I was stuck in Phoenix on the way to El Paso because of a malfunction on our aircraft. You know the drill. Everyone is on the plane and then they announce that something isn’t working. However, we were assured that the problem would be fixed after maintenance took a few moments to look things over and figure if they had the part they needed. Forty-five minutes later, the flight attendant announced that everyone would have to vacate the plane because the aircraft wasn’t going anywhere.
Next, the poor airline personnel tried to figure out what they were going to do with all the folks who were wondering if they would ever get to their destination before nightfall. Unfortunately the supervisor of three ticket agents became more agitated at her workers than the passengers were for the current inconvenience. In her frustration, she started criticizing the agents who were doing the best they could. As her emotion increased so did the number of personal attacks. She yelled, accused her people of being stupid, too slow, and generally falling in the category of subhuman human beings. The more her criticism and emotion increased, the more mistakes the agents made. It was clear that they were rattled beyond the point of being able to maintain their rational composure and didn’t know what to do to help remedy the situation.
This poor supervisor clearly flunked the interpersonal skills portion of her training in supervisor school. Perhaps such extreme behavior is more exception than the rule, but I thought it might be worthwhile to offer some tactics for dealing with those individuals who could use a course in emotional intelligence.
Don’t take it personally. I would offer that a person’s emotion says more about them than it does about you. Why? An individual’s “hot” emotional reaction is the product of their thinking or their perception based on something that they are observing. Unfortunately, when people are highly emotional, we know that the rational regions of their brain quit functioning. Consequently, they are not very good at clearly explaining in a respectful way what challenges need to be addressed. Remaining calm and detached from their response will help you to maintain your rationality during a tense situation.
Listen for the data. If someone is being super critical, listen for the data or facts that they are sharing. If there is a lack of specificity, ask for it. Without a clear understanding of their concerns, you may not understand the gravity of the situation, nor will you be able to take the necessary steps to achieve the expected results.
Paraphrase or summarize back. If you are not getting the specific direction that you need, try and paraphrase or summarize what you are hearing. Hopefully, hearing the lack of direction specifics will help your manager realize what they are saying. Recognizing they lack clear feedback will lead them to improve the quality of their message.
Ask for examples. When an individual’s message is unclear, asking for examples of what needs to be addressed and undertaken will help you understand the expectations you need to meet.
Be in control of your emotions. Do not let your emotions get the best of you. Often when a person’s emotional intensity has reached a fever pitch, there is the chance that others’ feelings will be raised to the same level as the individual who is upset. When this happens you may not be able to effectively communicate with the person who is trying to provide direction, and you may also end up dealing with others at this same level of negative emotional intensity.
Evaluate the message. If you are the recipient of the criticism or negative feedback, evaluate what you are hearing. Ask yourself if you agree, disagree, or if the information is accurate, whole or complete. If there is more data that needs to be considered and shared, organize your thoughts and be prepared to offer additional information at another time. If you agree with the criticism, acknowledge your effort or misstep and make the needed correction in your performance.
Pick the proper time and place. Confronting or offering your perspective in the heat of the moment is not a good idea, particularly in front of customers or other potentially impacted clientele. You will need to pick a time that is devoid of emotion and a place that is private to share your perspective and any additional data that needs to be considered.
Manage your expressions. If you are visibly upset at the feedback you are given in a hostile situation, this may serve to further irritate the person who is criticizing you. If you work with someone who frequently reacts emotionally, try to anticipate this behavior so that when it occurs, you will not be negatively influenced by it.
We would like to think that the type of behavior that I witnessed is not a common occurrence. However, we are all human, and sometimes negative situations get the best of us. Unfortunately, when we are on the receiving end of such a tirade, how we choose to respond can make all the difference in how the situation unfolds and resolves. Taking deliberate steps to manage this type of situation can help improve our working relationships and the quality of results that we ultimately achieve.