Category Archives: Feedback

Managing Emotions at Work

downloadThe tears well up in Ashley’s eyes, she tries desperately to stop them, hide them, but, they stream unchecked down her face. John pushes back his chair from the table, and storms from the meeting room. The usually bubbly and energetic Ann, dejectedly looks down, there is no light in her eyes, no welcoming smile. Seth stares ahead impassively, silent, stoic, and seemingly oblivious to his surrounding and peers and he says nothing.

Have you ever observed or experienced any of these “not so happy” emotional reactions in the workplace. Those swells of emotions; that fit of anger; the burst of tears; the blank hard stare of a colleague, team member, supervisor or direct report. Did you find it Awkward? Annoying? Inappropriate? Uncomfortable? Unprofessional? Regardless of what your views are on such emotional displays in the workplace, they are not uncommon and should not be taken lightly or brushed aside.

images (9)Like it  or not, the reality is that, the workplace is made up of people, and people have emotions that are often times expressed at work. Truth be told, not all the issues affecting employees and their performance originate on the job. Some of the factors causing emotional outbursts or provoking emotional responses in employees, might be internal to the job, external to the job or both. And though, you have often heard the saying that, “people should not take their problems to work”, people in fact do. I am by no means advocating that people take their personal issues and problems to work and vent their frustrations on other members of their teams.

However, I submit that, since the average employee spends 8-12 hours at work, it is not far-fetched or unusual for tempers to flare, emotions to run high, tears to flow, or for tension to emerge between supervisors and direct reports, among coworkers and within the ranks of leadership as well. If you have never had any of these experiences (been overwhelmed by emotions at work) or observed them, you are probably lucky. Never judge the person who has. People are all wired differently, triggered by different things and likely to respond to work pressures, stress, failures, bad news, and personal matters differently.

What are some of the factors that could cause these emotional reactions on the job?
images (4)There are many different  internal factors (related to the job or the organization) that are likely to produce  emotional responses in employees on the job. These include but are not limited to:
• Promotion/demotion.
• Voluntary/ involuntary separation (for the employee or colleague).
• Transfer from one unit/branch/location to another.
• Unfavorable performance reviews or  feedback.
• Failure on a big project.
• High stress level relating to long hours on the job, volume of work, difficult relationships on the job).

The external factors are those factors relating to the employee’s personal life (outside of the job and the organization), that might be affecting their performance, attitude or mental/emotional well-being. Some of these domestic/personal issues might include:
• A sick child/relative.
• Death of a loved one/friend.
• Personal ill-health(diagnosis of serious illness).
• Divorce, separation or any other marital problems.
• Parenting problems.
• Financial hardships resulting from the loss of income from a spouse or head of household.

Therefore, it is not unusual for employees to be affected by both internal and external factors at the same time, resulting in a decline in their emotional well-being, performance on the job and general morale.

images (5)Imagine the scenario with Ashley. Unknown to her supervisor, Ashley has experienced some difficult personal/domestic issues that have affected her performance on the job. Ashley’s supervisor has raised concerns about performance which she has also acknowledged. Ashley commits to  improving her performance, and her supervisor commits to supporting her. Over the following months, Ashley shows some signs of improvements in her performance, but not enough to allay the concerns of her supervisor. Ashley’s supervisor schedules a meeting to discuss with Ashley the need for urgent improvements. Though he is careful and fair in his approach, Ashley breaks down and starts to cry in the meeting. In this instance, Ashley’s emotional burst of tears may have nothing to do with the fairness of his/her supervisor or the accuracy of the feedback given. Ashley might have been very overwhelmed by  both the internal and external factors mentioned above and the meeting was just a trigger.

