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How to Manage an Emotionally Needy Team Member

How to Manage an Emotionally Needy Team Member

As a manager you’re expected to do what you reasonably can to support and help your team members. But you’re not required to provide endless emotional support for people who struggle to meet their own needs. The best approach is to help an emotionally dependent team member discover how to identify and meet their own needs. If you can do this thoughtfully and with care, you will help this person, and everyone around them.

Emotional neediness often manifests as asking the same questions repeatedly, needing constant affirmation, or struggling to receive criticism.

How can you tackle the situation?

Those in need of emotional support often don’t understand that their need for constant recognition or reassurance can drain others. Have a private one-to-one with the employee. Ask questions to gauge if they are aware of the impact their behaviour has on their colleagues. For example, you could ask: “I wonder if you have noticed the extent to which you look for reassurance from your colleagues?”

Have specific examples available to illustrate your point. Help the employee understand which emotional expressions and needs are appropriate, which are not, and why.

Set clear emotional boundaries. For example, say: “I’d like you to think about where your need for extra reassurance is coming from so you can be more self-sufficient when you’re feeling insecure.”

When you set boundaries, the other person must consider when to seek emotional reinforcement and when to manage differently. If they continue to overreach, you can bring them back to the agreed boundary.

Distinguish fragility from over-sensitivity. Emotionally fragile people are more likely to lose emotional control and struggle to regain it. They are triggered by many types of stressors, such as approaching deadlines or to-do lists. By contrast, over-sensitive people focus their attention on relationships that provide affirmation. They often attempt to exert emotional control over others in order to garner responses from them.

Tell the employee that you want to build a team environment in which people can ask for what they need. Needing occasional emotional reinforcement is perfectly acceptable and normal, but everyone is different. Use examples to demonstrate when you have experienced the employee’s behaviour as a bit too much and encourage them to find healthier ways to meet their need. This might mean talking to friends outside the workplace, or even a professional coach who can help them talk through their emotions in a safe space.

Colleagues can be unkind about emotionally dependent individuals. Don’t allow gossip about a needy team member. The more people talk about the needy person rather than to them, the more the individual feels isolated, and the needier they are likely to become.

Sometimes the needy person becomes the brunt of jokes or knowing looks among other team members. This is unacceptable. Nip this behaviour in the bud, and do not participate in or condone it. It undermines trust and psychological safety faster than anything.

Once you’ve started to help the employee, remember that behaviour doesn’t change overnight. These people are likely to need some support and adjusting habits takes time. Persevere and with patience your employee will gain more emotional independence, confidence and strength. It will be worth the effort.


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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2020 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.

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