Team Member with Strong Anxiety Behavior? Ask Madeleine

Progress Bar Uninstalling with the text: AnxietyDear Madeleine,

I am a manager at a large commercial real estate company with nine people reporting to me. I really try to stay connected to them and I want the best for them. 

Recently, my boss came to me and severely criticized one of my people—and I understand his point.  “Pete,” the employee, is really smart and works hard. In a lot of ways he is an ideal worker.  But when he gets in front of a group, both internally and (worse) with clients, he starts running off at the mouth.  He gets going and he just can’t shut up.  He hijacks the conversation and doesn’t let anyone get a word in edgewise.  This recently happened in a meeting with my boss and things got out of hand. The weird thing is that it doesn’t happen when he and I are one on one, or even in our small team meetings. 

I have given Pete feedback on this problem before. But when I went to him to give him feedback this time, he broke down.  He knows he gets anxious and out of control. He has no idea what takes hold of him or what to do about it. 

All of the next moves for him and his career involve the kinds of situations that seem to set him off.  I am at a loss for how to help him. What can I do?  —Want to Help

Dear Want to Help,

Boy, is Pete lucky to have such a nice boss.  It sounds like Pete has a strong anxiety behavior that is going to tank his career if he doesn’t get a grip on it.  The good news is that the first step is awareness. Both you and Pete have that, and you already have opened a dialogue about it.  So there is real hope here. Some thoughts for next steps:

  • Most large companies have excellent Employee Assistance Programs. Pete would really benefit from working with a behavioral therapist who can help him both identify the triggers for his offending behaviors and practice strategies for self regulation.  Most EAPs offer between six and ten sessions, so Pete could make real headway with a competent professional.
  • Research supports that the practice of mindfulness is an excellent stress management technique and there are many free resources available for the truly motivated.
  • You can work with Pete to prepare for his next meeting by getting him to take deep breaths and asking him to simply be aware of his anxiety. You can also help him to come up with a measurable goal for his behavior. For example, “If I can’t say what needs to be said in one sentence, I will not say it.” This works well for many people who interrupt, wax on inappropriately, or overreact to colleagues.

Good luck to Pete, and to you.

Love Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

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