Managing Emotions in the Workplace

Whether you like it or not, the workplace is emotional. There are psychological dynamics at play, dicey team situations, pressure, and glory. You can’t just throw your emotions onto others, so learning how to handle your emotions at work is a smart skill.

Luckily, there are lots of strategies to manage your emotions, not only stemming the tide of negative emotions but also transforming those emotions into something useful. It’s not about where to cry, so no one sees you; it’s about learning to use your feelings to your advantage.

You can even transform your work experience through small mindset tweaks that help you be happier and more satisfied at work. Here are some tips for how to do that and why you need to pay attention to this vital part of your work life.

What Emotions Am I Experiencing?

The first element of understanding how to deal with your emotions is labeling the feelings themselves. For some of us, we don’t know what emotions we have because no one ever taught us emotional intelligence skills.

Emotional intelligence is the key to living a more fulfilled life. If you don’t recognize what your emotions are, you’re more likely to be overcome by them in situations where you need to remain calm. These emotions are a liability for your work life because you aren’t in control when they pop up.

Psychologists Mayer and Salovey coined the term “emotional intelligence” in 1990, but elements of it have been around for much longer than that. Emotional intelligence is the intersection of our cognition and emotions, allowing us to process not only our feelings but understand the feelings of others.

It’s this type of intelligence that allows us to process and learn from our emotional responses and be more responsive to others. When we have frameworks for healthy emotional intelligence, we can understand how our emotions may be logically consistent or inconsistent with a situation.

There’s a growing body of research that shows people with higher emotional intelligence make better managers and leaders in the workplace. These skills fall into five distinct categories, and you can learn and develop them.

What Are The Five Emotional Intelligence Categories?

These categories aren’t fixed in your brain. You can develop the ones you lack and continue to hone ones you do well with. There are lots of ways to practice each aspect of emotional intelligence, giving you the chance to grow. Here are the five areas that make up emotional intelligence.

Self-Awareness

Do you understand your own emotions? Can you identify them clearly and understand their catalyst? If you don’t have self-awareness, it makes it very hard to use your emotions to your advantage.

Self-awareness is the first step in identifying how your emotions impact you and those around you. It helps you understand what motivates and hinders you and gives you the first clue to what sorts of skills you need to practice for better emotional intelligence.

Self-Regulation

Self-Regulation gives you the chance to manage any disruptive or negative emotions. While most of the focus is on managing negative emotions in the workplace, any emotion that causes disruption can hurt your work life.

If you get so excited about everything that happens that you can’t make clear headed decisions, that’s an example of a disruptive emotion. You must be able to think clearly regardless of your emotion’s negative or positive aspects.

Motivation

The ability to find internal motivation without having external factors driving you gives you an advantage in your workplace. If you plan to move up in the company, you’ll need to have the skills of motivation, getting things done, and creating paths without letting outside circumstances blow you from place to place.

When you’re internally motivated, you’ll potentially be more goal-oriented and better able to focus on tasks and long term goals. You’ll be more committed and better able to help keep others more committed as well.

Empathy

This is a critical skill for the workplace because you’ll be surrounded by people who may not be like you. You must understand where they’re coming from and be able to understand their emotions to work well within the team.

Empathetic individuals are also better able to understand existing workplace dynamics. They can analyze relationships, influences, and maneuver through complex social and psychological issues throughout the office.

This skill is also vital for management. If you’re managing a team and you don’t understand the underlying emotions at play, you may be at a loss for how to motivate your team. You could also miss crucial clues for how to solve problems on teams.

Social Skills

Using all four of these skills to understand the social dynamics at work gives you the social skills to build and manage relationships, connect people, and motivate your team. It helps you to use your emotional knowledge to influence people to be their best selves gently.

Social skills are the final tier in this equation. You must have done the work to understand yourself before you can understand how emotions are affecting others. This is the last piece to your workplace intelligence and can help you manage your feelings and teach others to do the same thing.

In the modern workplace, people are paying more attention to the role emotional intelligence plays – some even elevating it to the same regard as experience in the field and education. For managers and leaders, controlling emotions in the workplace improves decision making and helps manage teams.

For individuals, controlling emotions helps with teamwork and encourages individuals to live happier, more fulfilled lives. We spend so much of our time at work that negative experiences can really cloud our overall life experience.

Not every job is right for you, but managing your emotions in the workplace can help you decide if it’s time to leave a job or if you need to rethink how you approach the work. Without this critical skill, you may end up making rash decisions that don’t benefit you in the long run.

What Other Value Does Emotional Intelligence Have?

It’s not just about your workplace. Managing your emotions in your work has profound effects across your entire life. This skill helps you build things like resilience and motivation, encouraging you to improve work performance and, potentially, your life satisfaction.

