In times of disruption and economic uncertainty; anxiety, anger, and other negative feelings can make their way into the work environment. If mishandled, these emotions can exacerbate, leading people to behave erratically. Some may withdraw from the normal engagement, isolating themselves and avoiding others. Others may begin to question authority, rebelling against best practices and blaming others for the downturn. The chaos can lead to productivity loss, miscommunication, and creative blocks.
Leaders must recognize that while emotions may cause harm, ignoring them is much more dangerous. To foster a safe environment, employees must realize that leadership doesn’t demand that they suppress their feelings. Here’s how leaders can encourage their employees to open up and create opportunities for meaningful and productive emotional interactions.
Create a safe environment
Being invited by a leader to have a talk can be enough to fill an employee with anxiety, particularly when they’re not given any indication of what the discussion will be. However, giving prior notice that you would like to speak to an employee regarding their behavior may also cause them to retreat further. To prevent this, let employees know your intentions in advance. Express your desire to improve communications and learn their thoughts. It gives them time to think about what they would like to share and prepares them to verbalize their emotions.
Listen twice as much as you speak
Employees experiencing negative emotions need to be heard. More importantly, they need to see that you actively listen to their specific concerns. Listening with intent also prevents you from giving generic feedback and cliché pieces of advice. People often try to dilute their true feelings with default responses, such as saying everything is “fine” or they can “handle it.” If you listen with care, you’ll recognize the emotions behind their words – allowing you to consider respectfully pushing harder.
Look out for nonverbal cues
Practice your observation skills. A person struggling to express how they feel may not always be straightforward. It helps to observe their body language, movement, gestures, and facial expressions. Nonverbal communication can also help guide you when you are approaching sensitive topics. In some cases, nonverbal cues may invite you to ask more questions, while others may be clear signs to back off.
Focus on the problem
Focusing on past negative behavior can damage productive communication and lead you away from constructive criticism. Be mindful and respect boundaries. Give feedback that applies to the current situation. While personal issues may be the root of the problem, it’s also important for the employee to know that while you empathize, you are there to assist professionally.
Emotional exchanges require practice, empathy, and respect. It would be best to create a non-threatening environment and a consistent culture built on trust to encourage open communications.
As a former CEO and COO, I have built leaders and their teams for over 30 years. I now count top organizations among my grateful clients.
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