How to Handle Emotional Outbursts at Work

How to Handle Emotional Outbursts at Work
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While conventional wisdom says that professionals keep a stiff upper lip in the workplace, at some point, everyone shows cracks in that polished veneer. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, says workplace expert Anne Kreamer, author of It's Always Personal: Managing Emotion in the New Workplace (Random House, 2013).

She says that workplace cultures that emphasize empathy and enthusiasm reap benefits ranging from greater creativity to reduced absenteeism. Being empathetic to emotion and showing your humanity is part such a culture.

But what happens when your emotions overcome you in ways that could damage your reputation? That may call for action to keep your working relationships intact, she says. Here's the triage plan for your emotional 911. 

Angry outburst. We all get angry, but managing that anger is critical. If you're flying off the handle on a regular basis, you could actually be draining employee motivation and engagement. If you yelled in a staff meeting or blew up at an employee who made a mistake, that usually requires an apology. 

But anger can also be used as a motivating force when it's not directed at an individual, she says. Instead of placing blame, channel your anger into positive action. "If you miss closing a deal, approach it as 'We're going to show them and go out there and get the next contract.' It can be a motivating force," she says.

Related: Why the Best Managers Ask the Most Questions

Crying. Kreamer had always believed that showing tears at work would be viewed as a sign of weakness. However, in the research for her book, she found that crying on the job—whether out of frustration, because of upsetting news, or other reasons--did not have an impact on an individual’s long-term success. She did find that women view other women crying at work more harshly than men do, but overall, people are more accepting of shedding a few tears.

So, while weeping openly at your desk on a weekly basis is not recommended, if you shed a tear or two during a trying situation, it's generally best to just shrug it off and move on—calling more attention to a teary moment probably isn’t going to do much good one way or the other.

Laugh attack. This one is an "it depends" scenario. If you're gathered with a group of co-workers and something tickles your funny bone, a fit of giggles can be a bonding experience and diffuse tension. But if an employee or client thinks you're laughing at him or her, you could have some hurt feelings that need to be addressed, Kreamer says.

If you started laughing in the middle of an important client meeting, it's probably a good idea to phone the client afterward and explain your chuckles so there's no room to misinterpret it as disrespect. "You want to make sure people know you're laughing with and not at them," she says.

Related: How to Be a More Charismatic Leader

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