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How to Deal With an Emotionally Unstable Team Member

As a team leader, you may run into a difficult situation in the workplace when you’re assigned to work on a project with a coworker who is emotionally unstable. Drama seems to follow this person all around the office, leaving chaos in their wake. When your manager informs you that this person will be assigned to work on the same team project that you’re schedule to work on, you definitely won’t be doing a happy dance—deep inside you’re probably cringing. You know you don’t want to work with this person, but you know you have to. Professional Life Coach Cheryl Richardson said it best, “Just because some people are fueled by drama doesn’t mean you have to attend the performance.” This article will address how you can effectively deal with an emotionally unstable coworker who is assigned to your team project, without losing your own sanity.  

See Also: How to Know if You Are Emotionally Intelligent

1. Speak to Your Manager

One of the first things you should do is to schedule time to speak to your manager regarding your feelings in working with this emotionally unstable person. Obviously, if your manager has never seen this person acting like a drama queen, you may have some trouble proving your point about how their behavior can negatively affect the team project. Come to the meeting with some incidents in mind and express your feelings about them in a professional manner. Make sure your manager knows that you are not trying to get this person removed from the project. You simply want to discuss your concerns regarding possible issues that could arise. Additionally, you want your manager to be informed beforehand in the event that some conflicts do occur and you and the other team members need an immediate intervention.


2. Connect With a Team Member

To prevent you from having to bear the weight of this office drama yourself, connect with another team member who is professionally-minded, has a high emotional intelligence level (EQ) and is able to rationally deal with difficult people. This team member that you will be partnering with must be able to respond to people rather than react rashly during conflicts. Additionally, this person must have the ability to actively listen to others and be able to clearly communicate in a professional manner. Obviously, you need to be capable of doing the same things. This way if there ever is a dramatic episode where the emotionally unstable team member acts out and causes chaos, you will have a partner in place on the team to assist with effective conflict resolution. The main goal is to ensure that all team members interact positively so that productivity continues and the project is completed within deadlines.

3. Observe the Unstable Individual

During the process of completing the project, you will need to closely observe this individual to ensure that you are able to act quickly if any dramatic episodes were to occur. So far up to this point, you have been proactive in informing your manager and working with a team member as a partner in conflict resolution. Continue to keep that proactive mindset in place and focus on how well or not so well this unstable individual is reacting to the project work as well as how he or she is interacting with other team members. Any time you or your team partner detect even the slightest sign that a dramatic episode is on the horizon, take steps to speak to this individual by pulling them aside. Try to keep any type of constructive criticism to a private conversation with this person. You do not need any emotional outbursts spoiling the productivity that your team members are working so diligently to cultivate.

4. Check in With Team Members

Obviously you will not be able to watch each interaction with your team members at all times. You have your own work to do and do not want to micromanage the individuals who don’t need that type of oversight. In order to ensure that things on the project are moving smoothly and there are no dramatic episodes that you aren’t aware of, check in frequently with your team members. Not in a micromanaging way, but in a manner that is positive and less work related but more relationship oriented. Simply state that you want to be informed of any types of issues that may arise, due to conflicts individuals may have with other team members. It is important to maintain direct contact with your team members so that they feel safe in sharing details with you regarding conflicts that could arise.

5. Implement the Action Plan

At some point during this team project, it is highly likely that a dramatic episode will arise with this emotionally unstable individual. You have already planned and assessed all possibilities and how this drama can negatively affect the team dynamics and productivity of the project. However, you will never be able to plan for all types of dramatic episodes that could occur. When this individual does have an emotional outburst, you need to implement your action plan immediately and pull this individual aside. Try to calm this person down through decompression communication techniques by expanding your tolerance level to accept the drama that is occurring without reacting too harshly. Work with your team partner to help in calming this person down. If this teamwork approach to the dramatic episode does not work, call your manager in to speak to this individual.

6. Initiate Damage Control

This dramatic episode will have caused some consternation among your team members. Your job as team leader is to ensure that every team member remains calm and able to continue with completing project tasks. They will be calm once you inform them what has happened. You should use measured words because you cannot go in to details of your conversation with this individual and your team partner, or reveal anything else that was said when your manager arrived. However, you need to be prepared to offer some sense of order to your team members and you can do that by giving them a simple, concise and honest account of what occurred while diluting the personal details. For example, share that you understand their concerns, but that the employee was under stress and had an outburst, but will be fine and everyone needs to focus again on finishing their work on the project. Do not allow the team members to begin wasting time with gossip about this project disruption.

See Also: Workplace Bullying

Team leaders have a big responsibility in making sure team members complete projects on time. They also have to deal with relational issues among the team members and sometimes conflicts may arise. As a team leader, if you know that you are assigned to work with an emotionally unstable individual during the duration of a project, you need to be proactive in handling all possible issues. This is especially true if you have seen this person in action causing actual drama and chaotic issues in the workplace.

Remember to begin this process by speaking with your manager regarding your concerns. Working with a trusted team partner can help you to alleviate some of the potential fallout from dramatic episodes. Pay attention to what this unstable individual is doing during the project work time. Don’t forget to check in periodically with your team members to ensure they are proceeding calmly with all work issues and not being negatively affected by this emotionally unstable team member. Create an action plan where you have analyzed all possible risks and dramatic issues and diligently handle any damage control after a dramatic episode occurs.

Have you ever had to work with an emotionally unstable person in your team? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below.