aside and concentrate on work.
Acknowledge Emotional Responses
Karen, a team lead in a software company, was upset because her manager, Ted, had countermanded a technical decision she had made. When Karen told Ted she was upset, Ted responded "I've thought about it, and there's no reason for you to feel that way." Karen was not soothed.
We feel the way we feel, whether there's a "reason" or not. Ted would have made more headway had he simply accepted Karen's emotional response, talked about solving the problem, and clarified decision boundaries.
For a longer meeting or working session that requires everyone's participation, consider doing a short check-in. A check-in serves as a boundary between outside and inside the meeting and allows people to say just a bit about their background noise, if they choose to. Something as small as being stuck in traffic and feeling rushed can block concentration. Saying it aloud can help to let it go.
Use the Resources Available
Sometimes emotional distractions last longer than a few days. Jon, a programmer on my team, went through a nasty custody negotiation when he divorced. He needed to take time off work for legal appointments and mediation. When Jon came to talk to me about it, he was worried that between the emotions, stress, and time off, his work would suffer.
I put Jon in touch with the company's Employee Assistance Program (EAP). He was able to find a support group for divorcing dads. (I didn't try to be Jon's therapist… that wasn't my job as a manager. I did put him in touch with HR and worked out a flexible schedule with him, both of which were within my job as a manager.) Jon was able to remain productive at work.
If your company has an EAP, you usually don't need to wait for your manager to bring it up. It's there for you to use and there's no reason not to get help coping with a difficult life event.
Manage Employees Who Can't or Won't Manage Themselves
Once in a great while I encounter people who are unable to manage their emotions at work. It's not your job to be a therapist or to fix your employees. When a member of your team is repeatedly unable to focus on work because of emotional issues, coach the employee to obtain appropriate professional help. If the employee continues to be unable to focus and do the work he's paid to do, coach him out of the job.
What do you do to manage emotions at work? What's the price of ignoring emotions at work?