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Ultimate Software, a Tech Company Ahead of the Rest

Ultimate Software, a company that provides Human Resources solutions, is way ahead of the competition. Boasting nearly 50% female leaders in an industry where that number is in the single digits is a testament to the company’s lifelong focus on equality and inclusion. This is what makes Ultimate different!

Ultimate Software is the 2019 Red Shoe Movement Tech Lead. And there couldn’t be a better partner. They lived by our 7 Red Shoe Principles even before they ever met us! The strength of our partnership is evidenced in our interview with two of Ultimate’s top talent, Cecile Alper-Leroux, VP of HCM (human capital management) Innovation, and Heather Geronemus, Senior Manager of Media and Community Relations, who share what makes Ultimate a frontrunner for advancing women’s careers in tech.

Valeria Mendoza— When you think about female leadership at Ultimate Software, what do you see that is different from the tech industry?

Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software

Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software

Cécile Alper-Leroux—

At Ultimate, half of our employees are women, and approximately 48% of our leaders are women. It has always been that way, since our inception over 28 years ago (we began with four employees: two women and two men). That is a remarkable state of affairs in any industry, but it is unheard of in the tech industry!

Ultimate offers a unique working environment, where women feel they have an equal voice in decisions and are more likely to voice their opinions, disagree, or raise alternate suggestions, without fear of repercussions. Women feel they belong and are welcomed and encouraged tobring their best selves to work. It also means that we have a broader, and I believe, more innovative view of the future of work. Our HR management products are in large part being chosen by women decision-makers, and we believe we can always be better. Including other voices and viewpoints that influence our product creation and services strategy makes our product more competitive.

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software, honored on 2019 Hall of Fame

VM— Can you share the story of a successful stretch assignment you had at Ultimate Software?

CAL—The most satisfying stretch assignment I’ve been given at Ultimate was to create a new team—the HCM Innovation team. We knew that, to make the thought leadership applicable for our sales teams, we would have to connect future and theory with the concerns of decision-makers in our prospect and customer organizations today. Because I was given significant creative license, we created a center of excellence and knowledge that has helped not only our standing in the marketplace, but has also elevated the conversations our employees have with customers and prospects. That is helping to shape the conversation about the future of work in a rapidly changing world. If I had not had a leader who trusted me and was patient as we designed the new function, we would not have had the courage to push our limits.

VM— Which ones of the RSM principles do you relate to most and why?

CAL—I relate most to principles 1 and 5, because I believe that they are inextricably linked and can have a significant impact on women at work. Principle 1: “Mentor younger or less experienced women whenever you have a chance.” Mentoring women is important, for all women at all levels and stages of their careers. I’ve learned from every mentoring relationship I’ve had, whether I was the mentor or mentee. Mentoring others helps us crystallize our thoughts and refine our beliefs, which makes us better mentors. Every person can use support and mentorship in their work lives, as it provides a necessary alternate perspective and enriches our thoughts. But I believe mentorship is a critical first step for women’s careers, and we all need to take the next step to become sponsors of the women we mentor. Principle 5: “Celebrate the accomplishments of women publicly.” Sponsorship is more than a one-on-one relationship. It requires a public endorsement of another person. It becomes a relationship in which a sponsor advocates for the mentee/sponsee to propel them forward in their careers. It requires a sponsor taking on the risk of publicly endorsing someone else, and the effect can be career- and life-changing. We need more sponsors for less experienced women in the workplace to ensure a future with equal representation of women in leadership roles.

Ultimate Software team

Ultimate Software team

VM—What is the mission of the group Women in Leadership at Ultimate Software?

Heather Geronemus of Ultimate Software

Heather Geronemus of Ultimate Software

Heather Geronemus—The mission of Women in Leadership is to help women at all stages of their careers at Ultimate reach their maximum potential and support one another. One of the most inspiring traits of female leaders at Ultimate is their willingness to spend time mentoring other women in the company. No matter how busy they are—whether it’s through our formal mentoring program or simply taking the time to give advice, provide encouragement, or answer questions—they’re always available or willing to make time. Our leaders are constantly helping the next generation of Ultimate leaders thrive. They are genuinely warm, caring women who are always ready to share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues, whether they have been with Ultimate for years or days.

VM—Can you share some of the benefits you derived from being part of the group?

