Putting Out “Feedback Fires” – When an Employee Freaks Out
Recently, we told you about the art of having “difficult conversations.” Today, we’re talking about what happens after you have a difficult conversation with an employee. We call these situations “feedback fires.” You think you’re doing the right thing, being caring about giving negative feedback, and still the feedback seems to spread. It could be an employee who raises his voice and everyone in the office hears him, or someone who cries and cries and won’t get it together, or worse yet, someone who gossips about your feedback to the entire office, and instills fear in those he talks to about their own performance or job security. All of these situations can be potentially harmful to you and to the business overall.
Let’s examine a few common “feedback fires” and how you can effectively deal with their outcomes:
The Firing Gone Bad
Firing an employee is never fun, no matter how much you’ve prepared. And the absolute worst outcome of any firing is an employee who yells, screams, cries uncontrollably, and makes any kind of scene in general. Because, in that moment, what you’d hoped would be a quiet and dignified conversation has just become visible to everyone in the office and no one is immune to its effects.
Handling the situation:
- Get the individual out of the building as quickly as possible. If they’re screaming, call security. If they’re crying, escort them yourself and try to be as assuring as you can about their future.
- Speak to your team immediately after the incident. There’s no use sweeping what happened under the rug and allowing the rest of your employees to wonder what really went down. Be transparent and tell your employees what happened and why. Assure them that their jobs are safe, and allow them to ask questions if they need to.
When you tell someone they need to “shape up or ship out,” even if you’re gentle, caring, and have their best interests at heart, there’s a chance that individual will feel slighted and angry rather than motivated to do better. If this is the case, they could certainly choose to spread that information around the office. Be prepared for them to call you a bitch and
Handling the situation:
- Have an open and frank discussion with the person responsible for the “feedback fire.” Tell her you care about her, and that you thought long and hard about the feedback you gave, but that you expected that feedback to remain private.
- Involve HR or another leader if you have to. Gossiping about your boss and generally causing havoc in a department is certainly a reason for reprimand officially within a company. Don’t try to go it alone if you feel the employee could have additional damage to do within your department.
Ultimately, the key to handling a feedback fire is to do so swiftly and with care and caution. Just like forest fires, feedback fires can spread quickly and without warning. It’s up to you to prevent them from spreading too fast.