How to handle jerks at work
Tuesday, May 02, 2017
Yelling, swearing, tantrums. It is amazing and surprising sometimes the types of behavior adults exhibit at work. As managers and leaders, we may be experienced at helping employees work through such situations, but what do we do when it happens to us?
In the moment, our first response might be to engage and yell back. That can work in situations where the idea of us yelling is so shocking that it stuns the employee into silence.
However, if it maintains or escalates the situation, yelling is not a good idea. In addition to setting a bad example, the tension of the interaction will be felt throughout the office. Instead, we can use that passion to call attention to the employee's behavior in a slightly less but equally emphatic tone.
For example, if we state the employee's name, tell her she is yelling and add that we will not continue the conversation if she continues to yell, this modified mirroring can be enough to help her feel heard but also slow her down. Further, keeping the initial response brief gives both of us the time to take a breath. We can then get composed and continue to take the tone down with each response.
By continuing to engage and de-escalate the situation, we can contain the upset employee and ideally get to the root of the problem.
Hanging up, ignoring the swears or leaving may sound like a good idea, but that can often make the situation worse. Unless the angry employee is physically threatening or in some way our safety is in question, walking away may infuriate the person further.
Instead, try taking a moment to internally remove yourself from the situation. In other words, take a breath and mentally walk away, then take a breath and return to active listening.
As noted by Ed Daube, Ph.D., and author of "Beyond Anger Management," listening to an angry person may be one of the best ways to help him. He states that angry people feel threatened and advises taking a moment to understand why the person may feel threatened and then responding to him as opposed to reacting.
Skilled lawyers, experienced HR executives, seasoned customer service pros and some leaders can remain calm regardless of the chaos around or in front of them. Though some naturally possess this skill, most of us will need to consistently work to develop it.
To do so takes patience, a solid understanding of our natural responses, a real desire to make the change and perhaps the ability to not take everything so seriously. But it is possible and a worthy endeavor if we plan on continuing to grow in our careers.
The bottom line: It is rarely appropriate to act like a jerk at work, and it is often rarer that someone does it to us as leaders. But when it does happen, we need to be ready to find ways to de-escalate the situation, whether it is gradually or instantly, and use it as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves for next time.
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