HG— There are countless benefits to being part of the Women in Leadership (WIL) group at Ultimate Software. We provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, service to our communities, and networking with peers. I recently participated in one of our mentoring cohorts both as a mentee and a mentor. Without a doubt, this was one of the most rewarding opportunities WIL has provided to me. Naturally, the ability to have a mentor was amazing. But, the most surprising part of the experience was learning how much I had to offer my own mentee who is in a completely different part of the company than I am, and, more importantly, how much we were able to teach each other. Additionally, as a leader in the WIL organization, I have grown tremendously. Working and collaborating with a group of inspired, passionate women who are dedicated to helping other women at our company thrive has been so rewarding.

On March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day, Ultimate Software’s employees and customers join the Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas. They will conduct bell-ringing ceremonies in 18 locations in North America, Europe and Asia! On this day, a company whose color is green, is stepping into red shoes, ties and accessories to support our mission to accelerate the representation of women at the top. That’s just how they roll. Welcome aboard Ultimate Peeps!

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer

 

 

 

Solutions to Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace

Ready to move beyond pointing fingers to find effective solutions to promote gender equality in your organization? Here’s how!

The conversation about women in the workplace has intensified and with it the need to find solutions to promote gender equality in the workplace.

The #MeToo movement brought to light a slew of stories that hadn’t been told. Or that hadn’t been heard, rather. It opened a can of worms but it also opened a dialogue that had been off limits for a long time. Granted, a lot of pain and discomfort results from these conversations but the search for real solutions to promote gender equality has started in earnest. Not that it wasn’t something many organizations hadn’t been working towards for many years. Yet this time a larger number of companies seem to have realized it’s critical to their survival.

How to Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace

Most organizations are doing their best to level the playing field for everyone. Yet they still face unsatisfactory ratings from their associates. Or female talent that gets stuck in middle management. Or a large percentage of women who leave the company at faster rates than their male counterparts. What to do when it seems like you tried everything and have little to show for your efforts?

The RSM Circles are one of the effective solutions to promote gender equality in your workplace.

The RSM Circles are one of the effective solutions to promote gender equality in your workplace.

3 Solutions to Foster Gender Equality

1Ask the right questions

Don’t assume you know the answers to what the problem is. Or that you read some research and that’s exactly what’s happening in your workplace. And don’t just send out a survey. After having responded to many of them, most people are frustrated with the lack of action taken as a result of the findings.

Seek to understand from one-on-one meetings and small groups. Conduct comprehensive exit interviews with women and find out why they are leaving. Now, making sure you ask the right questions is key to identifying the real problem. When in doubt, consult with a few trusted female associates.

2Design to promote inclusion

If you’re truly interested in solutions to promote gender equality, in other words, in fostering inclusion, you can design for it.

  • From the way in which you conduct your hiring to the words you use in your job postings. You could scan your postings for wording that tends to attract one sex over the other and adjust accordingly. Adjectives like “highly competitive” and “ambitious” tend to attract men. Others such as “empathetic” or “community oriented” tend to attract women.
  • From the approach you use to give performance feedback to female employees to how you define cultural fit. Research shows that supervisors of both sexes tend to give personality-driven feedback to women and performance-driven feedback to men.
  • From how you talk about statistics to how you talk about leaders. When you constantly emphasize the small number of women CEOs you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women perceive it’s not a job for them and men confirm their unconscious biases that this is a role for their gender mates.

Every aspect of your organization can be evaluated for unconscious biases and solutions can be designed to override any biases.

3Offer your female talent the resources to reach equality

Although reaching equality should not be the “job” of any woman but a given in the workplace, part of it still falls on women’s lap.

Given women’s upbringings and the social norms we adhere to, most of us are conditioned to behave in a certain way. When you add the expectations of different cultures you have a collection of behaviors that may get in the way of success.

For example, Chinese women are raised to revere seniority and keep their distance but in Corporate America they are expected to approach senior executives at events in order to develop strong networks.

One of the best ways to resolve this is by providing women with the right tools to negotiate, navigate politics and power dynamics. To help them build resilience and confidence in order to break away from social and cultural norms that may keep them from reaching their full potential. And helping female talent feel like they belong in your company and that they can reach executive levels, is one of the best solutions to promote gender equality.