What then is an appropriate response for the manager/supervisor?

images (6)As a starting point, responsibility for managing emotions in the work place is each employee’s responsibility. It is important that all employees, (supervisors and coworkers) recognize and acknowledge that these things happen, and are likely to happen in the workplace. No one is immune for even strong people/personalities have breaking points. People just manifest their emotions differently. Employees like Ann might sink into  deep depression. John might swear and utter inappropriate words in anger or frustration, and Seth might simply “shut down”. These scenarios are highly likely, for it is particularly difficult for people to divorce themselves from their personal lives and be two different persons. The presence of any of these triggers (internal or external) in an employee’s life, might easily reach boiling point and explode  at work.

Therefore, managers/supervisors have a specific role to play,  if and when these varied emotional responses are played out on the job. Supervisors have to be especially mindful and aware that of issues/life events that might threaten to derail employees and affect their performance on the job. With this in mind, supervisors have the responsibility to take the time to get to know the members of their teams. You can’t effectively manage people you don’t know, or understand (i.e. Their personalities, aptitudes, attitudes and work ethic). In the instance that an employee display emotional reactions on the job, the supervisor should probe deeper or carefully observe the employee to assess  if there is an underlying problem. If and when they are able to pinpoint the issue/concern, the supervisor should display empathy and compassion to  the distressed/stressed employee and find ways to support.

images (7)Additionally, managers should also demonstrate sufficient emotion intelligence to be able to manage each employee differently. Some employees might not be bothered by a sharp tone, strong or firm words or pressure coming from a manager in his/her call for improved performance. But for another employee, a coaxing or gentler approach, heaping praises while pointing out gaps, might be more effective approach. Managers by their own actions and leadership styles, should foster a safe environment where employees can have the confidence to share whatever issue(s) that  might be affecting them  to get help/support. This also means that, trust and confidentiality must be hall marks of the manager’s approach.

What is the employee’s responsibility?
images (3) As mentioned earlier, the employee should also shoulder some of the responsibility for managing his /her own emotions in the workplace. Employees have a responsibility (an obligation even) to maintain some semblance of professionalism, though grappling with difficult situations/pressures internal and external to their jobs. Employees should always demonstrate respect for self, customers, peers, and be ever mindful not to breach the policies of the organization.Contending views with peers, negative feedback, stress caused by the volume of work/strict deadlines, disagreement with supervisors are all normal.

images (8)By being aware of their own emotions, their own triggers and how they are feeling, employees might be able to excuse themselves from a meeting to regain lost composure. If external factors are impacting their performance, employees must be mature, honest and willing to approach their supervisor or colleagues, and explain that, they are experiencing a challenge, and might need some support, space or time. The presence of a life event or personal issues is no excuse to shirk one’s responsibilities, “shut down” or disrespect fellow team members. Should this ever occur, the employee must be quick to apologize and strive never to repeat same.

It is also important that employees practice the  Q-TIP (Quit Taking It Personally) principle on the job. Tension among peers about the approach to a project at work, constructive criticisms, failures and “stretch assignments”, (that seem overwhelming or unreasonable at one point in time) can ultimately benefit you in the long run. They may test your capabilities, your will, and even your talents.But the successful results/outcomes  they produce might surprise you, and make you happy you were pushed, and that you persevered.

download (2)Please note as well that, the display of emotions in the work place is not bad. It just needs to be managed. It does not mean that the employee is weak, or unprofessional. We are never to judge or be judge when we demonstrate any of these emotional responses. For as we strive for personal and professional growth and development, we will never know where our respective journeys will take us, the life events that will change, shape or disrupt our lives. As such, we should always remember that people are people first, they are not their jobs, their titles nor their roles.

“What do we live for, if not to make  the world  a bit less difficult for each other?”

                                                                                                                                         Author Unknown

Images Courtesy of Google.
Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Why Does It Hurt So Bad? Feedback is a Gift!

images-sadWhy does it hurt so bad? Why do I feel so sad?  Thought I was … No, this not a love song. Nor is it  about  my love life,  or  the death or loss of a loved one.  I am talking about FEEDBACK.

