I handle deadlines. I handle minute details. I handle digging through massive amounts of data. I do not handle the emotions of others well, period. Put a sobbing blubbery mess in my cube – I completely shut down. How am I supposed to respond to that? What could I possibly say to make this person feel any better about their situation?
Or what about the snickering snide comments coming from the cube behind me? I’m sorry I’m too busy demolishing deadlines to care. Oh, but wait half the people sitting around that person is offended by the snickering. *SIGH* I don’t like mixing emotions with work unless their 100% genuine. From what I could tell this employee was being 100% genuine about being completely miserable. It hit me as extremely unprofessional to be so out of control with ones emotions. Last time I checked we employed adults, not high school kids.
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When I moved out to Reno in 2013 I really took it as an opportunity to start over, totally new. I only had to worry about where the bathroom was and point me in the direction of the coffee pot I was good to go. I have no problems feeling my own way through situations. I was a happy worker bee in my hive accomplishing my goals. Toss a few other employees in the mix, suddenly I had to worry about other people’s feelings. Or at least I thought so. But what do you do when that employee is OVERLY sensitive to the point where you can hear them sigh with discontent from across a warehouse floor full of whirring conveyer belts?
You make it explicitly clear that it is not your job to manage their emotions. As much as you want to be 110% honest, albeit borderline cruel, because let’s face it this person taxes your nerves mercilessly from 9-5 p.m., you still have to be polite about it.
#1. Emotions are indicators. There’s always another reason behind that weepy reaction. When I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture, I realized that this person was on high emotion overload because they were floundering at their job, but didn’t want to admit it. They were also feeling threatened by high performing co-workers. They were in defense mode – every little eye flick, hand gesture, tone inflection, is pain staking scrutinized for any hidden meaning. “Did that throat clearing mean I’m getting the ax?” Basically, it’s not you, it’s them. Your managerial actions are just sending them over the tipping point. Make sure your communications are crystal clear, well documented, and don’t be afraid to do your job. Not everyone will get along with your style.
#2. Set & Maintain Boundaries. If you prefer to be called Ms. Asskicker, don’t allow the overly sensitive person pull you in by calling you Imma. Watch out for little “tokens of affection” peppered all over your desk as well. These are other attempts of the overly sensitive person trying to get too personal. Its one thing to be nice and share treats, it’s another to lavish a boss with crazy gifts i.e. clothes, stuffed animals, or any non office related gifts.
Let’s get real here too, the day you take a job in management is the day you can no longer be personal friends with your staff. Trust me those relationships breakdown when you’ve got to enforce company policies, i.e. be the bad guy. It sucks when you’ve got to start making sure you’re not being “too friendly” or “playing favorites” with your staff. It’s always safer to err on the side of professionalism. It does not mean, never care about your employees or don’t be polite, keep it short and sweet. It just means don’t let them think or feel they’re best friends with the boss lady. That’s the day you can kiss their respect for you good-bye.
#3. Over-communicate. This one may be a little time consuming but it’s always worth it in the long run. It kills two birds with one stone. Over communicating allows the overly sensitive person to know exactly where they stand with you and what you expect out of them.
Bonus points with HR for it being in writing. If the problem persists, you’ve got the documentation to back up any future actions and it keeps you from becoming a broken record. If you feel you’re becoming a broken record, it’s time to get HR involved. Yes, you can have a casual conversations with HR and the employee. This allows you to have an advocate on your side backing you up while hopefully getting the message across in a non-threatening way.
#4. Set the expectation – they need to do their job. It is what you get paid for, right? Emotions can run high even in boring office environments, but if you remember points #1-3, there is no reason the overly sensitive person can’t meet their job expectations. Stay calm and document.
Thanks for checking Inside the Cube once again,