Of course, different sized companies will need different solutions. Let’s start tailoring them to the smallest organizations.

Finding solutions to promote gender equality is everyone's responsibility.

Finding solutions to promote gender equality is everyone’s responsibility.

How to Promote Gender Equality in Small Organizationes

If you’re serious about finding solutions to promote gender equality the first item to consider is the size of your company. Smaller organizations may find it easier to establish simple measures to reach gender equality.

Here are a few solutions that will help you level the playing field

  • Set up a specific salary range per band or position and make sure everyone within the band/role gets paid equally.
  • Design a questionnaire for each job application and make sure you ask every applicant the exact same questions in the exact same order. Assign a point range per question, for example 1-5. Then have a third person add up the points for each candidate and pick the one with the most points for the position. If it’s a tie, you may want to select the person who would best balance your current gender distribution at the level you are hiring.
  • Switch around the time and day of the week of your networking events so everyone can attend. This way, women who may be responsible for their family after hours, can also attend and benefit from strategic networking.

If you feel you need a more comprehensive solution, take a look a the RSM Programs.

Persistence with your gender equality strategy plays a key role in seeing results.

Persistence with your gender equality strategy plays a key role in seeing results.

Solutions to Promote Gender Equality in Medium to Large Companies

Now if you work for a larger employer, thesesolutions are intrinsically more complicated. Years of unchecked unconscious biases, long-established procedures, unwritten rules, and favoritism make it tougher to find effective strategies. When you add women’s general reluctance to rock the boat plus the double bind they face if they do, you have yourself a complex situation.

This collision of circumstances is what the Red Shoe Movement can help you resolve. Our diversity and inclusion solutions will strengthen women’s self agency and sense of belonging to your organization. Read more about our solutions here.

We find (and research supports it) that effective solutions to promote gender equality are never one-offs. They are never made up of one program or one initiative. They are part of a strategy that impacts your entire organization over time.

They come after a good assessment of where you stand in terms of gender inclusion and they involve the commitment of leaders at all levels. You can’t expect things to change by only offering leadership development for your female talent. Just as you can’t expect results by only focusing on discussing the problems and never acting on them.

Only when you look at your organization as a whole, layout a coherent strategy to work with all the stakeholders and persist, will the solutions to foster gender inclusion bear positive results.

How To Hire Culturally Diverse Employees: The Top Diversity Hiring Practices

If you are looking to hire culturally diverse employees, here are five diversity hiring practices that have been proven to work. Try them out.

When looking to hire culturally diverse employees many discover that it’s not that simple. Standard hiring practices may leave a recruiting pool dry and leave you empty-handed. But don’t despair, here are five surefire diversity hiring practices you can implement right away.

5 Diversity Hiring Practices Proven to Help You Hire Culturally Diverse Employees

If you’re reading this, you are probably well aware that companies that do not hire culturally diverse employees are missing out on top talent. Test run these top diversity-hiring practices on your organization. Measure your results. And remember, if you need help, I am just a stone throw away.

Top hiring practices: Should you consider cultural fit? Click to keep on reading!

Top hiring practices: Should you consider cultural fit?

1Avoid Unconscious Biases Using Blind Resumes

Research has shown that resumes with white sounding and male names command more attention and hiring rates than black-sounding or female names on the exact, same resume.

Researchers from the University of Chi­cago and M.I.T. landmark study showed that “Those with ‘‘white’’ names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews than those with ‘‘black’’ names.” – NY Times.

You’ve probably witnessed this phenomenon in your recruiting career, right?

The same happens with top tier universities and with certain revered organizations. Undoubtedly, despite all good intentions to hire culturally diverse employees, unconscious biases are at play here.

Why?

Because we tend to feel more comfortable with people who are like us.

This is one of the main reasons why your company keeps hiring people who look and sound alike. They grew up in the same area of the country, went to similar schools, worked in organizations with a similar culture.

But if you want to attract employees that are more culturally diverse you have to be more vigilant of your biases towards specific backgrounds. You have to do whatever it takes to hire different people from the ones that currently populate your office.

Here is where this top diversity hiring practice comes in. Grab the bull by the horns and blind all resumes.

How?

  • Request applicants to submit resumes without the name of the university they graduated from.
  • Assign numbers to everyone who applies so that you can’t tell whether they are male or female.
  • Put everyone through the interview process and select the winning candidate regardless of background or gender.

