As a leader, you know that employees that are happy are typically more innovative, resourceful, and ultimately contribute to the overall success of your organization. However, in today’s post COVID world, leaders are now having to deal with individual and team communication issues in a more impersonal and virtual way. The dynamic has changed. The typical challenges associated with managing a team in person have been further complicated by employees now having to manage their environments in their home “offices.” Unspoken conversations and issues are harder to identify and triggered employees can wreak havoc on more productive members of the team if not managed well. Inexperienced and younger leaders that lack the fundamental skills to address issues or potential issues head-on will typically choose short-term conflict avoidance in an effort to keep things moving. In the long term, it’s a losing strategy.
Managing emotional states is a teachable skill and if mastered company-wide, it can create massive results. In fact, anytime an employee has experienced something negative, you can coach them with the following questions, which can be easily remembered by using the OCEAN acronym. Use it yourself first and you’ll begin to understand the nuances. Then when an employee comes to you with a situation or you have to confront a particular situation, use this framework to guide your inquiry.
- O is for observation. What did you observe? What really happened?
When an employee is involved in an emotional situation such as a disagreement with a colleague or a customer, often the employee reacts to personal misinterpretations. Have the employee write what happened – with no embellishments. Strip the statement of any interpretation. Adverbs and Adjectives are not needed here. The employee should be specific, but offer no interpretations such as “I think…” or “I guess…” Note who was there and what was said, but don’t let the employee get hung up on their interpretations of others’ comments. Often this step alone diffuses the intensity of the situation.
- C is for conclusion. What do you conclude from your observations?
We are wired to understand what we are experiencing by our past experiences. We often jump to conclusions. What did the employee conclude from their observation? It is critical to differentiate the employee’s observation from their conclusion. Have the employee take a moment to understand how much of their own opinion gets mixed in when describing anything they observe. Let the employee express as many opinions as desired.
- E is for emotion. What feeling resulted from your conclusion? What emotional state did you experience?
The goal here is to connect the conclusion that they reached with their emotional state. “When I conclude ____, then I feel____.” Feelings are what flow directly from the conclusions someone reaches about an event, and it is feelings that drive actions and behaviors. When an employee concludes something negative (“Daryl is always trying to undermine my ideas with his comments”) then he or she may go straight to anger or frustration. It is critical at this point to keep things precise. This is what was said (just the words). This is what I concluded and if I believe that this is the Truth I feel. There may be justification, precedence, etc for the conclusion and the reaction, but the goal here is to have the employee start to gain control and power over their emotional state. Instead of being furious, they can move to disappointment.
- A is for action. What action did you take from that emotional state?
There are three actions someone might take: fight, flight, or freeze. Typically you will see someone have an outburst or simply stay quiet to avoid conflict. The employee feels threatened in one way or another and that is because their conclusion about what they observed was personalized to them.
- N is for the net result. Did that action move you closer to – or further away – from your intended outcome?.
What you will find most times is that in the situation there was never an outcome contemplated in the first place. There was simply an expectation that was not met. Anytime the action is consistent with defending, protecting, or justifying a position or point of view the employee is communicating from a fear-driven place and has been triggered. As a leader recognizing that the fear has come from some distorted conclusion about something that the employee has observed can be useful in slowing down the triggered employee to become more precise in articulating what was observed and what was concluded. The opportunity for coaching here can be tremendously impactful. Work with the employee to visualize other possible responses to the exact same circumstance. One effective way to do so is to ask them to name a powerful personality either real or fictitious that they respect. Ask them how would they handle that situation. What would they say? How would they respond? In a perfect world we are all choosing actions that don’t just serve our immediate need, but actually serve others and ultimately serve the greater good.
With a little practice, The Emotional Mastery Process (EMP) can help your team members learn to ride the wave — the ups and downs that happen every day in business — on their own. Teaching them the OCEAN steps can help them to:
- Reduce the intensity with which they experience negative emotions.
- Cut the time they feel these negative emotions.
- Learn to see reactions coming and just let them pass like a wave.
- Improve working and personal relationships.
- Improve leadership skills.
Bottom line: Employees who are functioning and not “shut down” by emotions will be more resourceful, innovative, and creative because they’re in a more positive place. That will ensure better bottom-line results for companies striving to be competitive.
Written by Shasheen Shah.