radical candor podcast

Podcast Season 2, Episode 16: Navigating Emotional Reactions at Work

Whether you’re the one getting emotional or you’re giving someone feedback and they react with unexpected emotion, it’s important to recognize that while you can’t control or manage other people’s emotions, you can manage your emotional reactions at work. On the final episode of season 2 of the Radical Candor podcast, Kim, Amy and Jason talk about how to navigate emotional reactions at work. The worst thing you can do is ignore emotional reactions. Emotions like anger, sadness and fear are part of the human condition, and people shouldn’t have to leave their humanity at home when they come to work.

Listen to the episode:

On the Radical Candor podcast, Kim, Amy and Jason emphasize that while you can’t control another person’s emotional reaction, that doesn’t mean you should try to avoid it. You’ve got to be present for these emotions. You can use them to better understand how your message landed, and to adjust. Instead of getting defensive, meet emotion with compassion and curiosity.

In addition, it’s important to learn to be aware of and manage your own emotions. In Radical Candor, Kim writes about a time she failed to manage her own emotions and the effect it had on her colleagues.

“‘I know what kind of day I’m gonna have by the kind of mood you’re in when you walk in the door,’ Russ told me one morning when we worked together at Google. I’ve rarely felt so ashamed. I thought I was pretty even-keeled and that I had a good poker face during tough times. He saw I was upset and gave me some credit without backing off his direct challenge: ‘You at least try not to take it out on us. But still, we all notice what kind of mood you’re in. Everybody notices what kind of mood the boss is in. We have to. It’s adaptive.’”

You don’t want to take your bad days out on your team, but nor can you hide the fact you’re not at your best. The best you can do is to own up to how you feel and what’s going on in the rest of your life, so others don’t feel your mood is their fault.

“I learned simply to say something along the lines of, ‘Hey, I’m having a shitty day. I’m trying hard not to be grouchy, but if it seems like I have a short fuse today, I do. It’s not because of you or your work, though. It’s because I had a big argument with a friend [or whatever],’” Kim explained.

If you have a truly terrible emotional upset in your life, stay home for a day. You don’t want to spread it around any more than you’d want to spread a bad virus around the office, and emotions are just as contagious as germs. Mental-health days should be taken more seriously than they are.

mental health at work

The Radical Candor Podcast Checklist

  1. Don’t think you can get away with ignoring emotions at work. You’re working with human beings, not robots. A big part of being a manager is emotional labor. You have to react compassionately to other people’s emotions without expecting them to do the same for you in return. Pause here and think about this because it’s pretty rough (and might offer a clue for you to revise how you deal with your manager). We undervalue the emotional labor of being the boss. But this emotional labor is not just part of the job; it’s the key to being a good boss.
  2. Manager, manage thyself. One of the best tools we have found is to label emotions as they arise — name it to tame it! By noticing where emotions live in your body and getting a sense of your own emotional map, you can create some space between the emotion you’re experiencing and overly identifying with it. So then you can say, rather than “I am angry” or “I’m annoyed”; “I’m experiencing anger in my body.” This is a huge shift!
  3. Meet emotion with compassion. If somebody gets upset or angry or defensive, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed in some way. It means they care about their work. That’s a good thing. Your job is to react with compassion, not to say, “Don’t take it personally.” If someone becomes emotional at work, acknowledge the emotion and ask simple questions to move the person out of the limbic system/threat zone, such as “tell me how you are feeling right now,” or “how would you like to proceed?” These have the effect of helping someone move out of threat response and into problem-solving. Acknowledging emotions is a great way to build relationships with your team, and the quality of these relationships play a vital role in your success or failure as a leader.
  4. If you’re in person, be prepared to give the person a bottle of water. The simple act of unscrewing the cap and handing someone the water allows a few seconds of space in the conversation, which is sometimes all it takes to release tension.

Additional reading:

NPR — How To Harness The Power Of Emotions In The Workplace
MITSloan Management ReviewThe Smart Way to Respond to Negative Emotions at Work
Harvard Business Review — Manage Your Emotional Culture

Radical Candor Podcast Listeners Get 10% Off The Feedback Loop


Improvising Radical Candor, a partnership between Radical Candor and Second City Works, introduces The Feedback Loop (think Groundhog Day meets The Office), a 5-episode workplace comedy series starring David Alan Grier that brings to life Radical Candor’s simple framework for navigating candid conversations.

You’ll get an hour of hilarious content about a team whose feedback fails are costing them business; improv-inspired exercises to teach everyone the skills they need to work better together, and after-episode action plans you can put into practice immediately.

We’re offering Radical Candor podcast listeners 10% off the self-paced e-course. Follow this link and enter the promo code FEEDBACK at checkout.

The Radical Candor Podcast theme music was composed by Cliff Goldmacher. Order his book: The Reason For The Rhymes: Mastering the Seven Essential Skills of Innovation by Learning to Write Songs.

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