I am a father of boys. They are good kids, but even they have had their share of temper tantrums over the years. The tantrums — and how to respond to them — finally made sense to me a few years ago. I watched my son’s kindergarten teacher easily handle a kid who was bright red, rolling on the floor, and screaming bloody murder.
She commanded the classroom’s attention without losing her own cool, and turned chaos into order in less than a minute. It was a brilliant lesson in leadership.
I have been fortunate enough to be the CEO of three companies, including now at Aha! and have had to deal with a few employee tantrums from time to time.
Have your own employees or co-workers ever behaved this way? An employee gets frustrated during a disagreement and loses control. He lashes out, and soon they are both screaming at each other. Other employees are paralyzed. The argument completely disrupts the natural order of the workplace, and all work comes to a stop.
You are the manager, and you must do something before the situation escalates any further. But what?
Try the kindergarten teacher’s trick. Instead of screaming to be heard, she started speaking in a gentle voice, almost a whisper. The child realized that he could not hear her unless he stopped screaming. The room quieted down. He realized that he was out of control and was mortified into silence.
You may think, “Really? I am dealing with adults here. They should know better.” But even adults can lose their cool, and some even resort to childlike behavior as a natural response.
When someone starts screaming, your first impulse may be to scream right back. Because you are the boss. That response will not work, and it puts you right in the middle of the argument — the last place you want to be.
Confident managers know that different situations call for different management techniques. So, the next time an employee starts screaming, do not scream back. Instead, get very, very quiet.
It works. Here’s why:
It has the element of surprise
The office screamer learned long ago that screaming was an effective way to get what he wanted. In some perverse way, he may even enjoy the negative attention. When you do the exact opposite of what he expects, he realizes he will not get his way. This revelation will shock him into silence.
It forces self-reflection
During the crisis, the employee temporarily forgets himself and gets lost in the drama of his own making. When the screamer realizes he is out of control, he will likely feel shame, an effective behavior modification tool. This technique embarrasses the office screamer back into compliance as he considers his error in judgement.
It models appropriate behavior
Save your breath until you have the screamer’s full attention, then deal with the problem at hand. Once he settles down, you can reinforce your expectations for behavior. Think of it as a teachable moment as you demonstrate an appropriate way to handle conflict in the office.
Managing people definitely has its challenges. Proven managers prefer that employees act like mature adults, but unfortunately that does not always happen.
When anger takes over and an employee starts yelling, an extreme management strategy like this one will help to restore order. You can remain calm and in control — even when faced with the office screamer. That’s what confident leaders do.
How have you dealt with the office screamer?