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I have a coworker who produces good work, but is difficult to work with. When confronted with a problem, he can easily get frustrated and will frequently derail meetings and hinder progress once he has begun to get emotional. I believe he is under significant pressure from executives, which may exacerbate his emotional situation.

I need to address this individual and let him know that his emotional behavior is a problem. How should I approach this?

Options I have considered:

  • Stating that his behavior is unproductive, and causes him and others more stress than necessary
  • Stating nothing, and asking him how he is doing or what he needs help with
  • Discussing his behavior with his manager

Outside forces:

  • Something needs to be done, because his behavior is keeping other people from doing their jobs
  • If I speak to him directly, I don't know that his manager will approve of me having that discussion
  • If I speak to his manager directly, there is a possibility he could be let go/reprimanded without getting to speak with a person who is actually having the problem with him

This is my first attempt at addressing this type of behavior issue, so I am looking for a way to resolve this with the least amount of fallout.

From comments:

  • We are both team leads, and his actions have impacted my team enough that I need to do something to protect my team's ability to be productive
  • We could be considered of similar position but in different departments.
  • Many of the people who must work with this person have been affected, and expressed concern/difficulty getting work done when the person is involved.
  • We are not close enough that I know for certain that he will take it the right way, but close enough that I feel he deserves for me to have the conversation with him before going straight to management.

Resolution:

Based on feedback here, I addressed him by pointing out some meetings that didn't go well and asking how I could help. He indicated there were some issues with our (lack of) process that were frustrating him and I indicated I will help him resolve those issues in order that everyone can get better results.

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    We could be considered of similar position but in different departments. – BinaryTox1n Aug 31 '18 at 18:18
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    Many of the people who must work with this person have been affected, and expressed concern/difficulty getting work done when the person is involved. – BinaryTox1n Aug 31 '18 at 18:18
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    Thanks for being engaged and clarifying :D one last thing, are you close with this colleague? That is, can you talk to him directly without it being awkward, or will he think "why is this guy telling me this"? – DarkCygnus Aug 31 '18 at 18:20
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    We are not close enough that I know for certain that he will take it the right way, but close enough that I feel he deserves for me to have the conversation with him before going straight to management. – BinaryTox1n Aug 31 '18 at 18:21
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    I don't really think this person needs more "emotional intelligence" (whatever that means) more than they need two weeks or more off work to de-stress – user1666620 Aug 31 '18 at 18:28
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I strongly suggest you bring this to this colleague first, before considering escalating to their manager. This will help in reduce the fallout, if any.

Besides directly addressing this issue, some other thing you can do that will prove effective is to intervene when the meetings start to become derailed. Next time you see this colleague start to derail from the meeting, politely intervene and ask all the people present to focus on the agenda. This should help bring the meeting back on track if this colleague is not stubborn or just in the mood of arguing.

This should solve a good part of the problem. Now, if this continues or you see no improvement then the next step will be to directly address this with this person. However, I suggest you don't phrase it as a scolding/demand; try to phrase it more like offering help instead. This will also increase the chances of a positive impact with minimal fallout. Also, I must warn you to be careful with this, because it can get out of hands if you don't handle it properly and politely.

Go to his office, or some other private space, and say something in the lines of:

Hey Joe. I have noticed that recently you seem to be under a lot of pressure and stress from projects X and Y... I couldn't help but to worry about you, and wanted to see if there is something you want to talk, or something I can help with... I've noticed that things get a bit hot during meetings, and want to ask you to try not to take it so negatively. Other coworkers have also noticed this and I wouldn't want this to get you in trouble...

This should ring a bell to this person, and hopefully react or adapt his behavior. Now if this proves ineffective, and this behavior is undoubtedly affecting your performance, then it will be time to escalate.

  • +1 for the solid advice, I would just point out that approaching the colleague directly is a bad idea if you don't already have a strong personal relationship. – GOATNine Aug 31 '18 at 19:07
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    @GOATNine OP mentioned they have a sufficiently strong relationship to be able to address this without it being awkward – DarkCygnus Aug 31 '18 at 19:10
  • That's why I +1'd you, just commented for future people who may have similar problems with different circumstances. – GOATNine Aug 31 '18 at 19:12
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"[...]I need to address this individual[...]"

No you don't !

You're not his superior, only a colleague who is not even in the same department.
Per your own admission you're not that close to him personally either.

It is inappropriate and beyond your competency for you to talk to him about his performance (work or otherwise) or to give an evaluation about him to management.

...unless your own productivity suffers greatly from his behavior or you're a team lead and your team is negatively impacted by him.

