How to Recover an Embarrassing Outburst at Work

Have you had an embarrassing emotional outburst at work? Many of us have, and, as we like to call it here at TRACOM, an amygdala-hijack is always a little unsettling and awkward afterwards. Whether the emotional outburst is justifiable or just plain ridiculous, and whether you have an emotional outburst fueled by fear, frustration, anger, or sadness, resuming “life as usual” around the office might be challenging.

TRACOM’s Dr. Casey Mulqueen is featured in a Fast Company article titled “A Four-Step Process to Save Face After You’ve Lost it at Work” written by Gwen Moran. Dr. Mulqueen says, “Losing your cool at work can be a problem. In the best-case scenario, it leaves people a little unsettled. More serious emotional outbursts can threaten your job and your career…  Determining the damage done, making it right, and getting your cool, calm, and collected cred back requires some strategy and work.”

Gwen Moran details four steps to take to recover:

1.“Take stock of the damage.” According to the article, it’s best to take a step back and assess the situation. A one-time temper tantrum may not ruin your stellar reputation, but if you are beginning to make a name for yourself as the hot-headed salesman maybe it’s time to make some serious adjustments.

“The other key component to analyzing the situation was to determine why it got to you. Once you’ve had some time to cool down, look at why this situation was so upsetting for you, Mulqueen says. Did the encounter itself trigger your reaction, or was there an underlying issue, such as a personal problem that’s adding stress to your life? When you can name the trigger, you can work on the best way to address it.”

2. You’re going to have to face the music. Whether that be self-reflection or an apology, it’s best to not ignore the situation. Dr. Mulqueen says, “It’s usually important to explain the situation and why you got angry, to help others put it in perspective… It also helps you to recognize that those types of things are going to be triggers for you, so you can better prepare for them in the future. He calls that process ‘name it and frame it.’ Saying something like, ‘I’d like you to understand why I got upset yesterday,’ can go a long way towards helping people see your side.

3. Apologize appropriately and move on. Apologies are important, but if what triggered the emotional flare-up is still an unresolved problem, it’s important to address the subject in a constructive way. For example, if the trigger of your emotional outburst was because you noticed an inequality in the workplace, just because your response was a little uncouth doesn’t mean you should let the issue persist. You can apologize for your response but inform your employers that the trigger is still a serious concern for you. This refers to an important aspect of the Adaptive Mindset for Resiliency Model, exemplifying courageous communication.

And after you apologize try your best to let it go and not ruminate on the situation.

4. Ride it out. Typically we are hardest on ourselves, but in this case, it may take some time for your managers and peers to forget your emotional explosion, too. “There may still be some hard feelings, or they may feel compelled to tease you about it. Mulqueen says it’s important to keep your cool in such situations. Obviously, you don’t have to tolerate abusive behavior, but you may need to take a bit of ribbing after the fact.

‘Sometimes, the best way to handle teasing and humor is with humor,’ Mulqueen says. ‘When you’re approaching [people] for the first time after you’ve had the outburst, having a little bit of fun at your own expense is not necessarily a bad thing.’”

Enhancing your Social Intelligence skills can help to cope with such situations, and also keep situations like this from ever occuring.

Click here to view the full Fast Company article featuring Dr. Casey Mulqueen.

Learn more about Social Intelligence resources here. 

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