But you must watch out for pitfalls here. An HR executive – client of mine from a large multinational company – wanted to eliminate a prevalent cultural bias as most of her workers were recruited out of the same three elite universities. She followed this exact process to increase the hiring of culturally diverse employees.

5 Diversity Hiring Practices Proven to Help You Hire Culturally Diverse Employees. Role of unconscious bias.

5 Diversity Hiring Practices Proven to Help You Hire Culturally Diverse Employees. Role of unconscious bias.

At the end of 5 rounds of interviews, when the top three finalists were selected, she revealed to the hiring committee the schools they had graduated from. None of them were from these three prestigious schools. The committee suggested to scrap that search and to start all over again because the candidates would not be “a cultural fit.”

This could be one of the challenges that you may have to overcome if you’re committed to hiring culturally diverse talent. Make sure everyone in your organization is aligned with your good intentions.

How did the story of the HR executive’s intervention end? She stuck to her guns and hired the top three finalists.

The result?

20 years later all of them had built stellar careers within her organization.

These culturally diverse employees are a clear example that blinding resumes is a sound diversity hiring practice. It enables recruiters to hire the best people for the job keeping unconscious biases at bay.

Bundle Job Searches to Increase Your Diverse Hires. Discover other top recruiting practices to hire culturally diverse employees.

Bundle Job Searches to Increase Your Diverse Hires.

2Forget Cultural Fit. Create Structured Interviews.

Businesses have long glorified the cultural fit. Unfortunately, that’s often code for “the candidate we hire must be white” or “male” or “white male.”

This insistence on cultural fit – in spite of what research shows – is one of the reasons organizations are so slow to reach gender parity and inclusion at the highest levels of decision-making.

“Why do we stick with a method that so clearly does not work, when decision aids, including tests, structured interviews, and a combination of mechanical predictors, substantially reduce error in predicting employee performance? The organizational psychologist Scott Highhouse called this resistance “the greatest failure of I-O [industrial and organizational] psychology.” – Harvard Business Review

Structured interviews will help overcome this bias and build a more robust and culturally diverse institution

Here is how to implement this hiring practice:

  1. Establish a set of relevant questions for the roles you are looking to fill and always ask every candidate these same questions in the exact same order.
  2. Assign a value to each question. For example: You can rate each answer on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being unacceptable/inappropriate/no match to position/absence of skill, and 10 being optimal/perfect match of requirements for position.
  3. Have one person conduct the interview and rate each question answered by the candidate as the interview takes place.
  4. At the end of all interviews, pass on all the interviews with their rated answers to a second person. Perhaps your assistant. Have them calculate the best performing candidate and tell you who the finalist is.

This eliminates potential hiring mistakes that are frequently made when employees get selected because the hiring manager “connected” with them over things such as having played the same sport in school or supporting the same non-profit organization. Therefore, it helps you decide more objectively who gets the job.

This simple act allows your good intention of hiring more culturally diverse talent to win over your unconscious biases.

3Bundle Job Searches to Increase Your Diverse Hires

It’s easy to hire the same type of person over and over again when you hire for one position at a time.

Hiring managers may unconsciously believe that a man or a woman or someone from a specific ethnic background would be better suited for a specific role, perpetuating imbalances by continuing to hire according to the stereotype for said position. For example, hiring Asian employees for tech positions and Hispanics for customer service.

How do we work around this particular bias?

Research has shown that by grouping or bundling all searches for similar roles it’s easier to notice the mix of people you’re hiring and whether you’re embracing culturally diverse employees.

There is a similar research that shows that when people are asked to pick a snack and they do so day after day, they tend to eat more sweets and junk food than when asked to choose all of their snacks for an entire week. The selection then becomes more diverse and it includes healthier options.

The solution here is simple and self-evident. Rather than hiring for one position at a time, survey the different business units or departments in your organization for other positions to fill. Then, conduct a larger search to hire for multiple positions at once. You will notice a pool of hires that is much more culturally diverse.

Discover how to hire culturally diverse employees.

Discover how to hire culturally diverse employees.

4Encourage Your Current Diverse Talent to Provide Referrals

Have you noticed how in an area where there were no Ecuadorians or Chinese people at all, suddenly there’s a whole community of them?

