How to Handle an Irrational Employee

Irrational; not logical or unreasonable. We’ve all dealt with someone that we believe is behaving irrationally. You can try to break the problem down to a specific situation and not grouping scenarios. I was dealing with a situation just like this today. We were arguing about the length of time it would take to complete a specific task. I argued greater than three months they argued less than three months.

First, determine if the employee is taking a stand from an emotional point of view.

Ask yourself if the employee is dealing with an emotion that is guiding their response. Are they scared of losing respect, are they feeling upset because they aren’t being heard, or are they angry because you declined a proposal? If you can define the emotion and address it, you’ll be closer to the same page. Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs .

Putting the knowledge you have aside, ask yourself if you’d act irrationally if you were feeling this emotion.

This brings us to point number two; people don’t act irrationally in their own eyes. We all act rationally, based on our personal worldview. A worldview is a combination of personal experiences over time. If you had the same experiences as this employee, you would come to the same conclusions as them. That’s the magic, we all have our own personal worldview.

If we agree that emotions might be at play and that we don’t act irrationally, in our own eyes, then it’s time to address the situation.

Be empathetic, provide an example in your own experience that’s similar to the employee’s situation. Explain your own emotions, how you felt and how the two situations might be similar. Lay out their argument in the situation (not yours). Defend their point of view, what you see as valid in their argument. Accept that you won’t agree on everything, explain your decision. If you’ve decided to go with your solution, it’s ok. It’s ok, so long as you’ve been empathetic and acknowledged their viewpoint.

In my scenario, the individual I was arguing with could have been mad or hurt. Mad that I didn’t acknowledge that they had thought through their response. Upset because I wasn’t validating their personal experiences, I should have acknowledged this. As for their worldview, once I step back, breathe, and evaluate, I can see clearly. Their experiences create a different worldview, one that’s enthusiastic and optimistic about the timeline. I shouldn’t have discouraged this, but setup a second viewpoint that shows my rational. Ultimately, agreeing to disagree, we could have come up with a compromise. One that met in the middle.