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Dealing with a blow-out at work

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

#TLDR: #patience and #clarity can help you out of any #blowout at work

We all had that one (or more!) instance where we had to be part of an unexpected blow-out at work with a colleague (be it a direct report, peer or manager). It can be quite unnerving and the basic fight or flight response kicks in pretty quickly. However, if you lose your temper and/or objectivity, that blow-out can turn into something much bigger (and many a time, to the disadvantage of your reputation).

Being familiar with such situations (both, as an instigator and as a receiver), I have developed a simple approach (that works quite well!) as follows. In case you are mad at someone:

  1. Write out your understanding of the situation as a short email (don't send it!)

  2. Call the person and discuss if you have missed anything from your understanding (yes, being open-ended in such discussions is much more fruitful than conveying that you had made up your mind)

    1. Normally, this is the point where the other person will provide you with a missing context, data, or perception that would address your dissatisfaction

  3. In the instances when the other person agrees that you have not missed anything, ask if he/she understands why you are upset

    1. Normally, this is where the blow-out is addressed as both parties can convey their needs after having arrived at the common page around the situation at hand

It can also happen that you are at the receiving end of a blow-out. In such cases, here is my approach.

  1. Call the person and understand where the blow-out is coming from. At this time, your role is only of a listener and an occasional question for clarification. End the call by stating, you will get back soon.

  2. Collect your thoughts and data to analyze if the blow-out is justified or not

  3. Write a short draft email (but don't send it!) explaining your understanding (and also corrective steps if there are indeed gaps on your end)

  4. Call the person again and walk him/her through your understanding/response

By taking time to jot down your understanding, points, you are making sure that objectivity is not replaced by emotions in the discussion. By splitting the discussion into two parts, first, one to understand and second one to respond, you are creating an opportunity for both sides to calm down and think rationally.

Such an approach creates trust and mutual respect and it also saves you irritation and anxiety at work. What has been your experience with blow-outs at work? What works for you? Write us!

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