Originally published on LinkedIN on 7/12/18 see it here
By John R. Nocero and Jennifer Rawley
John; At a meeting yesterday, Jen and I were talking about dealing with drama. As managers, we both are besieged with it, be it in the form of scope creep or missed deadlines. Maybe the most significant though is hurt feelings.
Not ours, although they could be. No, we are talking about managing the hurt feelings of our direct reports. These come in a variety of forms, often, in the form of tears. We discussed strategies of dealing with tears. Jen had witnessed it most recently so our discussion turned to some of her experiences which she describes below.
Jen: As my leadership responsibilities have grown, so too have the frequency and extent of tense conversations. While this is not unexpected, I am still surprised by the number of incidences. Most events take on a similar pattern, but periodically a display of borderline histrionics ensues. When these occasions arise, my goal first and foremost is always to do everything in my power to not exacerbate the situation. Even if the event is brought on by disciplinary action, I will typically halt that conversation. Personally, I have never had success messaging feedback or discipline once the team member has lost control of their emotions.
In my experience, most of these tearful events fall into one of the below categories and I take a slightly different approach with each;
1. True/Legitimate Crises: Thankfully, these are the rarest, but also the most difficult on both my end and the employee’s. This is a situation when something unforeseen or beyond anyone’s control has occurred and tears shed are from true sorrow. It can be due to loss of a loved one, serious diagnoses including the employee’s own physical or mental health, genuine mistakes or medical errors,and other situations of similar gravity. Most people have personally been affected by this, including me.
When these occur, I remain supportive and adjust what this support ultimately looks like to each individual person. Some want to sit quietly and collect themselves, others want to cry on my shoulder or verbalize all their anguish. I let these situations take a natural course and offer any and every resource available to help. Prioritizing the employee’s personal needs above work is key as is messaging it to them in a way that they trust and believe me. I often have to be the voice of reason and insist its ok for them to take bereavement, a personal leave, or adjust their work schedule.
2. Consequence of Poor Choices: These are usually my younger and less mature staff. Occasionally it’s a tenured employee who has managed to squeak by for too long. Situations that come to mind include those who push the limits of rules or policies and wind up terminated or have patterns of behavior that do not reflect our organization’s core values.
In the past, I terminated a young employee who was in many ways a stellar team member who worked as a registrar. However, she lacked the maturity and/or willingness to comply with the attendance policy. This resulted in an initial disciplinary warning to be issued during her new hire probation. Shortly thereafter, she had a rude exchange in the presence of a patient. The attendance issue early in her employment placed her in a final warning situation and she was terminated for the behavioral incident. During the term meeting, as the finality of the situation hit her, she broke down in my office and cried for almost an hour.
In these cases, I offer support to a point. For instance, in the above situation I offered some contacts of local staffing agencies that she could reach out to for expedited employment while she looked for another full time position. I retrieved a bottle of water and some Kleenex. I offered her to stay in my office until she felt comfortable to leave. No matter the reason, I always believe terminated employees deserve to be treated with compassion. I allow them time to calm down and any visible signs of crying to subside. I frequently offer to gather their personal belongings if they prefer to leave directly from my office rather than return to their work area in front of coworkers.
3. Drama Royals: Queens, kings, princesses, jesters- call them whatever you like, they love drama. And I can always tell who is going to fall into this crowd because the first time we meet, they will tell me in their elevator pitch how much they abhor drama. These are the individuals who either blatantly wreak havoc, or who I call “spoons” since they stir the pot amongst the team. They are often good at theatrics and can get away with nonsense for a while. Upon confrontation, they either lie, or when presented with undeniable evidence, may have a crying meltdown to gain sympathy. My tolerance level for this is slightly above 0.01% and the human in me wants to debate with them and play my own role – something like “Judge Judy” would fit for most scenarios. Nonetheless, I hold to my plan and try not to make the situation any worse. This is sometimes the hardest part of my job
The only way I know to deal with these is to maintain calmness and avoid provoking them. Once they misstep (which they all eventually do) enough to warrant serious repercussions then I take further action. When these incidents are at a level that is more trivial, I employ a firmer stance. I will provide constructive feedback and “tough love” in the hopes that the employee will step up and do the right thing moving forward. If not, many of them come to realize they need to pursue a different career trajectory. Occasionally, if the scene continues beyond a reasonable time frame I will stand up and begin physically gathering my things for “my next meeting that I am late for.” This is a time management strategy I learned from a book years ago that has served me well in a variety of situations where I need to end conversations happening in my own office.
On a personal level, my only real meltdown at work was following a significant medication error. As a clinical pharmacist, I profiled a methylprednisolone infusion for a COPD patient who required a preservative-free brand. This forced me to use a different NDC and manual entry from a 500mg vial for a 60mg dose. Ultimately, the computer system auto-populated the dose to 500mg and I failed to notice and change it back to 60mg. The patient received three infusions, eight hours apart each, before a nurse noticed the mistake. Aside from minor hyperglycemia, the patient was unharmed and – surprise surprise- breathing quite well. I was a newly graduated pharmacist and the gravity of the situation hit me hard. I went into a bathroom and tearfully shook for several minutes. After calming down, I realized how blessed I (and especially the patient) was that if I had to pick one drug to dose a patient over 10x the ordered dose, I would have picked this drug.
It didn’t happen in the presence of my supervisor, but I imagine if he had been there it easily could have. I would have needed him to listen to me and remind me everything was alright. To live and learn and move forward. I am sure that’s exactly how he would have handled it. Unfortunately, I have had other supervisors over the years that would have taken the opportunity to belittle and lecture me on my lack of attention to detail and patient safety. Such an event could have been a game-changer in my professional path. Instead of learning from my mistake and becoming a better pharmacist and healthcare leader, I might have lost my sense of self-confidence, and who knows what I would be doing today.
No matter what type of scenario and tears shed, as leaders and colleagues we have an opportunity to raise others up and support them. A wise CEO once told me to live by the rule “do the right thing.” Even when others aren’t – such as drama royals – we still have an opportunity to do the right thing and react with thoughtfulness.
John: The joy comes when you are able to implement advice this this immediately. All of us have feelings, and whether we admit it or not, we can be ruled by them if not dealt with appropriately. Treat employees like people. Our organizations and patients, depend on it.