It’s human nature. Those who have already settled in a town tell their families and friends about current job opportunities and quality of life. Consequently, the new immigrants settle where they can find jobs and they already have a support system via a group of people who share their culture.

You can replicate this timeless phenomenon to attract more culturally diverse employees.

Here’s how: Ask your current staff to refer qualified candidates for any current open positions.

You are likely to see your culturally diverse recruiting pool increase substantially within a short period of time. The added advantage is that those who already work for your organization will collaborate with the on ramping of their colleagues. They will introduce them to their networks and share company policies and any unwritten rules.

It’s pretty common practice for companies to ask their employees to refer others for open positions. Just cast a wider net and enjoy the benefits of a more culturally diverse workforce.

Mariela Dabbah reveals the secrets to hiring culturally diverse employees.

Mariela Dabbah reveals the secrets to hiring culturally diverse employees.

5Retention of Your Current Diverse Talent Is Priority One

Now, for the final diversity hiring practice and a big bonus if correctly implemented:

Having a good retention plan in place before you hire substantial numbers of culturally diverse employees is a must.

Why?

First, because you don’t want to lose the talent you so painstakingly acquired. But also because diverse talent tends to feel more comfortable working for organizations that value inclusion. They are more likely to check out your reputation before they apply. If you have lackluster numbers and a reputation for not offering true career paths to women or culturally diverse employees, you’re less likely to succeed in attracting top diverse talent.

So, put your house in order before you venture out to hire new staff.

  • Make sure that you walk the talk
  • Offer stretch assignments and opportunities for relevant exposure to women and diverse talent
  • Align their interests with the type of work they do for your organization
  • Use transparency in your compensation and promotion practices
  • Make all your talent feel respected

We hope these top diversity-hiring practices help you hire culturally diverse employees. Put them in practice and always remember I am here to support your efforts.

Book a 1-hour consultation with me and get unbiased D&I, Career Development & Leadership advice. Ask all the questions you have!

5 Easy Ways to Eliminate Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threats are real. They affects performance and morale. Luckily, research shows you can drastically reduce their impact with pretty simple interventions. Read on!

Defined as “a situational predicament in which individuals are at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their group,” stereotype threats have a harmful effect on women in the workplace.

Red Shoe Movement’s Principle #7 Addresses Stereotype Threat

Labels refer to any word or expression we use (even tongue-in-cheek) that has an overt or subtle derogatory undertone: Bitch, bossy, competitive, etc. These labels reflect deep-held beliefs we contribute to perpetuate every time we use them. So when women don’t conform to the social norm expected of them and are interested in power, or when they are decisive and have a strong will to carry out their vision, we collectively bring them down a notch or two by calling them names.

In other words, certain expressions can have very detrimental —even if unintended— consequences. Identifying this effect goes a long way to changing our choice of words.

Principle 7 of the Red Shoe Movement deals with stereotype threat

Principle 7 of the Red Shoe Movement deals with stereotype threat

With the help of a nuanced infographic created by Catalyst, we review how to flip five common labels used on women to reduce stereotype threat.

1She’s Too Abrasive or She’s Too Aggressive

This is a case of damn if you do, damn if you don’t, if there ever was one. Women are told that they need to be assertive and express themselves and what they want clearly. Yet, when they do, they are penalized for not being warm and fuzzy. Finding the sweet spot can be quite hard.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than focusing on their style you should focus on their work performance.

In addition: Some research shows that when it comes to feedback, women get more negative personality criticism than men. Things like: “You can come across as aggressive sometimes.” So may I also suggest that you think twice before providing this kind of feedback? Would you say the same thing to Tom that you’re about to say to Lisa? That’s an easy way to assess if you’re about to fall into a stereotype threat.

Knowing the stereotype threat definition helps you guard off any words that may lead to it

Knowing the stereotype threat definition helps you guard off any words that may lead to it

2She’s So Helpful

One of the ways in which organizations can facilitate the promotion of women to positions of more responsibility is by creating opportunities for exposure. Those seldom lie in a support position. When women are viewed as part of the “back office” or the support team, they are less likely to be perceived as leadership material. So although it’s good to appreciate the support of your team members when warranted, if that’s all you do for them, they won’t go as far in their careers as they could.

Solution

Catalyst: When you speak of the women in your team, be specific about their contributions.

