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Feb 25, 201312:34 PMForward HR

with Diane Hamilton and Nilesh Patel

Three tips to calm Chicken Little

Three tips to calm Chicken Little

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” – Chicken Little, aka Henny Penny

I’ve worked with a number of Chicken Littles over the years. You know them – employees who become almost hysterical in their reaction to feedback or their belief that organizational or team disaster is imminent. These people are often unreasonably afraid. Worse yet, they often try to incite fear in those around them. So what can a leader do to calm Chicken Little?

1. Let Chicken Little vent (but not on and on and on).

Many people try to deal with emotional situations by getting straight to the issue and problem- solving right away. This ignores the emotion. When someone presents us with a “sky is falling” situation, it is useful to address three things (in this order): 1) our own emotional reaction to the other person’s behaviors (we can’t successfully problem-solve if our emotions are getting in the way), 2) the other person’s emotions (the other person, aka Chicken Little, can’t focus if emotion is driving the discussion), and 3) the content. By addressing these three things in this order, it allows us to better coach others and ultimately address the core issue.

2. Reframe the situation.

Understanding and helping Chicken Little see the “other side” of a situation is key to calming a “sky is falling” response. Reassessing the situation and framing it in a new way can help the individual be more positive about what is happening. Ask the following:

• What’s another way to look at that?
• Could the opposite be true?
• What assumptions are you making?
• What is the worst/best thing that can happen?

3. Identify facts versus opinions.

Summarize your understanding of what Chicken Little has said. Ask questions and avoid placing blame or judging. Avoid absolute words (always, never, everyone, no one). Acknowledge and validate thoughts and feelings, and be persistent about the purpose and direction of your conversation. If it is your perception or opinion, state it as such; and wherever possible, provide facts and specific examples of behavior.

You can calm Chicken Little if you stay calm, don’t let him or her sidetrack you, and remember to focus (or refocus) on what you are trying to accomplish.

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About This Blog

 Diane Hamilton, PCC, SPHR, is the owner and founder of Calibra, a coaching and consulting firm focused on maximizing leadership potential. Nilesh Patel is the principal attorney of the Mahadev Law Group, LLC, which focuses on human resources and employment law issues for organizations. He can be reached at Both bloggers are members of Wisconsin SHRM, which is dedicated to being the state leader in HR management and the premier source for HR expertise and resources. More information can be found at You can follow the WI SHRM blog at



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