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What Do I Do When Somebody Shows Emotion and Leaves Me Feeling Uncomfortable?

When it comes to having real conversations, it’s sometimes easy to feel discomfort in response to someone’s comments. Perhaps they were very open about something in their personal life which made you think they overstepped a boundary, or they were upset about a colleague and said some things that felt unprofessional to you.

Knowing what to do in this situation can be tricky. It can also leave you feeling vulnerable. In fact, I get asked about this kind of thing quite frequently by team leaders. So, if you find yourself wondering how to handle this type of scenario, here are some tips:

Address the issue at hand

You may be tempted to use fear of upsetting somebody as a reason to not give feedback in the workplace, or to not check in on how your team members are doing. If this is the case, it’s advisable to ask yourself whether the discomfort is really about the team member themselves and their actions, or your own internal response to the situation.

For example, if the emotion they’re showing (or you’re worried they will show in response to something) is sadness, then it’s not surprising that you may wish to prevent this. It’s normal to want to avoid making someone cry. However, you need to think about whether you’re really ‘making’ them cry or the situation itself is responsible for this.

To take on this level of accountability yourself is a powerful thought and can show that your relationship with your team member resembles more of a parent-adult relationship than an adult-to-adult relationship.

Establishing healthy workplace relationships

To establish and maintain healthy workplace relationships, you need to have a relationship where both parties are fulfilling the role of adult. So, when you’re giving and receiving feedback, you must share your thoughts… even if you’re worried about the response you’ll get to something. That’s not to say, of course, that you should avoid using tact and diplomacy when doing so!

If you avoid talking to someone about a problem, it can lead to passive aggression. This can happen when you’re holding something back, as it leads to you feeling fed up, while the other person is left unaware of there being any problem to begin with.

Brace yourself

Here comes the potential bad news! If you feel uncomfortable, then ultimately, it’s up to you to handle this and resolve the matter. You might need to brace yourself for the outcome, but you need to let people share their emotions (whether they’re happy, angry or sad) and sometimes just sit there while they vent.

If you continue to avoid situations where this can happen and encourage people to keep their emotions bottled up, then you’ll be creating an unhealthy environment where people aren’t having real conversations with each other.

Think about the patterns that you set by managing your own emotions. In doing so, you can focus on creating an atmosphere where people can be open about how they feel. When they do, make sure you respond with empathy.

Ways to respond to emotion

If somebody cries, you just need to be there and let this happen. You can also ask when they will be ready to carry on at an appropriate time. If someone is angry, you need to let them vent their anger and carry on when they’re ready. You can probably see a pattern emerging here, right?

That being said, there’s obviously a time and place for this. For example, this level of emotion wouldn’t be ideal in front of a client. This is yet another reason to make sure that you’re making time for your team members to have real conversations with you. Yes, there’s definitely a chance that a display of heightened emotions will come from this, but it’s better to allow these real conversations to take place in the right environment than risk it happening at an inopportune time.

Rise to the challenge

Sometimes it’s time to get out of your comfort zone. After all, if you never do this, then you’re not really stretching yourself as a person or growing as much as you could be. Sometimes, you can feel like you’ve stretched yourself too much and you’re starting to wear thin, which leads to you showing emotions as a natural consequence.

However, you shouldn’t avoid having these conversations because dealing with this kind of conflict will help your team become stronger. It’s all about allowing your team to grow and ensuring you create a healthy and understanding workplace environment.

So, the next time you find yourself saying that you don’t want to make someone cry, check in with yourself to see if this is about them or you. Make sure that conversations still take place at the right time, so that all team members – including yourself – feel comfortable showing their emotions in a healthy way within the workplace.

Still unsure of how best to approach these situations, or need help with other aspects of leadership? Get in touch with us today – we’re ready to help.

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