At some time or another, you and I have had to give feedback to someone, or might have been on the receiving end. And for the most of us, the experience hasn’t always been pleasant. In fact, on the work scene, it is not unlikely for  both employees and supervisors to dread, that time of year when performance appraisals are to be conducted. And even in our personal lives, feedback – the nature and content of it, has led to, or contributed to, many a  broken or damaged relationships, shattered trust and sent many to seek the counsel of elders, family, pastors and friends. Still, I contend, no matter how you look at it, feedback is a GIFT.

Here is the dilemma- feedback comes from everywhere and everyone, and it can be both  good and bad. Clearly, positive feedback, the type  usually regarded as good, doesn’t make us feel mad, bad or sad. It pleases us, makes us glow and run around “boasting” of our finer attributes to anyone who will listen. Usually, it is the negative variety a.ka. bad feedback, that causes us the  tears, pain, anger, sends us ranting, catches us reacting defensively, or signals us to turn on our Silence buttons. When this happens, whether the  feedback is given by loved one, friend(s), supervisor(s) or, co-worker(s), customer(s)  or all of the above- doesn’t make it any easier accept.

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Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve experienced all the emotions I just described, and the  kinds of feedback I mentioned. One my earliest experiences with negative feedback,  came from my  supervisor in my very first job. In my then role, I was responsible for coordinating over 20 training courses offered by the agency. The position I  assumed, had been vacant for a whole year, and there was a “back-log” with issues deemed  both  urgent and important  at the same time. As you could imagine, I worked hard to resolve these issues, while focusing on my key deliverables, learning the organization and my job. But, none of this bothered me, for I love a challenge, and tend to be very committed to whatever I do. Needless to say, by the time my probationary period ended, I was confident, settled and happy with my progress and performance.  And with this positive energy and attitude, I sat down with my supervisor for my performance appraisal.

untitledfeedback 2Our discussions about my performance and impact went very well. There were no surprises. That is, until she mentioned that, some of the participants for a course I coordinated, were dissatisfied with me. The issue they raised was related to my attitude, and their perception that,  I did not seem particularly “friendly” to  them. Truth be told, they were my least favorite group and they had the biggest issues on my “backlog” list. Speaking to them, and interacting with them, always  required extra preparation-mental and otherwise. But I consider myself professional, and they were our/my customers, so truly I did my best. As my supervisor shared, I remember feeling hurt and angry, as I fought the tears welling up in my eyes . Suddenly, it was as if, nothing else had been said in the discussion, none of the kudos I had earlier heard/received mattered. And the kinder she was, the worst I felt.

Sometime after  my tears subsided, and my thoughts of their ungratefulness faded, I resolved that I had to change my approach. After all, don’t we all want to be seen favorably, to the people who matter? So,I made a deliberate effort to “warm up” to the group, smile, say  hi to them in the corridors, and be more patient in our interactions. It wasn’t before long  that they too responded in kind, and I made friends with the group, as we continued to grapple with challenging issues. The way I figure it now is that, I was much younger then and less wiser I suspect.

Since then, I’ve had many roles and numerous opportunities to give and receive feedback.

feedback

Yet to date, the most enduring lessons have been:

  • Feedback isn’t always positive or negative but it should always be honest.
  • It is equally important to listen to what is said as well as what is not said.
  • LISTEN and SILENT has the same letters- so listen carefully and ask questions to help you better understand the issue not argue.
  • Instead of dismissing the feedback you don’t like, ask yourself- is any of it true?
  • Be kind and gentle in sharing feedback-regardless of appearances, people are people first with emotions, insecurities and fears.
  • Avoid making generalizations about people. Base your feedback on the specific situation you observed, the behavior and the impact it had on you, the job or others.
  • Examine your motives in giving feedback – is it meant to develop or “tear down”?
  • Say thank you- you don’t have to agree with what you’ve  heard (but it is better to know how others feel about you and it gives you an opportunity to fix it).

In the end, I have learnt to value feedback. Feedback should make us glow and grow. Feedback is a Gift!

What has your experience been in giving or receiving feedback? Practice on me !

Images Courtesy of Google.

Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved