How to Handle an Angry Employee 

Welcome to leadership! Also known as “The Ultimate Eggshell Walking, Plate Spinning Championship Contest”. The rules of the contest are simple: Don’t crack any shells and don’t drop any plates. A cracked shell may result in a time penalty where you must repair the shell while still spinning all of your plates. A dropped plate or irreparable shell may result in elimination from the contest.  The contest will be judged by a panel of your supervisors, peers, and employees. Oh, and the most important part, the contest only ends upon elimination. Good luck to you! On your mark… Get set…. GO!!!! 

Now you may be wondering why I’m talking about eggshells and plates when this article is supposed to be about angry or frustrated employees. Well, I find that this analogy says it all when handling any delicate situation with an employee.

The “eggshells” are the people you work with. This could be employees, peers, and/or supervisors. The eggshell is comprised of their feelings, productivity, goals, and effective communication. The “plates” you’re spinning are your daily, weekly, monthly goals, and tasks that you need to accomplish to meet and exceed your company’s goals and vision.  

Being the training and development specialist for Abby Connect, and before that a team leader, I have definitely had my fair share of experience learning how to handle a variety of emotions from employees. This is no easy task as I’m sure you already know. Each personality is so unique, that finding the best path to encourage, inspire, motivate, educate, communicate, and refine is not always perfect which can result in high emotions that need to be de-escalated. This includes you and me.  

Here is the good news. First, you don’t have to do it alone! Unless you’re a leader in a company comprised of you, yourself, and you, there are people around you that can help! For the record, if you have an irate employee and you are a company of “me, myself and I”, you may want to seek out alternative stress management resources.

Second, you and your employees have the same goal! You both are passionate about being successful. The more they care, the more upset they might be! Now all you need to do is seek out common ground in order to find the win-win. Me-thinks empathy may be at play here. 

Lastly, it’s possible! While every personality is unique including yours and mine, humans are gifted with the capacity to communicate, empathize, learn, strategize, and adapt.  


I found this wonderful meme which, at the time, was meant to just be for a good laugh. But it is actually a good representation of what you and I, as leaders, have to do prior to having crucial conversations.

Side note: having a good laugh before a crucial conversation can be a great stress reliever. 

ice cube 3-16

Did you have a good laugh? I know I just did.

When dealing with an irate employee, it’s good to take a moment and play out the situation and put together a plan of action. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to decide what the ultimate goal is and game plan a solution to accomplish that goal. But first, you must discover if your employee is the only one that is irate and acting on emotions. 

One of the million reasons I love working for Abby Connect is that we treat everyone like family. I know, I know,… you’ve heard a lot of companies say that. But we really have that here. And, the best part of being a member of our “family” is that we all have the freedom to consult and sometimes even vent to our peers and supervisors in a completely transparent fashion. I can lay all of my cards on the table as to what happened, what was said, what was done, what wasn’t done, good and bad, and receive honest and empathetic feedback.  

The difficulty with being human is that emotions are subjective and to effectively find a solution, you have to stick to the facts. Discuss the situation with your confidants to assist you with extricating the facts and disposing of the subjective elements, so you can clearly see the changes needed to reach your desired outcome. 

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or incompetence, but rather a testament of integrity, accountability, and ownership. 

Make a List (Check it twice)  

Once I’ve had the chance to voice the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions running through my mind to my chosen counsel, I typically feel a sense of calm and reassurance that I can find a solution. The key to designing a plan of action is to stick to the facts. The employee will still be thinking emotionally and your goal is to have a conversation that redirects their thoughts towards a unified actionable objective.  

5 Hacks for Crucial Conversation Plan : 

1. Designate a time and place to speak privately and ask a peer or supervisor to mediate if necessary.

2. Facts List! 

  • Positive facts about the employee 
  • Concerning change or changes in their behavior
  • Previous documentation on behavior

Questions that need answers:

  • Are they happy working at your company? 
  • Are they happy in their current role? 
  • Why do they believe their behavior has changed? 
  • What do they need from you to help them make necessary changes?

3. Expectations List! 

  • Communicate empathy for their concerns, feelings, and thoughts 
  • Explain your “why” 
  • Company policy 
  • Your needs and expectations 
  • Offer reassurance and support 
  • Disciplinary measures if nothing changes 

4. Designate follow-up dates and times.

It’s Written All Over Your Face 

If you are like me, having crucial conversations with an irate employee is one of your least favorite parts of being a leader. And, I have a face that shows it all! It’s uncomfortable, nerve-wracking, time-consuming, and sensitive. These conversations are a true test of your ability to listen, empathize, and communicate assertively while retaining the employee’s trust and loyalty.  

You have your thoughts and words planned out now it’s all about the delivery. Body language accounts for 55% of your communication. In the words of Mae West, “It’s not about what you say, but how you say it.”

3 Steps to Get Your Body Language in Check: 

What is your face saying? 

  • Smile with eye contact- Confident, relaxed, engaged 
  • Frown- sad, disappointed, upset 
  • Jaw clenched, brows furrowed – annoyed, angry, tense 
  • No eye contact- unsure, no confidence, untrustworthy 
  • Eye rolling with a smirk- disrespectful, disbelief, no trust

What is your body saying? 

  • Arms crossed, body or feet angled away from the person- distant and unwilling to cooperate
  • Shoulders back, arms open, body angled toward the person- confident, relaxed, open, engaged 
  • Hands, legs, feet twitching- in a hurry, nervous, tense, distracted 
  • Slumped, arms crossed, legs crossed- bored, disengaged, uninvested

What is the ideal body language for a crucial conversation? 

  • 60% eye contact – any more than this can be a little creepy
  • Smiling 
  • Head nodding 
  • Open posture facing towards the employee 
  • Shoulders back, arms open, legs and feet on the ground angled toward the employee 
  • Leaning forward towards the employee when they are speaking 

Lend an Ear, a Heart, a Hand, and a Kind Word 

As you know, being a leader is really about knowing how to serve those you lead especially the difficult ones. The reassuring part of having heightened emotions is that at least you know the issue is not that they don’t care. Now we just have to “be brave enough to start a conversation that matters” as Margaret Wheatley eloquently stated. Before entering the room, I always take a deep breath and remember the words of wisdom Nathan Strum (the CEO of Abby Connect) gave me:

“Stick to the facts, empathize, and go for the win-win.” 

Now there is a more than likely chance, that the employee did not rehearse and plan out what they were going to say as you did. There will be moments where they may get off track or speak in circles that may not make total sense. The latter can be extremely frustrating and make it hard to control your face, so stay focused. 

10 Must-Haves for a Successful Conversation 

  1. Stay Engaged – Smile, eye contact, nod
  2. Lend an Ear – Listen without judgment 
  3. Lend a Heart – Empathize
  4. Ask Clarifying Questions 
  5. Repeat Key Points 
  6. Set Clear & Concise Expectations 
  7. Ask for Understanding 
  8. Lend a Hand – Ask what support they need from you to be successful.
  9. Offer a Kind Word – Encourage & Reassure
  10.  Open-Communication Standard – Outline repercussions of reoccurring outbursts/behavior 

Once you have both come to an agreement on what is expected on both sides and a game plan on how to make sure everyone’s needs are met, thank them for their candor and willingness to help you find a workable solution. You can never show too much appreciation for honesty, integrity, accountability, and growth.  

Greatness Rarely Comes From Comfort Zones 

As the great William Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies that head that wears the crown.” Sometimes as a leader we’re put in uncomfortable, delicate situations. Being responsible for the success of other people is not always an easy task. Being responsible for de-escalating an irate employee AND ensure their success is even more challenging. However, the most difficult challenges usually bring with them the greatest rewards.  

A successful crucial conversation with an irate employee that helps regain their trust and amplify their productivity increases their loyalty to you and your company. You also have had the privilege to lead by example and teach them how to communicate effectively which, in turn, produces more great leaders.

By your courage to show compassion to someone that may not have been the most deserving at the time, you have shaped an even brighter future for yourself and your company.  

“One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever.” ~ Linda Lambert 

Written by

Heather Wells

Heather Wells

Heather has the pleasure of being Abby Connect's Training and Development Manager. Heather is an expert at catering to different personalities and learning styles, while breaking down concepts in an easy, fun, motivational way. While receiving multiple certifications in training, leadership, and communication, Heather has developed our training program which helps new employees understand and embrace our culture while learning the "hows" and "whys" of their new roles and promoting longevity within our company. Heather is a passionate, witty, nerd that loves learning and encouraging others to learn and grow. She believes in pushing herself and others to be the best possible version of ourselves each day by trial and error, learning, adapting, and having a positive mindset.

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