This was one of the most common questions I was asked by training participants or coaching clients last year, and I would like to discuss it in my year-end article for the Coverdale Review.

What are emotionalised situations?

By emotionalised situations, we mean a situation in which at least one party is emotionally out of balance.

There are many reasons why emotions can “take over” the situation. Some examples:

  • My self-image is shaken. I feel attacked, e.g., regarding my competence, values or social relationships.
  • I find myself in a threatening situation. (Fear of losing my job, fear of losing my reputation)
  • I experience the other person as a personal obstacle in completing a task.
  • The other side has hit a sore spot with me (red button).
  • ….

Starting positions

Interestingly, most customers told us about a similar initial situation when we analysed the team situation together.

The remote teams were mostly fact-orientated, there was little personal contact between the team members beyond the necessary meetings or classic collaboration situations, and the teams didn’t actually know each other very well personally as they were often based at different company locations, often in different time zones.

Contact between the team members, the team members, and the manager was mainly event-driven. Often, little time was invested in organising cooperation within the team based on jointly agreed principles or rules because the prevailing assumption was that this was “clear” anyway. As soon as these assumptions did not materialise, difficulties were inevitable, and there were always situations where one person or another vented their anger very clearly via video conference.

In this article, I would like to have a closer look at three aspects:

  1. First aid: – What to do when the situation arises.
  2. Prevention – As a manager, how can I help to prevent escalations in video conferences?

First aid                                                                                                    

When the other side reacts emotionally:

Let’s look at the person’s perspective confronted with an emotional “rejection” of the other person.

If you encounter another person emotionally, the most important thing is not to get “infected” yourself. That means staying calm for as long as possible. At the same time, I must realise that I can only “do” very little constructively with the other person as long as they are emotional.

If someone “freaks out”, take a deep breath and try to listen. Refrain from working on the content and discussing things, but simply listen actively until the other side has come down again.

In the next step, try to find out what has upset the person you are talking to and what it will take for them to be able to work again.

Subsequently, it would help if you discussed that you can talk about anything in an acceptable tone to both sides.

When I realise that my emotions are taking over:

Regardless of the role in which you communicate virtually with other people, if you realise that you are slowly but surely becoming emotionally agitated, take active steps to counteract this.

Log off briefly, walk a few steps, get a drink, open the window or try to clear your head by breathing calmly and deeply.

Think about what is upsetting you now, and articulate to the other dialogue partners what you need to be able to participate constructively. If this is not possible in this conversation, ask for an interruption.

Ideally, video conferences are always moderated, so you could contact them via personal chat and ask for an intervention if you can’t or don’t want to do this “out loud”.

If you are in the moderator role and realise you are becoming emotionally unbalanced, take a deep breath and announce a short break.


We recommend some preventive measures that can then be applied in the relevant situation:

Work Hack 1: Breathing training

Practise a breathing rhythm of five breaths per minute for 3 minutes. If possible, repeat the exercise 3 – 5 times daily for about a month.

Suppose you exercise regularly when you are talking to someone who is highly emotional. In that case, you can fall into the trained breathing rhythm by taking a long breath, enabling you to stay calm longer than breathing at your average pace.

Work Hack 2: One on One

In remote teams, the focus is often on content, and there is little time for employees’ issues. As a manager, you should use a dialogue format that allows you to understand how your team members are doing. These personal discussions should primarily focus on how employees are “feeling”, what is going well, where they need more support and what things are currently “going wrong”. Take employees’ concerns seriously and try to find solutions together if necessary.

Employee development

In remote teams, in particular, raising employees’ social skills to a high level is essential. Employees should be able to communicate in a needs-orientated way. This means learning non-violent communication, according to Marshall Rosenberg, and making needs-orientated communication a rule of the game in the team.

Practise giving and receiving feedback together and expressing constructive criticism.

Agree on team communication rules and what should happen if someone gets out of balance.

Team development

As a manager, explicitly plan time to develop team cohesion. This is also possible with remote teams. Use specific time to get to know each other and find out the strengths and needs of all team members.

Develop rituals in the team that make it possible to create time for personal dialogue outside purely content-driven meetings. For example, introduce a morning coffee together or a regular table, which perhaps takes place on a different channel than the traditional meetings, and use the time to get to know the team members better and develop a sense of belonging.

Managers should act preventively and in the short term when emotional situations arise. In remote teams, pay particular attention to ensuring that team members have high social skills when they join the team. This is one of the success factors in remote teams.

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