When it happens everyone present is taken aback. Someone you don’t expect makes an emotionally charged, quite loud and direct, criticism of their workplace or of a colleague. It usually happens in the wrong setting or just when you believe everyone is getting along fine. The natural reaction is to gloss over the outburst or brush it aside. Perhaps even consider that person to be having difficulties away from work that are crossing over.
That is a mistake. Good leaders sit up and take notice of these events.
Why? Surely this person has acted badly, chosen the wrong time and place to set out their grievance? Well good leaders are able to empathise, they stand back from their own perspective and consider how other people are behaving.
An outburst such as this is like a pressure valve blowing. For some time that individual has felt something is wrong, it has troubled them greatly, and they need to do something about it. From their perspective a great injustice is taking place. Consider the amount of effort it takes to overcome their normal feeling of place and speak out – in front of their peers and speak against their leaders.
From their perspective the leaders are not seeing the problem, not taking it seriously enough, or are simply not understanding the implications for others of a process or instruction. It is easy to think this way. From the leader’s seat it the way forward is clear and everyone just needs to get on with their job.
So consider this. Do you understand their job as well as they do? Do you really know what it takes to do it effectively, what is making it difficult to do the job?
Place a beachball between you and a colleague. Ask them what they see. They see what you see – a beachball. Now ask them to describe what they see. The stripes on your side and the stripes on their side are different. Now alter the distance between you and the ball. Move much further back and leave your colleague close by. You now see much less detail but have a fair idea of the ball. The perspective each of you has alters the information you have about the same topic.
As for the outburst. Never judge a book by its cover is the old adage. The reason for the outburst may be moral indignation, or simply a passion for doing the job well, for themselves or for their peers.
So ignore or rebuff the outburst at your peril – you are missing great feedback.