quizMentally spiraling out of control at work is a symptom of stress and poor stress management skills that impacts workplace Empathy. Losing it at work, when taken to extremes, produces an emotionally hostile and physically dangerous workplace. This results in expensive lawsuits, which if defensible still cost a business more money to defend than surfacing and resolving the root cause of stress.

Perhaps poor planning, poor communication skills, or poor self awareness and emotional management lie at the root cause. Perhaps there are system problems such as no bottom up solutions resulting in group norms that identify productive behavior and discourages behavior that weakens group performance. Spiraling out of control at work weakens over all group performance and results in Empathy infractions that violate every worker’s right to an emotionally and physically safe workplace.

What do you do when people around you are losing it?

Empathy is the fourth TIGERS® principle that contributes to a high functioning, ethical, quality-focused, cooperative and productive workplace. The other five principles are trust, interdependence, genuineness, risk and success. Empathy is a workplace power tool and way of being that diffuses conflict and poor workplace behavior remarkably fast. The following are a list of suggestions that are empathetic and support empathy in workplace group norms.

Acknowledge your own emotional intelligence

Acknowledging your own emotional intelligence and level of self-awareness, it is appropriate to say, “I want to help here and I can’t until we can have a rational conversation. I need that to problem solve.” Sometimes that communication is all that is necessary to stop someone who is mentally spiraling out of control to collect their thoughts and actions.

A self-reflective and empathetic person will often return with an apology and explanation for his or her behavior. A person with low self-reflection and empathy, will not stop and will need to deal with someone with more authority than you.


If a boss or coworker is mentally spiraling out of control, it is important to privately document the situation including writing down the details that led up to the event. Did work fall behind schedule? Was there confusion over how to do something? Was the person responsive to your request for the right conditions to problem solve? Write your observations down including details that explain who, what, why and when along with what happened. It also includes adding the names of other people who also witnessed the event in your documentation.

Melting Your Stress Within 30 Days

Compose yourself

When people around you are mentally spiraling out of control, it is important to compose yourself.  Bottom line, when someone is mentally losing it and acting out or projecting it is scary. The person is unpredictable and you have no way of knowing what is coming next. It is important to acknowledge what you are feeling and to calm yourself.

Stress has a negative impact on your ability to think and on your health. Likewise, reacting to someone who is losing it because you are also losing it serves no purpose and could threaten your career.

Reporting the incident

When assertive, calming communication and self monitoring fail and the boss’s behavior continues to project stress and hostility, the next step is to report the incident to Human Resources.  Give HR a copy of your documented notes, not the original. Because if you experience retaliation from your boss, you will need your original notes along with a much longer list of documentation to share with HR and ultimately your attorney if it comes to that.

If the coworker is affecting others including you and you do not have a trusted or respected relationship, give a copy of your documentation to your supervisor or manager. By law, the supervisor or manager and HR must deal with the situation or find themselves as parties to a hostile work environment law suit.

Ultimately, if you have a respected work relationship with a co-worker or boss who is spiraling out of control, it is appropriate to talk to the person after everyone has calmed down. Sometimes all your friend needs is an opportunity to vent and problem solve with someone trusted. However, the outcome should help your friend develop a plan of action including stress management. Responding with empathy and the desire to understand your friend’s circumstance frequently diffuses situations whether you agree with your friend’s behavior or not.

Here are some additional resources you might find valuable:

Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton

About TIGERS Success Series, Inc.

TIGERS® is a research-based group development model based on 6 Principles that build a quality-focused, productive, ethical, cooperative and successful work environment. The 6 Principles are trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk resolution and success. For the past 25 years, TIGERS® has helped leaders measurably build more cooperation among employees and collaboration between departments for improved revenue, purpose and impact. TIGERS provides management training with licensed resources that helps leaders build high performance work cultures and group norms of behavior that transform adequate working environments into exceptional ones.