How Do You Respond to a Direct Report’s Puzzling Emotions?
You are a vice president at a regional company. You work in an office of 50 people, 12 of whom are your direct reports.
Dennis is a solid employee with a good work ethic. Lately, you have noticed that he seems distracted. He has made some errors in his work, which is not like him. While he quickly rectified the problems, you want to have a discussion with him. You stop by his workstation and ask if he could meet you in your office. You want to keep it casual.
Something Is Wrong
When he arrives, Dennis seems angry and upset — face flushed and body tense. You say, “Dennis, you are upset about something, I can tell.” Dennis quickly looks down and says through clenched teeth, “Not a problem. What’s up?”
As a manager applying Q4 leadership behavior, what is you next move?
Using a reflective statement to acknowledge Dennis’s anger was a good way to begin. It often helps diffuse anger or other high emotions, and can allow someone to vent and lower their emotional thermostat.
However, in this case, Dennis did not respond. Right now, further reflectives will not work because Dennis’s receptivity is at rock bottom. He just won’t engage if strong emotions are blocking him. It’s pointless to go on. The best thing to do is postpone your meeting. See Answer B.
One of the most important factors for communicating effectively as a leader is monitoring receptivity. If people are preoccupied by emotions that conflict with giving their full attention, you will simply spin your wheels trying to get somewhere. Sure, you can demand that a direct report sit there and go through the motions: “We’re not done here till I get to the bottom of this.” But that’s not your goal as a Q4 leader.
In this case, you have tried to engage, but you see the degree of anger in Dennis’s demeanor. By waiting even a short time, his receptivity will raise as his emotions subside. He may still be bothered by something, but he’ll probably be able to discuss it. If he doesn’t care to say, he will still be able to have a discussion about his work. As a leader, pay close attention to the behavior you observe, and monitor receptivity in an ongoing way.
While you should feel responsible for the welfare of your direct reports, Dennis’s receptivity to talk is currently very low. Even if your intentions are good, it’s useless to continue. You probably won’t learn anything worthwhile right now. Also, what if it turns out that Dennis is angry with you? Waiting for even just a short time will improve communication. See Answer B.