Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

4 Steps to Take When Someone Flies Off the Handle at Work

A logo with "the muse" in white text.

You do your best to keep your emotions in check when you’re in the office. And, even if you did fall victim to having a rare emotional outburst on an off day, you addressed the situation, said your genuine apologies, and moved on.

But, what about when your co-worker or boss is the one to flip his lid in the middle of the workday? Should you respond immediately, even though he’s emotionally charged? Should you just ignore it and pretend it never happened? Should you pack up your desk, move to Bermuda, and hide for the remainder of your career?

Let’s face it—we’re all human. And, just because we all try to maintain a professional reputation in the office doesn’t necessarily mean we’re able to check all of our emotions at the door. These things happen. But, it doesn’t mean that your peers or supervisor have a free pass to constantly fly off the handle.

When someone in your office has a meltdown—particularly if it’s directed at you—you want to make sure the circumstances are handled, without signing up for a leading role in your office’s drama.

Sound impossible? It’s not! Follow these steps to effectively deal with the situation and carry on. (Or, move to Bermuda. It’s your choice.)

1. Don’t Engage Immediately

First things first, do your best not to engage when someone in your office is having an outburst. It’s easier said than done, especially if your co-worker is bellowing directly at you from across the conference room table. But, participating in a conversation (a.k.a., screaming match) with him or her will only serve to escalate the situation.

We all know that emotionally distressed people aren’t exactly capable of having rational and reasonable discussions. So, you’re simply wasting your time and breath. Whether your co-worker is sobbing or screaming, it’s important to give her some time to cool off. That way you can both come back to the situation with a clear head.

2. Analyze the Situation

Once the craziness has died down and your co-worker or boss has retreated to his desk in anger or embarrassment, it’s time for you to think about your next steps.

There’s no need to get yourself wrapped up in a situation that didn’t even directly involve you in the first place. So, take some time to consider whether or not this is something you even need to take action on.

Did this outburst directly impact you? If your co-worker was yelling and pointing a finger in your face, then—obviously—the answer is yes. But, if the hostility was directed at someone else and you were just a witness, do you really want to stick your neck out and get brought into a situation that really has nothing to do with you?

Outbursts are uncomfortable to witness, and your first inclination might be to jump up and defend a co-worker. But, make sure to evaluate the circumstances first—or you might end up having a meltdown of your own!

3. Determine Your Approach

So, you’ve decided that you just couldn’t let the situation be swept under the rug. Your co-worker or boss’ behavior crossed a line, and the idea of letting it slide and carrying on as normal immediately makes your jaw clench and your palms sweat.

What now? It’s time to figure out your best course of action. You have numerous options for handling the situation—you just need to pick the best one to address the circumstances.

If the emotional flare-up was threatening or harassing in any way, you’ll likely want to involve a superior or your human resources department. Certain actions require repercussions, and a simple “Whoops, sorry!” isn’t always enough to smooth over outrageous behavior. You might feel like a tattletale, but you deserve a workplace that isn’t hostile.

In contrast, if your co-worker or boss just got a little too heated without being aggressive or vulgar, you can likely handle that situation yourself. Rather than springing a conversation on him or her, request a time that you could sit down and chat. Then, explain how you felt that the outburst was unwarranted and how it made you uncomfortable.

Not sure what to say? Something simple like, “I understand that sometimes we all lose our cool. But, the way you reacted made me feel very uncomfortable. Can we talk about some ways that we can better communicate with each other when we disagree?” should do the trick.

Of course, you can always sit back and wait for an office peer to approach you with a humble apology. But, if the situation is really nagging at you (or, that employee has a reputation for being ridiculously stubborn), you’re better off tackling it head on to avoid letting it fester.

4. Move On

Emotions will definitely find their way into the workplace here and there, but that doesn’t mean your office needs to be tense and awkward. While your co-worker or boss’ emotional explosion served to make things uncomfortable, holding a grudge definitely won’t make things any better.

That’s right, it’s time to do the tough thing and be the bigger person. If the situation has been handled and you’ve received a somewhat genuine apology, it’s time to let it go and move on. No muttering under your breath, snarky office gossip, or refusing to work on a team with him or her. After all, what purpose do those snide remarks and passive aggressive actions serve? They’ll likely only add fuel to the fire—and maybe even inspire another outburst!

Witnessing your boss or co-worker lose his or her grip is uncomfortable—and even more so when you’re directly involved in the incident. But, don’t let your own emotions get the best of you too! Follow these steps to successfully handle the situation with dignity.

Otherwise, I hear the weather in Bermuda is nice this time of year…

Photo of man freaking out courtesy of Shutterstock.