If colleagues of you feel their work suffers due to him, they need to step up and inform their own superiors about that.

However, if you were a friend of his then you could indeed ask him if he's fine.
Tell him something along the lines that you have the impression he may be stressed out or as you said if he is bothered by something or needs help.

EDIT:
The fact that you're a team lead is important information. I suggest to include it in your question.

In that case you should gather clear cut examples of where his actions caused your team problems and discuss THOSE with him, including potential measures to avoid issues in the future.

Do NOT cite his general behavior as a problem, only his actions that had negative impact on your team!

Should his behavior not change, you may speak to him again, before ultimately going to your superiors if he still didn't change.
From then on it is their responsibility and any further infractions from him will warrant you to remind your superiors about what he did again.

  • We are both responsible for directing the work of others, and his actions impact my team. Something needs to be done. – BinaryTox1n Aug 31 '18 at 19:01
  • A talk with someone on the same level than with management might actually work better in a situation like this. So I don't agree with your assertion that he shouldn't talk with him. – Mark Rotteveel Sep 1 '18 at 10:01
  • @MarkRotteveel actually, I said that before I knew they both were leads! see the EDIT I added later and agree with you that he should talk to him. – DigitalBlade969 Sep 1 '18 at 15:40
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If you're giving someone a 'heads up' in lieu of taking it further up the food chain it's best to do it privately and directly.

'You're upsetting my team, you need to calm down with my people, do whatever you want with yours, but not mine.'

If that doesn't work then management is the best option. You give people the benefit of the doubt and a chance if possible, if they don't take it to heart like mature adults, you escalate and it becomes managements problem.

Most adults will see the implication that you have had enough and it will be escalated and think about their actions and make an effort (although they may bluster a bit at first, they'll calm down and contemplate what you said later).

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As a person with low emotional intelligence, as you so eloquently put it, I feel obligated to describe my past behavior, and what changed it.

I would get emotional to the point of being dragged into HR over being too aggressive with a coworker whenever I felt my job was being made too difficult by another person either blatantly ignoring my advice, or failing to do their job in a way that impacted my ability to do my job. These were how I felt, but not a good reason, or an excuse for my behavior at the time.

The number one thing I was doing wrong was investing too much in my work, which is far to easy in the USA. My work life balance was nonexistent, and that bled over into everything. I prioritized myself over my work, and my emotional intelligence benefitted massively, even to the point of completely removing my road rage, and a complete 180 on my lack of professionalism.

That all being said, you can do nothing in a professional setting for this colleague directly. What he needs is a new perspective, and a bit more balance in his life. For me, it was picking up a hobby I love and cutting my hours to 50/week. I had the flexibility to do that, and so it worked for me. He has to change for himself, and anything you say to try to effect that change may push him farther from making the required shift.

The only thing you can do if his behavior severely impacts your work, is to escalate the situation. I would recommend not involving HR unless something illegal takes place. Instead, I would start with your own manager, just mention in passing that your coworker may be overworked/overstressed, and see if he/she can put in a word with the coworkers manager to try to ameliorate the situation without true escalation. I would only do this if it's impacting your work significantly though, as it is his managers job to bring his behavior to his attention, not yours. In a professional setting it is important to remain professional, especially when someone else isn't.

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    "cutting my hours to 50/week" :( 50 hours would give me great stress! I feel for you – Katie S Sep 1 '18 at 0:24
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    @KatieS in automotive as an hourly worker without a union, hours were regularly in the 80+ range. There's something called 12/7's (12 hours a day, 7 days a week), which would continue for the duration of a hot project (upwards of 6 months in cases). Most of my time was also spent on the road, as my position was listed as 80% travel. 80% translates to home for the holidays, plus every other weekend. – GOATNine Sep 1 '18 at 11:36
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The attempt to influence the behavior of others is called communication dominance. If somebody is able to set the point, he is superior and this is a state everybody tries to reach. It is nothing what only managers and CEO are obsessed with but it is a general goal of any individual who is part of a group. To reach the goal of linguistic based dominance, often a method is used called “Teaching”. If person A can teach person B how to do the task right, he is in control of the emotion of the other person, especially if after the teaching processing a small test is used which increased the emotional stress.

A second, more powerful, option is not only to teach other people but also to increase the vocabulary. A stronger vocabulary is equal to a higher social status and if the other person is not able to respond adequate, you are the winner of this kind of manipulation game. It works great, until the opponent has made his homework and confronts the teacher itself by a better teaching. It is some kind of permanent dialogue.

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