Sometimes we have no time to listen to other people’s problems, especially if it seems like an emotional rant.  I know, we as scientists think that people have to get to the point and stop wasting time, but we forget that we’re talking to people. People are ruled by their emotions. We waste enough time when we loose what’s between the words! Do you realize that only about 7% of what we say is in words, the rest is in our body language and vocal tone?! We can miss so much information! Think Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory”.

It frustrates me, because I see so many teams miss out on great work resonance and contributions because of these miscommunications! How many of you (as a manager) get that employee who comes to you hysterically screaming they have a problem and they’re looking to you to help them to solve it? It’s pretty stressful to deal with, huh? Especially when that problem doesn’t even need solving. Most of the time it’s just they’re stressed out. It’s part of the job, right?! Yes as a manager, it’s your job to solve problems. But sometimes the real problem lies within the emotional miscommunication.

So, the problem I want to address is the tone of our communication when managing teams. Okay, yah, stress is part of the job. And as we all may know, that stress is laced with a myriad of emotional expressions. To top it off, managing those emotions is really difficult not only in others, but within ourselves. Therefore, hurt feeling can arise out of those interactions. We communicate our emotions through our vocal tones and our body language. Biologically, verbal language developed long after we communicated emotions. (Check out the work by Nicolas Christakis. Great work.) So it’s extremely important that we understand that how we say something is just as important, if not more than, what we say.

So, ask yourself, when was the last time you interacted with a passive aggressive co-worker or team member? Yeah, I think we all can raise our hands to that.  It’s the all classic, “What’s wrong?” – you, “NOTHING!” -them, scenario. So how do you talk to someone like that? Well, you speak to their emotions, NOT THEIR WORDS! Once you’ve acknowledged their feelings, respond to their feelings with actions.


Let me demonstrate…”What’s wrong, Joe?”, me with an earnest look of concern.  “Nothing! I’m fine!” Joe, dramatically tapping away at his keyboard like he’s trying to squish ants on every key stroke. You see his facial expression with a furrowed brow like he’s trying to use some imaginary laser eye beam on his computer screen. It’s obvious he’s upset, right? Well, you can take his word for it and move on your merry way, but how would you feel if someone did that to you? Or you can say, “I know you say you’re fine, but seeing how you’re tapping at those keys pretty aggressively, it might suggest otherwise. How can I help you? What’s got you frustrated?”.  “I’m frustrated, because, I feel like my ideas are being ignored!”-Joe, with a pleading look of despair. You, with your eyes open wide to convey concern, say to him, “I didn’t know you felt that way. Let’s talk about those ideas.”

When you start to address the emotions, you reset that primal brain and get to the root of the problem.  You’ll miss out on critical ideas and input from members of your team if you fail to account for the human feelings.  Give it a try the next time you’ve got that emotional employee or team member that’s trying to get your attention.

Share with me your stories when you’ve had to deal with emotions in the lab. What were you or the other person feeling? How did you deal with it?