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Taming a Frenzied Office, Part II: Mopping Up Meltdowns

Another manager in a creative industry wrote in to ask why she should put up with a colleague who regularly throws hissy fits, all of which follow a similar pattern.

The Hisser has a periodic and appropriate need for certain staff resources, but he never discusses them in advance. Then, because it’s so late in the process, the Hisser dramatizes the request with actual yelling and screaming, as if there will be truly horrible outcomes if he doesn’t get what he wants

The request is always so last minute that other members of the organization have to run around in a panic to find people. If there were no emergency it would actually be unreasonable to try to fulfill the request, but the Hisser’s drama amps up the level of risk and makes it feel like an emergency so the request gets fulfilled in an “all hands on deck” last-ditch effort.

Worse, once staff members are finally found and assigned, the Hisser petulantly announces that they’ve come to the project too late — so the newly assigned staff members are confused and uncomfortable and the staff providers feel abused and unappreciated.

The Tantrum Temptation

Why do some people need to throw tantrums? Usually it’s because they don’t trust that the organization with attending to their simple request; they don’t have confidence that the request alone will be addressed without using drama to beef up the importance of their role or their need. And some people habitually “hiss” due to an excess of emotion that they don’t know how to regulate.

What’s amazing is how frequently senior managers who are aware of the drama don’t move to quell it; in the case of someone like the Hisser, perhaps they think it’s a normal part of being “creative.”

Draining the Air Out of a Hisser

Some people have developed such a habit of drama that they function better when they can have a periodic storm and recovery. It may be too difficult to teach them emotional self-regulation so channeling the frenzy may be the most productive thing to do.

If this is the situation, then the Hisser’s manager or a friendly colleague might help him throw his fits in private so that they don’t disrupt other staff. Meanwhile, colleagues can compassionately reframe the situation as “just Hisser being a hisser” instead of tying themselves in knots.

Some tantrum-prone folks, though, use their eruptions, which only look like a loss of control, as a way of maintaining control — as a power tool for applying pressure to others who might not otherwise respond favorably.

If that’s the pattern, any organizational intervention should both sustain the person and constrain the behavior.

Sufficiently authoritative colleagues could hear out the Hisser’s needs, promise support, and actually detail a plan that shows they mean it. They might also plan something like a monthly check-in with an internal supplier to standardize the process, timeframe, and assignments that comprise an effective resource solution; this will demonstrate the importance the organization places on the Hisser’s work and should build his confidence.

Either way, the point needs to be made that the fits are not the reason the Hisser get what he wants, but that he should and will get what he needs because it’s appropriate — or, conversely, that he doesn’t actually need what he wants, and that he’ll have to come to terms with that fact and find a new approach that is mutually acceptable.

Whenever a damaging, time- and resource-wasting behavior becomes a pattern, you can assume that it’s working for someone — even if it isn’t working for everyone. Figuring out alternatives to the tantrum-throwing should be the first step for the mop-up brigade.

Onward and upward,

LK

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