How do you cope when there’s a sudden release of strong emotions in a meeting or facilitated workshop?

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readMar 15


Join the discussion on LinkedIn: How do you cope when there’s a sudden release of strong emotions in a meeting or facilitated workshop?

I was asked about this recently when training facilitators.

My answer began from meeting setup:
Don’t manipulate or trick people — if there is a risk of overwhelming emotions or disclosure that people might not be happy with, reconsider whether that is helpful, and if it seems necessary, allow people warning, and space and time to object or not participate.
Create the kind of ‘container’ which allows people to be brave, to feel safe, to say what needs to be said, but also de-escalates stress and tension, particularly by acknowledging people’s humanity, connecting on a basic level. Remove as many other stressors as possible outside the conversation that might need to happen.
Those are pretty vague, huh? It depends a lot on practice and experience.
If an intense emotional expression happens — someone bursts into tears or anger (closely related!), how might you handle it?
First, I believe you’re trying to help people be in control of themselves — to regulate their emotions, if they want to, or to express them as they want to.
This happens most often when a participant (more often but not always a woman) has been repressing some strong emotion out of a feeling that it was ‘inappropriate’ or ‘not allowed’. Usually when it comes out, they feel ashamed and that their status is threatened or has been lost because of it.
The individual will need time to process their emotions, to reflect on what is happening and how they feel about it, and for the group (individually or collectively) to do the same.
If possible, it’s better not to separate the person from the group and reinforce the feeling of separation — but sometimes they will need some individual support, and a change of space, to regulate themselves to a place where they feel OK.
It feels important that a facilitator acknowledges that emotions can be hard to deal with, that whatever caused the emotion was obviously hard to deal with, and that useful information has now been shared.
You might be building a stronger team if you can acknowledge the emotion and demonstrate by being able to move forward constructively that nothing has been fundamentally broken, that the person and the group are OK.
What I want to achieve is usually for people to learn that emotions are valid, useful, and safe as long as they can BE safe — i.e. not cause unrepairable damage to people or the group (except for those time when the emotions and the cause of them SHOULD cause the group to end).
All of these terms tend to mean different things to different people at different times, depending on their experiences and the context. ‘A facilitated meeting’ can be anything from a rigidly-scheduled treadmill of ‘activities’ to an open circle encounter group, so I’m happy to discuss and expand in the comments.

What are your tips for handling this?



Benjamin P. Taylor