Q: I have a direct report who does good work, but he gets emotional quickly, especially when I’m offering constructive feedback. It’s becoming more than I can handle. Any tips on how I can deal with this without embarrassing or discouraging him?
A: When these situations arise, bear in mind the employee’s good performance, and do your best to stay calm. Be professional but empathetic. It’s fine to say something like, “Why don’t you take a minute and we can talk more later.” But don’t let too much time go by before regrouping to continue your discussion.
People don’t usually get emotional about something they don’t care about. So if he is reacting strongly to constructive feedback on his work performance, acknowledge that he is emotionally invested and find a way to provide the feedback he needs to be an even better performer.
When you return to the conversation, start by asking how he’s doing and that you understand how uncomfortable it can be for most people to express emotion at work. Don’t brush it under the rug—let him know that you understand that his emotions are close to the surface and ask if there is something you can do to help him keep them in check.
Don’t let your message be derailed by anger or tears. Continue to offer constructive feedback, but be compassionate.
Listening is key here, as it is in so many management situations. Use active listening skills, such as paraphrasing. After he tells you why he was upset, say, “What I heard you say is…” and repeat what he told you in your own words. This way he knows you heard him and understood.
Don’t let your message be derailed by anger or tears. Continue to offer constructive feedback, but be compassionate. You want to be supportive while making clear that you hold him accountable for his performance.
Try to build on the fact that this employee is a good performer. Do your best to help him understand that learning to manage his emotions will be an asset as he moves forward in his career.
Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].