No manager should begin a performance appraisal discussion without a box of tissues handy. Crying is one of the most common ways in which a flight reaction displays itself. An employee’s involuntary crying makes a difficult situation even more challenging. In this case, simply pull out the box of tissues, slide it over to the individual, give the person a few seconds to recompose himself, then carry on with the conversation.
Crying can also be a manipulative device, a way of extricating oneself from an unpleasant situation. If the crying continues beyond the point where it seems appropriate, or if the individual starts crying every time the manager presses forward to explore an aspect of unsatisfactory performance, you may be dealing with manipulative behavior instead of defensiveness. If this appears to be the case, say in a fairly stern manner, ‘‘Mary, we need to have a business discussion of your performance and the appraisal I have written about your performance. I understand that you may be uncomfortable discussing the fact that you are not performing at an acceptable level, but that is a requirement. I don’t want to reschedule this meeting, but I will if you are unable to maintain appropriate business behavior. Are you ready to continue?’’ If the person continues to behave inappropriately, stop the meeting and discuss the events with your boss, human resources manager, or other senior individual. Then set up another meeting with a human resources representative or some other senior third party present. If the inappropriate behavior again is displayed, disciplinary action is appropriate.
If the employee becomes angry, tell the individual that you are aware of his reaction. Say, ‘‘John, you appear to be getting quite angry.’’ Then wait for the response. In most cases, having someone else in a business setting point out that we are becoming angry is enough to cool things down. If this happens, as usually it will, continue with your discussion.
However, if the individual’s response is to escalate the anger, or if he continues to justify his anger, explain that his behavior is inappropriate and that you will abort the meeting unless there is an immediate change. Let the individual know that there will be serious adverse consequences unless the inappropriate behavior ends instantly. Say, ‘‘John, your anger and shouting are not appropriate in a business setting. If you are unable to control yourself, I will end this meeting and call security. Are you able to continue?’’
If the individual does not immediately change, walk out of the room and call security.