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angry1Anger is a force that can move an organization forward to improve, or, it can be a force that destroys the organization’s ability to fulfill its purpose on an everyday level. Managers play a critical role in determining which of these results will come about.

The way the manager deals with conflict and anger will set the climate for employees. Here are some helpful tips provided by Robert Bacal on dealing with the angry employee.

  • When an employee expresses anger, deal with it as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean in two weeks! By showing a desire to make time to discuss the situation, you are showing that you are concerned, and value the employee and his or her perceptions and feelings. Many performance problems reach crisis proportions as a result of delay in dealing with anger.
  • Certain situations require privacy for discussion since some people will be unwilling to air their feelings at a public staff meeting. However, if anger is expressed in a staff meeting, you can develop a positive climate in the organization by dealing effectively with it in public. One technique is to ask the angry employee whether they would like to discuss it now, or prefer to talk about it privately. Let them call the shot.
  • Always allow the employee to talk. Don’t interrupt. If they are hesitant to talk, encourage them by using a concerned, non-defensive tone and manner, and gently use questions. For example:

    You seem a bit upset. I would like to help even if you are angry with me. What’s up?

    If an employee refuses to talk about what’s bothering them, consider adjourning by saying:

    I can understand that you are hesitant to talk about this, but we would probably both be better off if we got it out in the open. Let’s leave it for a few days and come back to it

  • Then follow up on the conversation.

  • Respond to the employee’s feelings first, not the issue underlying the feelings. Use empathy first by saying something like:

    It sounds like you are pretty annoyed with me. I would like to hear your opinion.

  • Before stating “your side” or your perception of the situation, make sure you have heard what the person said. Use active listening.

    George, if I understand you correctly, you are angry because you feel that I have not given you very challenging assignments, and you feel that I don’t have any confidence in your abilities. Is that right?

  • If the employee’s perceptions do not match your perceptions express your perceptions in a way that tries to put you and the employee on the same side. Your job is not to prove the employee wrong (even if they are).
  • Trying to prove the employee is incorrect is likely to increase the anger level even if you are right.

    George, I am sorry you feel that way. Let me explain what I think has happened so you can understand my thinking. Then we can work this out together.

  • A technique used by expert negotiators is to establish agreement about something. Before getting into the issues themselves, lay the groundwork by finding something the two of you agree on. Again, the point here is to convey the message that you are on the same side.

    For example:

    George, I think we agree that we don’t want this issue to continue to interfere with our enjoyment of our work. Is that accurate?

  • At the end of a discussion of this short check in, check with the employee to see how they are feeling. The general pattern is:

    • Deal with feelings first
    • Move to issues and problem-solving
    • Go back to feelings (check it out)
    • Ask the employee if they are satisfied with the situation, or simply ask, “Do you feel a bit better?” You may not always get a completely honest response, so be alert to tone of voice and non-verbal cues.
  • If it appears that the employee is still upset or angry, you may want to let it pass for the moment. Allow the person to think about the situation away from you, THEN follow-up in a day or two. This is important because someone who is angry initially may “lose face” by letting the anger go immediately. Or, the employee might just need time to think about your discussion.

Good luck!

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If your organization should ever have the bad luck to be engulfed in a crisis, the best way to handle it is summarized in seven words: Tell the truth and tell it fast.

  1. High Feelings: A lesser known example of adroit crisis management occurred in 1993 when munitions from the World War I era were found buried in what is now a residential area of the District of Columbia. Community feelings ran very high, especially since a number of homes had to be evacuated. The army general with overall responsibility for the area took personal charge of the crisis. In addition to day-to-day crisis management, he held daily community meetings. Everyone, including the media, was invited. All questions were answered willingly and truthfully. In the end, the general earned such high marks from the citizenry that they voted to name a street in his honor.
  2. Minimize Damage:If you should have the misfortune to have to deal with a public crisis, it’s likely to be a formative experience for you and your organization. Minimize damage by making your guiding principles truth-telling and fair dealing.

Source: Adapted from Norman R. Augustine, Harvard Business Review on Crisis Management.

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