What do I do if they cry

What Do I Do if They Cry?

Let’s be real. No one likes to hear what they’re doing wrong, particularly if they know you are right. Giving feedback is tough. Hearing tough feedback is even tougher. What do you do if they cry?

We hear this “What do I do if they cry?” question every time we teach the I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model in our tough conversations training. And we’ve had hundreds of managers confide that they’ve avoided giving needed feedback because the employee is a cryer.

Of course, if you avoid giving feedback because you can’t stand the drama, you’re making the problem worse. The behavior you need to change continues AND you’ve rewarded the crying behavior.

Some emotion is normal, but when someone regularly cries when receiving feedback (or regularly has extreme angry outbursts) it is often a defense mechanism. The unconscious reasoning goes something like this: “If I want my boss to leave me alone, I’ve just got to get a little emotional.”

What To Do if They Cry

We’re going to assume they’re not crying because you’re a jerk–that you’ve delivered the feedback carefully and are coming from a place of genuine concern to help the employee improve.

If your well-intentioned, well-delivered feedback still brings on the tears here are a few tips.Effective Communication Karin Hurt and David Dye

  1. Hand them a tissue and wait.
    It’s so tempting to keep talking or abort the conversation once the tears start. But here’s the deal: either one of those will limit the other person’s growth. It’s unlikely they’re going to hear anything you’re saying when they’re that worked up. Show some empathy and give them a minute to gather themselves. If they’re still struggling to get their emotions under control, you might suggest regrouping later in the day. Either way, you want to maintain a calm neutral demeanor. Crocodile tears will dry up quickly when you do.
  2. Use the I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model to notice the behavior  (a quick example)
    I (Initiate)- “I really care about you and your career and want you to be successful”
    N (Notice)- “I’ve Noticed you get emotional whenever we have a feedback discussion.”
    S (Support) “For example, in our last one-on-one you cried, and now you’re getting upset again.”
    P (Probe) “What’s going on?” (linger here)
    I (Invite) “What do you think you could do to be able to engage in these conversations in a more productive way?”
    R (Review) “Oh, I think that’s a great idea”
    E (Enforce) “So let’s debrief our next feedback conversation next week and talk about how those new strategies went.”
  3. Keep your cool.
    Emotions can be contagious. As a leader, it’s important that you keep the conversation in perspective. You’re giving them feedback because you care and want to help. Their reaction is not about you. Don’t take it personally. Calm, neutral, and curious is your mantra.
  4. Check for understanding.
    When people are in an emotional state it’s more important than ever to ensure they’ve heard you. Once they’ve calmed down ask them to recap what they’ve heard and what they’re committing to do differently (Review), and set up a time to connect again to assess progress (Enforce).

Your turn.

What is your best advice for dealing with a frequent cryer at work?

The Surprising Way to Encourage Disengagement

Within three years, Mike had gone from an excited, creative new hire full of passion, energy and ideas, to a guy with one foot out the door with disengagement like carbon monoxide: invisible and impossible to smell. Here is his story.

My first year, my ideas and alternative views were “refreshing.” I was quickly viewed as a rising star and invited to the right meetings. I was pleased to be rewarded with the coveted “exceeds expectations” rating. I was constantly looking for ways to improve our processes and make the company better. The next year, I guess I got a little too comfortable with sharing my opinions. In hindsight, I could have positioned them better, but I was saying what needed to be said. And every time I left a meeting the level above (except my boss) would thank me for speaking the truth. I just cared so much about our cause and was attached to our vision.

I received a “developing rating” that year.  That’s when I knew I was going to have to leave, but I wanted it to be on my own terms. I decided the only way to survive was to just stop caring. And that’s what I did. I buried my passion and I went along, even if I knew a better approach. And that year, I was once again given the rating of “exceeds expectations.” I “exceeded expectations” by caring less, offering less, and doing less.”

Mike’s boss made a point to chime in on the appraisal with a comment: “It’s nice to have you back.”

Mike is convinced his secret was subtle, but I doubt it. I imagine other box 9 candidates with great ideas vicariously got the “settle down” message and stiffled their enthusiasm as they polished their resumes.

It’s easy to think of engagement as everyone singing along with a merry smile.

Dig deeper. Your most engaged players may be the naysayers. They may need some polish, but be careful not to rub off their passion and value in the process.

An Easy Way to Discuss Dysfunctional Behavior at Work

Whether your team is just starting up, or has the battle scars of a team fighting for results, they need to find a way to talk about the behaviors getting in their way. Great leaders look for ways to make this conversation easier.

Dysfunctional behavior can be hard to talk about because it feels so personal.  Many times people wait to have important difficult conversations until the issue has escalated. It’s harder then.

A Functional Conversation on Dysfunction

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Plato

I like to use this exercise early in a team’s formation to get folks talking about common experiences and appropriate remedies as early in the game as possible. This conversation also provides a safer feeling infrastructure to surface important dynamics a mature team needs to share without direct confrontation.

Step 1:

Give every team member 6-7 Post-it notes. Ask them to identify the behaviors that (in their experience) most get in the way of results or team progress. It’s important to tee-up that this is based on a lifetime of experience, not just this team. Then ask them to write one behavior on each Post-it.

Step 2:

As team members are ready, have them bring their Post-it notes to a wall or white board and begin to self-organize them into clusters. Enjoy the banter as the clusters form.

Step 3:

Circle the biggest dysfunctions.

My experience shows they will read something like this (I’d love for you to share your findings):

  1. Arrogance (by a landslide)
  2. Unmotivated (and/or lazy)
  3. Self-serving motives and actions
  4. Lack of communication
  5. Disrespect
  6. Stubborness
  7. Drama
  8. Anger-bullying
  9. Passive-Aggressive

Step 4:

Take the top few categories and invite the team to share what they would do when encountered with such scenarios. Encourage them to share stories of best practices they’ve used in the past.

Step 5:

Develop a set of standards or team norms for how such issues would be addressed if they were to occur on this team. Encourage the sharing of stories from best experiences and overcoming dysfunctional behavior.

It’s very important for teams to talk about their own dysfunction. But early in the game, it may be easier to talk about standards and stories to establish a framework for the future.