No matter how great a corporate culture you create, no matter how good a role model you are, it’s inevitable that situations will arise that require you to mitigate emotional stress within the ranks. Personal conflicts, outside pressures, and job-related stress will eventually become a factor to be dealt with in any workplace setting. How well leaders handle those situations depends on their emotional intelligence.
Managers often make one of two common mistakes when dealing with an emotional situation.
- The manager attempts to invalidate or downplay an emotional conflict and becomes a player in the emotional drama himself.
- The manager simply ignores the job-affecting emotions, hoping they will resolve themselves.
When the manager or group leader tries to downplay or dismiss a worker’s emotions, he or she inevitably creates a bigger problem. Not only does this raise the emotional stakes, but it now creates a situation in which negative emotions are directed at the manager. Though this is very common and, arguably, a natural form of response from busy managers with plenty on their plates, it’s incumbent upon leaders to avoid leaving an employee feeling slighted in this way.
Likewise, ignoring the problem often creates a snowball effect, where resentment and negative emotions continue to grow, making the situation worse. It's always better to address emotionally-wrought problems earlier rather than later.
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There is a three-step formula, however, which comes naturally to emotionally intelligent leaders. It is one that can easily be employed by any manager to take the edge off an emotional situation. This formula does not attempt to solve the problem itself, but is geared toward addressing and neutralizing the emotions so that the problem can then be approached in a more objective and effective manner.
Step 1: Acknowledge
More than anything, people want their feelings to be acknowledged. It may seem overly simple at first, but a statement such as, “I want you to know, I understand you are feeling very stressed right now,” can go miles toward lowering the emotional stakes of a situation. Everyone wants to feel understood, and acknowledgment is not difficult or compromising to do. Further, it doesn’t concede agreement with the emotional state; only empathy.
Step 2: Positively substitute
There is great power in a positive outlook and almost any negative situation can be framed in a positive light. A manager with emotional wisdom may say something like, “I know you are under a lot of stress, and I know a great deal of it is because you are a great employee and want to do the very best job you can.” What the manager has done in this example is to mitigate a negative emotion with the positive emotion of personal pride in a job well done. This doesn’t alleviate the first emotion, but it adds a positive perspective into the conversation.
Step 3: Suggest, re-acknowledge and appreciate
Not all situations are within the control of the manager. An increased workload that has come down from above may not be able to be removed, for example. What the manager can do is suggest ways he or she might be able to help, re-acknowledge the emotions involved and offer appreciation for the employee. “I cannot promise anything, but I will try to see if there is any way to lighten your load. I understand you are feeling stressed and I want you to know I really appreciate your efforts.” By saying this, you have reassured the employee without making binding promises, and reinforced a sense of empathy and appreciation.
Scott “Social Media” Allen is a 25-year veteran technology entrepreneur, executive and consultant. He’s coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online, the first book on the business use of social media, and The Emergence of The Relationship Economy.