The Hot Head

Feeling like “walking on egg shells” when counseling because you are trying to avoid a temper tantrum, then you can consider yourself an experienced manager.

If you find yourself “walking on egg shells” when counseling or managing certain employees because you are trying to avoid a temper tantrum, then you can consider yourself an experienced manager.

No one enjoys being told that they need to modify their behavior or improve their performance so dialogue involving constructive criticism is going to involve some range of emotion from mild to extreme. Professionally mature and emotionally intelligent managers are self-aware and can handle the constructive criticism without any noticeable reaction while the “Hot Head” cannot.

The Hot Head
Typically the profile I’m referring to as a Hot Head is someone that can be found to be very talented and high performing.  I am NOT referring to the out-of-control sociopath who is a danger to their managers and co-workers. The Hot Head I’m referring to tends to be the kind of highly intelligent team member that is often the creator of a better way of doing things and therefore it behooves you to figure out a way to work with them.

The Hot Head’s colleagues know and recognize them for their creativity and he/she is also very much aware of it. This awareness can oftentimes contribute to ego issues that lead them to respond adversely to constructive criticism. Rather than listen to other points of view, the Hot Head will often lash out or become surly with others who they see as doubting their abilities. They feel they’ve proven their worth and typically don’t like having their capabilities questioned.

It’s important to understand that the “Hot Head’s” mental state may have nothing to do with you or the working environment. We all start out each workday with our own particular set of issues – some bigger than others and if life throws you a curve amidst all that, there will inevitably be a reaction.

Emotionally charged employees are typically found to either react in anger or react by crying. Under stress, our natural, physiological reaction is to “fight or flight”. The person who cries under stress goes for the flight option while the angry person (the Hot Head) chooses to fight. While the dangerous employee needs to be considered a workplace safety issue, the Hot Head I’m referring to is primarily guilty of emotional outbursts and may just need some additional development to be made to feel safe and secure in their role.

Strategies for Managing:  First off if the employee’s behavior is not egregious or insubordinate, then give them an opportunity to vent their frustration. Cutting them off will get you nowhere because many frustrated employees are found to perceive that they are not being respected or heard.

Once he has vented, it’s important to show empathy for their point of view but not their emotional or angry reaction. Find common ground through establishing mutual agreement about something. For example, “Joe I believe we agree that we both want this project to be completed correctly. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Then as you achieve a calm and rational dialogue, point out that he has advancement potential based on his skill set — but promotion only happens for those who can manage key relationships. Help him see that he must learn how to invite constructive feedback, get along with others and redirect his defensiveness and aggression. 

To rise in the ranks, he will need to work on becoming more open and trusting with fellow employees. This also requires an appropriate level of self-awareness and going hand-in-hand with that is the self-confidence to seek out constructive criticism and work on improving and developing their skill set accordingly.

If you’re unable to achieve a calm and rational dialogue, perhaps you need to reschedule the counseling session to a different time to allow him to cool off and think through the issue. This requires you as the manager to follow up and generally no more than a day later. Whatever the case, do not let him off the hook. If you still find it difficult to engage in a calm and rational manner, then you are most likely going to need to reconsider the employee relationship.

Best wishes with your efforts to assist in developing your Hot Head into a productive, self-aware, team-player. If you have issues making that happen, then perhaps its time to give me a call and discuss how my team and I can find the right person for your organization.

Carlos Acosta is the Practice Leader and a Senior Managing Partner of The QualiFind Group and can be reached at 619-240-2638 or [email protected]