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Management Skills: Managing Emotions in the Workplace

Management Skills: Managing Emotions in the Workplace

By: Emily Bennington, Monster Contributing Writer

Emotions are part of being human and, as a result, part of how we work. In small businesses, though, where expectations often run high and resources low, emotional outbursts can seem like the norm rather than the exception.

If you’re a manager, there’s the additional pressure to “set the tone” by appearing “in control” while managing your team.

But is that healthy for your business? Anne Kreamer, author of the book, It’s Always Personal, says not always.

Kreamer contends that the complexities of business make an emotion-free workplace unrealistic, so managers are better served to learn to handle it appropriately versus trying to banish it from the office altogether.

We recently spoke with Kreamer and Jodi Glickman, communications expert and founder of Great on the Job, to discover why the “unflappable” boss is a management myth, how to effectively handle job stress and why big girls do cry after all.

Acting Superhuman: A Set Up for Failure 
The demands of running a small business – constant time crunch for strategic planning, the anxiety of making payroll, etc., can often be overwhelming. As a manager, there’s also added pressure to maintain a management style that keeps a lid on emotions.

“I think a lot of us feel like we have to put on some kind of armor when we come into the workforce,” says Kreamer, “but, really, no one likes to work for Mr. or Miss Perfect.”

Kreamer says managers who are honest about their struggles will earn extra employee loyalty and trust. “If your team doesn’t know that you have a sword hanging over your head that’s making you agitated, they can’t possibly help you in the way you need it,” adding that, “if you’re keeping it all in because you’re trying to be superhuman and then explode at the 11th hour, that’s not fair either.”

When the Going Gets Tough
For Kreamer, managing emotions in the workplace starts well before the geyser erupts. Rather than “forced empathy,” she encourages supervisors to go deeper and look for what is triggering an employee’s emotional behavior in the first place. This positions you to deal with issues at their root level and provides insight into the “danger zones” to avoid as well.

“If you understand what is causing employees to react to situations emotionally,” says Kreamer, “you’re in a much better position to prevent an outburst by not letting things get to that point.”

That said, we all know things can get overly heated in the office at times. According to Glickman, author of Great on the Job, What to Say, How to Say It, The Secrets of Getting Ahead, the goal isn’t to pretend the emotions aren’t there, but to step in and help the employee gain composure.

“If the person looks like they’re going to lose it, suggest that they take a break to go get some air, take a walk, and clear their head,” she says. “Allow them to get some distance from the situation to cool off. Then, ask to continue the discussion when the sting has dissipated.”

Glickman, who served as a manager on Wall Street, says the key is to deal with workplace emotions swiftly, but without making the other person feel attacked or threatened. “You should be clear about what’s being objected to or criticized but, typically, it’s the outcome, not the process,” she says.

Also, look beyond accusations to focus intentions, says Glickman. “Acknowledge those good intentions or efforts and then point to the solution or how to fix the problem.” She recommends sharing concrete suggestions for improving the process going forward to achieve the desired result.

The Link Between Gender and Crying
In researching her book on emotions in the workplace, Kreamer discovered that women cry nearly four times as often as men. Why? The truth is that women are simply hardwired differently.

“Women have six times the amount of prolactin (the hormone that controls tears) than men do and our tear ducts are significantly larger,” she says. Additionally, women’s tear ducts are anatomically different from men’s which explain why women – for example – tend to gush tears while men often barely elicit a trickle.

Kreamer notes that the presence of tears should not be ignored; they are the workplace equivalent of a “check engine” sign. “Tears communicate that something in our lives is out of kilter right now.  We are overworked, we are sick, we feel angry, or we are frustrated.” Rather than seeing tears as a sign of weakness, adds Kreamer, they signify that  “there is an underlying need that should be addressed.”

Managing Your Own Emotions at Work
While understanding the science behind crying can be helpful for managers, Glickman says if you feel yourself about to get overly emotional, it’s still best to head for the door.

“It is terribly awkward and painful for both men and women to deal with colleagues crying over work matters,” she says. If you’ve had it, says Glickman, “it’s always better to tell people, ‘You know what, I need a break, I’ll be back in 30 minutes.'" You can always say you need to burn off steam or vent, adds Glickman, “but I don’t see the benefit in actually having that breakdown in front of others.”

Kreamer notes that managers should look for the same emotional triggers in themselves that they do in employees. “Again, if you get into a position of feeling overwhelmed, if you can be self-aware enough to know the things that put you in that vulnerable state, you can be in a better place to manage it.”

Indeed, when it comes to emotion in the workplace, small business managers have a complex challenge where the ripple effect of any emotional situation can run deep.

Both Kreamer and Glickman see this as an area where great managers can really set themselves apart by approaching emotions as something healthy for business. Says Kreamer, “I believe these profound social changes, in tandem with the new scientific insights into the ways each gender operates, will transform the future of interpersonal dynamics on the job.”

Read more: The Crying Tribe: Men, Women and Emotions in the Workplace

Author Bio
Emily Bennington
is co-author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job (Ten Speed Press, 2010). She is a frequent speaker to students and organizations on the topic of career success and Founder of Professional Studio 365, which provides onboarding programs for new grads and their employers. Emily is also a regular contributor to the college section of The Huffington Post. She can be reached via email at emily @ professionalstudio365.com or on Twitter @EmilyBennington.