In addition: Find real opportunities for every woman on your team to develop and exercise leadership skills regardless of their position. Admins and support staff can be put in charge of leading projects that give them the exposure they deserve. You might be surprised at how people rise to the occasion once you raise your expectations.

Flip the Script Women

Courtesy Catalyst

3She Gets Overly Emotional

I don’t need to tell you that women tend to be more in touch with their emotions than their male counterparts. Or that often, when we are angry we cry. And although this may be a biological response, both tears and displays of anger in the workplace tend to be frowned upon. When it’s women who are doing either, obviously. The social norm that affects men expects them to exhibit anger, assertiveness, and aggression as part of the attributes of male leadership. Not so much for women.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than calling her “emotional” take the time to describe to women the consequences of their behavior.

In addition: Help them learn to explain the reason for their tears while they are shedding them, so their audience is aware they are not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of anger, frustration, etc. Help your male employees identify their different responses to anger when expressed by each gender so they understand women can get angry yet be effective leaders.

4She Lacks Leadership Gravitas or She Lacks Executive Presence

This is frequently code for “she doesn’t look like the current leadership,” which tends to be white, and male. This expression particularly affects women of color because they face a double whammy. Gender and race or ethnicity. It’s trully quite a stereotype threat when you wish to promote more women to the top.

So if you are truly committed to diversity and inclusion at the top of your organization, the current leadership will have to look beyond the traditional definition of executive presence.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than just crossing a woman off explain exactly what you mean.

In addition: If you continue using the old definition of the attributes, abilities, experience you look for in a leader, you’ll probably continue to recruit the same type of person. Get rid of unstructured interviews where “cultural fit” can become an unspoken way to hire people who look like you or your current leadership team. Instead, create a list of specific requirements for the position and a list of questions that you ask all interviewees. Assign points to each answer and have someone else tally all the answers from all interviewees to get you the finalist. There are many concrete, simple interventions you can implement to make sure you hire the best person for the job rather than someone who fits some old stereotype.

5She’s Too Judgmental

Often, when women give critical feedback others consider her incompetent. This stereotype threat undermines women’s leadership chances.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than making it about her leadership style, focus on whether she’s demonstrating good judgment.

In addition: Everyone should understand that human beings are all judgmental. We can’t see the world other than through our individual lens. That lens places a layer of judgment on everything as we can only perceive people, circumstances and situations through our own experiences, emotions, knowledge, culture, social context and so on. So, rather than impose another stereotype threat, which might stop women’s impetus to grow, why not acknowledge that we are all equally judgmental.

As I said in a recent post about an entirely different subject, words matter. They build our reality. Choosing the right ones will guarantee we create a more promising future for everyone.

5 Tips for Dealing with Emotional Outbursts at Work

Supporting someone’s ambitions when they have emotional outbursts at work is a challenge. But that’s exactly the time when you get to show your leadership.

Dealing with emotional outbursts at work is never easy. I give you that. But it’s a chance to show your leadership chops. Will you put the good of the team above your own ego or will you give into your own need to establish your authority?

Parody of The Scream by artist Meowza

Parody of The Scream by artist Meowza

Emotional outbursts have a way of arising in the least practical moments. Naturally, when people are most stressed over important deadlines or key decisions or situations, there’s a tendency for emotions to flare up. Or for any little thing to become the straw that breaks the camel’s back, which results in an unpleasant emotional outburst.

I recently finished a mayor project, a milestone in my career. A day 20 years in the making, let alone the several weeks leading to the celebration for which I had invested lots of preparation and energy. The day was here and everything was going smoothly. Then suddenly, one of my team members confronted me with the fact that I was not treating her the way she expected to be treated. She was having an emotional breakdown over this. It stopped me in my tracks. Really? At the very moment when I was celebrating a major achievement I had to deal with an emotional outburst? Well, that’s exactly how it usually goes, isn’t it? When you least need it… But then again, what is the right time for emotional outbursts in the workplace?

Here’s a post on Recognizing a Hostile Work Environment you might like.
Resolving conflict inspirational quote - Listening, honestly listening, is a critical piece of resolving conflict

How good a listener are you?

I realized immediately that to deal with my own stress that day I had adopted a “shorthand” style of communication that came across as imperative. I trusted that my colleague would be able to decode the fact that this was a temporary style change due to the demanding circumstances I was facing. (My bad, because we didn’t know each other that well yet.) I apologized right away. But she wouldn’t stop.

