When Others React Emotionally
Leaders often confront situations where emotions run high. In response to an event or issue, a team member loses control and acts out by expressing what they are really feeling.
In their emotional release, a colleague might cry, shake, give emphatic answers, raise their voice, display angry gestures, or turn inward in obvious pain. How leaders think about and handle the extreme emotions of others says a lot about who they are as leaders.
For many leaders, the initial reaction to an emotional display is to go silent, offer a comforting word or two, and then to wait until the person recovers. The awkwardness of the moment often escalates, making leaders fidget with discomfort. This amplifies the embarrassment for both parties.
Leaders, of course, like to think of themselves as rational thinkers unencumbered by emotion. So when they experience emotions running at them, they often freak out on the inside, wanting to be anywhere but in the present situation. This reaction marginalizes those who vigorously express themselves and often makes the situation worse.
There’s a better way.
For the best leaders, emotional displays are neither an aberration nor an inconvenience. They happen because people care deeply about the issue or event at hand. Because high emotion is a direct reflection of high caring, the best strategy to normalize the episode is to emphasize the caring.
“You care deeply about the work product and that’s a good thing.”
“I can tell this all about how strongly you feel about getting to the right answer.”
“Your reputation means so much to you, as it should.”
“Your conviction to do the right thing is admirable.”
When leaders emphasize the underlying reason for the emotional display, they offer an extremely important validation of the other party. Instead of dismissing the emotion as abnormal, leaders who confirm the underlying passion corroborate a virtuous value: caring deeply is always a good thing.
Even when the leader believes the outburst or reaction is unwarranted, they can confirm the good reason we all express ourselves too intensely at times—caring too much. A statement that emphasizes that caring almost always helps to lower the temperature and allows for a more even discussion to follow.
Emotions are the energy of passion. The best leaders don’t look for the door when emotions run high. Instead, they call out what they know is an irreproachable reason for the display. Confirming that people care deeply (sometimes too much) turns an awkward moment into an episode of shared values. That’s an emotional winner.