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manage emotional people

Manage Emotional People

Emotions in the workplace are often seen as a burden. A common factor in American workplace culture is, “Leave your day at the door.” However, this ignores human experience and can actually decrease productivity and creativity. One research study found that companies who create spaces for emotions to be expressed safely can actually increase their productivity and creativity. Plus, it can save you a lot of money when you deal with emotions quickly rather than allowing them to ruminate. Emotions are distracting, so leaving employees to deal with difficult emotions on their own may take up more of their time. Leaders need to learn how to positively manage emotional people in order to get the best out of their team.

Get to Know Them

One of the best ways to remain proactive about your team is getting to know them first. This helps you plan ahead for which employees may be more emotionally inclined, sensitive, or quick to anger. Get to know who they are as human beings and try to identify what things trigger their emotions or how they behave when they are stressed. This allows you to get to know your team on a more personal level, aiding in your ability to circumvent and handle emotionally charged situations. When you get to know each individual team member, you get to know their cues, such as body language, certain words or phrases, facial expressions, and tone.

Stay Calm & Give Them Your Time

When a team member becomes emotional, stay calm and give them your time. The calmer you are able to stay, the easier it may be for your team member to settle down as well. By providing stable energy, you can help your employee feel more stable, too. Do not talk over them or too loudly as they may perceive it as yelling and that they are in trouble for having emotions. Emotions are a natural part of the human condition but can be distracting in a professional setting.

One of the best ways to quickly deal with an emotional team member is to show them compassion and empathy for their situation. Sometimes, people just need someone to acknowledge and listen to them; they just want to vent and be heard. Provide validation for their experience and perspective by repeating back to them what you are hearing. For example, “I hear you are really stressed out and overwhelmed regarding your current workload,” or, “It sounds like you are dealing with some difficult things at home.”

Provide Space

The emotional individual may want someone to listen and acknowledge them, but they may also just need some time to decompress their emotions on their own. By giving them a quiet space to relax by themselves for a moment, whether it be in a quiet office, conference room, or going for a walk, employees may come back ready to perform. If possible, give them a chance to have a re-do and come back to the team without any animosity. Continue to treat your employee with respect and compassion.

Focus on Performance

When emotions are present is not a time to make rash decisions. This does not mean that accountability should be swept away, but it can be discussed at a later time or date. Should the employee’s emotions cause any issues with clients, vendors, or other team members, be sure to hold that employee accountable for their actions. There is a difference between having emotions and acting upon emotions. Having emotions is human, but only those who are emotionally intelligent know how to act upon or handle their emotions. Those who may lack emotional intelligence may act quickly on their emotions without thinking them through.

When the time comes to discuss accountability, focus on the employee’s actions, not the emotions that caused the actions. You may discuss with your employee what led to their emotional rise and what can be done to avoid such discomfort in the future, but you are not there to invalidate the emotion. Your job is to manage their performance. Additionally, don’t fire employees in the heat of a moment should tensions rise for you as well. If you feel your emotions rise, you may need some space to come back to the situation with a clearer mind. Be sure to document the situation thoroughly when you feel levelheaded.

Know When to Refer

There may be times when you do everything right, but the employee’s needs are beyond your control. You can still give your employee your time, compassion, and empathy, but if you need to refer them to receive more help than you can offer, don’t be afraid to do so. Let the employee know that you can refer them to your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or HR. Additionally, let them know that you are referring them to get them the best help possible, not because you don’t want to help. If you are a smaller company who doesn’t yet have these resources, consider helping your employee do research to find the resources they do need.

Know When It’s Gone Too Far

Again, there may be times when you do everything right, but the emotions of your employee have gone too far. One of your main concerns should be the health, wellbeing, and safety of everyone in your building, including the emotional employee. If the employee starts making threats of physical violence or becomes physically violent, do not try to intervene. Call the police to keep everyone as safe as you can.


Managing emotional people can be difficult for those who themselves don’t understand or manage their own emotions. One of the keys of dealing with emotional people is simply acknowledging them and validating their experience. However, should the emotional employee affect others, they are not above accountability. Hold them accountable to their performance, but do not penalize them for having emotions. Finally, learn how to recognize when your employee needs more help than you can offer, or when the situation has gone too far and is putting safety in jeopardy. Emotions are part of the human experience, but if you need help increasing your emotional intelligence to learn how to better manage emotional people, contact IA Business Advisors for coaching opportunities.