How to deal with outbursts of emotion

Here’s a scenario many managers and team leaders fear: a staff member sits down in your office and bursts into tears. You don’t know how to handle such an outpouring of emotion. What should you do?

Your first step is simple: hand them a box of tissues. Don’t have a box of tissues handy? Then buy some immediately. Even if you never have a distressed team member visit your office, they’ll come in handy if you have a cold, or need to clean a pair of spectacles.

Your second step may be a little more challenging. Just sit with them while they cry themselves out. You don’t have to comfort them or reassure them–indeed, there may be times when reassuring them would be inappropriate. For example, if someone is upset because they’ve received a poor performance review, you can’t promise to upgrade their ratings. So allow them time to wipe their eyes and compose themselves. Once they’re ready, you can continue with the conversation.

Some people will apologise for crying. Just tell them that it’s OK. You need not say anything more. If you can accept them when they’re upset and distressed, you’ll build a sense of trust that need not be spoken.

One final thing: keep the incident to yourself. If you discuss it with anyone else, your staff member will eventually find out. And that will shatter any goodwill you’ve built by being attentive to and respectful of their sadness.


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