Are You Carrying A Co-Worker’s Emotional Baggage?

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PhotobucketAirlines are charging more and more for checking bags on most flights. At the office, some people check their emotional baggage for free.

When faced with an emotionally charged colleague, you’re placed in a tough spot because you want to help that person while at the same time you need to finish your own stack of important projects and tasks.

Here are four ways to handle a situation with an angry co-worker:

Think “It’s not me, it’s you”

recent study from Stanford University confirmed the use of a coping strategy in which you tell yourself that:

  1. the angry person is just having a bad day
  2. you are not the cause of the anger

I remember successfully using this concept as a customer service manager for a major airline at O’Hare International Airport when I faced irate passengers who missed their flights. While this strategy appears easier said than done, it works.

Place the behavior in context

The temptation for some people when faced with an angry person at work is to subconsciously take the burden of the depressing emotions on themselves. When you condition yourself to place the angry person’s behavior in a proper context, you can think clearly and help the other person by avoiding both of you drowning in the emotions.

Context also creates an appropriate distance between you and the situation. As a result, the spotlight remains on the other person so that you can be supportive and objective at the same time.

Connect without agreeing or solving

People who are angry clearly need someone to understand them and connect with them. Some people yell and throw things while others lower their voices to a whisper and coil into a ball of sticky emotions.

In either case, you first must choose to help them with eye contact and your full attention — not just say, “yea yea, really? hmmmm, wow, that’s wild…go on…I can’t believe that…” while typing an email. Your undivided attention does not mean you agree with what they are saying or that you will fix the problem. You are simply serving as a sounding board for a limited time.

Triage the anger to set appropriate conditions

People are creatures of habit. If someone recognizes that you will listen to them when they get angry, you could become their psychologist and a way to save $175 an hour.

In order to avoid becoming a counselor leading regular sessions for this person, assess the situation to determine if you need:

  1. Another person to sit in the office with you because you feel threatened or uncomfortable
  2. A time limit to listen to this person because you cannot afford to miss your deadlines
  3. A change of scenery to avoid the person or yourself from becoming embarrassed
  4. An additional resource to refer this person based on the nature and severity of the problem
We spend more time at work than anywhere else and must therefore rely on each other for different types of support. When you follow a structured plan for helping someone cope with an emotional problem, you are helping that individual become stronger and more appreciative of you.
Let me know how these strategies work for you.