can be overwhelming…in a way, they want you to take away the stress response they are experiencing and calm them down. This can be very difficult when you have outcomes, objectives and Key Program Initiatives in the back of your mind.

Keeping a boundary between yourself and the person with the strong reaction can also be difficult. It’s important to remember that the reaction is theirs, not yours, and you can assist in these ways;
  1. Keep your breathing slow and deep-without telling the other person to do the same thing. Yelling at someone to “calm down!” and breathe deeply won’t achieve positive results. By staying calm and projecting a caring demeanor you are mirroring a positive image for the other person. This in itself will assist in them gaining some control over their emotions.
  2. Listen and allow the other person to “vent” their feelings. Try not to interrupt or judge their reaction as you haven’t lived their life and perhaps don’t understand the full circumstances. Ask a few questions to clarify the situation, without delving fully into any personal information.
  3. Don’t stand right in front of the person and try to block their exit. They may feel like they can’t escape. Keep a few metres distance with a side-on stance. This is less confrontational for the other person, as body language says a lot. Don’t try to comfort them with touch like you would for a family member, even though this is a natural response. Touching another person may have a detrimental result and make things worse. It can also be misinterpreted by the other person.
  4. If possible, ask the person to come and sit down in a more private position, if they are in a waiting area or in a more public location. Sitting down can help if the person is experiencing a panic attack, and even asking them to lay down on the floor if they say that they are going to faint. Stay with the person and if another person is available, get them a drink of water. If possible, don’t allow the other person to get in their car and drive. This can have disastrous consequences.
All of these tips should help the other person gain some sort of control of their emotions. Be aware that any emotion usually shifts within 7 minutes. It does not normally get worse in this time period, unless there are underlying mental health issues, in which case the person could be referred for professional help or EAP counselling if available.
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