I could see that something else was at play with her. Regardless of what her perception was of how I treated her, I’m also aware that nothing I did deserved such an overreaction. I may have been short. Never abusive. And nothing that would justify such an emotional outburst. Nothing that couldn’t have waited a couple of hours to get resolved.

5 tips for dealing with emotional outbursts in your organization

This topic is particularly relevant when managing Latinos and other ethnicities who are known to have a more passionate communication style. At times that passion may come across as an emotional outburst when it’s only an expression of what they care about. And the truth is that you don’t want to eliminate passion from the workplace because it is what moves people and in the end, what makes it an interesting place to work. But there’s a difference between expressing your emotions and having an emotional outburst. So your role is to help people learn to modulate their emotional temperature to be more effective communicators.

These are 5 of the actions that have served me well whenever confronted by emotional outbursts in a professional setting.

1Breathe

Yup, that’s my first suggestion. Breathe and center yourself. Be present. Let go of whatever else is going on and focus on the here and now. On this person in front of you (or on the phone) who, if not dealt with in an adequate fashion, might turn a bad situation into a much worse one. After you focus for a moment you might decide this is not your biggest problem right now, and that’s fine. But you need to take a couple of breaths to decide that.

2Give people the benefit of the doubt

Head of a Woman by Pablo Picasso at the Met

Allowing the expression of emotions in the workplace is important. It’s emotional outbursts that we must learn to control.

All of us, particularly women, are subject to so many pressures from so many fronts all the time that there are likely many aspects of their lives you ignore. We expect people to leave their personal problems at the door but if people did that, you’d be working with robots. So you have to take individuals as a whole. And again, emotions are good indicators of what people care about. We are only talking about their most extreme expression. That’s why my next suggestion is that when someone behaves inappropriately you give them the benefit of the doubt at least once.

Faced with emotional outbursts or overreactions, stop for a second and entertain the possibility that there might be something else at play that has nothing to do with you. Not that this gives people a pass to have an emotional flare up at work but it may help you better understand their circumstances and be more lenient. You still will need to have a conversation about modulating emotional temperature and not taking things so personally. But it will help you put away your own feelings and temptation to overreact yourself.

3Don’t add fuel to the fire.

Emotions quote by Maya Angelou - People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel

When an emotional outburst makes someone feel horrible, they will remember and it will affect your professional future.

Listening, honestly listening, is always a critical piece of resolving conflicts. And for that to happen, the person who is having the emotional outburst needs to feel she’s not being ignored. At this point, avoid debating, contradicting or asking for explanations. Admit that you hear what they are saying and that this is not the right time to discuss the topic any further. Make sure the person understands this is not a delay tactic but a commitment to address the issue at a more appropriate time. Then, follow through.

4Don’t draw lines in the sand.

When someone is pushing your buttons at the wrong time it obviously requires a good amount of self-control to avoid the need to give ultimatums and draw lines in the sand. Once again, a trait shared by strong leaders and which reveals solid executive presence in those aspiring to be leaders. So exercise self-control for a better outcome.

5Have the conversation

Set up the meeting to have the conversation you promised them and calmly ask the person to reflect on what happened that day. Let them come to the realization that regardless of who was right or wrong, there is no room for emotional outbursts at work. This is a chance for them to identify their own triggers and find ways to better manage stress and deal with conflicts to avoid future emotional outbursts.

Overcoming emotional outbursts quote - This too shall pass... so take a deep breath

Leaders have a chance to show their skills when they deal well with emotional outbursts

During this conversation, you might want to share some of the consequences of emotional outbursts in a professional setting:

  • Erosion of professional reputation
  • Perception that she lacks self control, therefore executive presence and potential loss of future opportunities
  • Damage to one’s personal brand
  • Damage to team morale
  • Don’t miss this HBR wonderful piece on emotional outbursts!

Since the day of the emotional outburst my colleague has produced great work for me. It was a learning occasion for both of us but it has undoubtedly planted red flags in my mind in regards to assigning her future high stakes projects. And this is the message you must strive to convey to women in your team. When you give into the heat of the moment and have an emotional outburst at work, you impacting your career long term. So think twice before you jump off the deep end.