Employees that don’t have good emotional intelligence may be more prone to burnout, stress, and anxiety. As those feelings grow, it can be harder to manage emotions, causing a spiral and building tensions throughout the team.

Emotional intelligence is a core competency and a soft skill many employers are looking for in the modern workplace. It can boost communication skills, improve work relationships, and create a foundation for leadership skills.

If you work in areas where emotions naturally run high – think emergency room employees or social workers – managing emotions in the workplace is an especially critical skill. Your emotions can affect your decision making and cause you to make poor decisions. You may improve your overall health by understanding your emotions.

Emotional intelligence is a critical factor in maintaining interpersonal relationships as well. Most of us work with others, requiring us to understand and maintain relationships with people other than family or friends.

Studies suggest that better emotional intelligence helps individuals sustain healthier relationships, a critical factor in teamwork and close-knit organizations. When everyone on the team is aware of how powerful emotions are and how to manage them, you have a better chance of making headway with problem-solving and innovation.

Chronic stress has several adverse health effects, as well. Managing your emotions in the workplace can help relieve stress and create a more positive, resilient outlook. Signs of stress and burnout are

  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Heart problems
  • Diabetes
  • Slow wound healing
  • Slow recovery
  • Pain
  • Fatigue

None of those are things you want to live with year in and year out. As your emotional intelligence grows, you may be able to gain the skills to overcome stress and anxiety and improve your resilience.

Can I Learn To Self Manage?

All of the skills in emotional intelligence are learnable. You can develop ones you don’t have, giving you the chance to manage emotions and not fall prey to them. Few people are born with self-management skills.

As babies and children, we learn to self-soothe in order to sleep through the night or wait for our turn. As we practice these skills, we get better at waiting, taking the long view, and understanding long term consequences.

However, many of us never move beyond these childhood masteries into the world of adulthood. Adult issues are very different than child issues, so it’s vital that we continue to develop our motivation and understanding.

You don’t have much control over what you feel, but you do have a lot of control over how you react. When you think about your workplace, there are probably times when you could have handled the situation better and made a better decision. Hopefully, you didn’t burn bridges or have to work to gain trust back, but these are risks.

Self-regulation helps liberate you from the throes of your emotions. Practicing self-regulation slows you down and allows you to identify your feelings and build better initial reaction strategies.

Self-management takes this a step further by giving you a framework for addressing your emotions, understanding them, and moving through them. You can use your knowledge and understanding to build a plan for your emotions and allow them to move through you if the situation arises.

This is a critical part of leadership, as well. Many of us have had managers who were quick to anger and seemed to make illogical snap decisions without input from colleagues. If you’ve ever lived in fear of your boss’s emotions, you understand why self-regulation is a critical leadership skill.

If you don’t have good self-management, it’s hard to develop communication and interpersonal relationship skills. Whether you’re in a leadership position at work or not, you should begin working on these aspects now to prepare for a future in leadership roles.

Do Women And Men Have Different Emotional Responses? Why?

There is some scientific evidence that women cry more than men do while men tend to explode in anger, but it’s not entirely a biological reason. Women and men are socialized very differently when it comes to their emotions, and that can cause massive differences in reactions.

Smaller tear ducts make it harder for women to hold back tears, but this is a small part of how emotions tend to play out in the workplace. Women are often afraid to express anger for fear of how coworkers will respond while men are often shamed for crying.

Suppressed anger in women is incredibly stressful, and without practice in venting that powerful emotion, it comes out in other ways (including crying). Women may feel shame about both their anger and their crying response, setting in place a vicious cycle for emotions that adds to burnout.

Many men believe anger to be a useful management tool. This explosive response is never a beneficial tool, but we’ve been conditioned for years to view it as an acceptable way to motivate teams and receive results.

How Do I Manage My Emotions?

There are many techniques for increasing your emotional intelligence so that you can manage emotions in the workplace. Because these skills are easy to learn and often show quick results, you can begin developing your own emotional intelligence without waiting.

Here are a few common techniques designed to help you develop awareness, practice reaction skills, and understand your own emotions and their roles in your decision making.

Reflect On Your Emotions

The simple act of reflection helps bring your emotions to the forefront. Our childhood emotions are simple at times, but as we grow older, we can lose touch with the real root of our feelings.

There are a variety of ways to reflect, giving you space to identify and learn from emotions that come up commonly or any that surprised you.

  • Emotion Journaling – writing about your emotions gives you a chance to reflect long term about what happened. You can journal every day, noting changes in your emotions, or journal when you experience strong positive or negative emotions. You can then go back and figure out the catalyst and result.
  • Restating emotions – Making “I” statements can sometimes help you sort your feelings out when other people are involved. Start with “I feel…” and fill in the blanks. When you frame your reactions this way, you can begin to uncover your real emotions. For example, “I feel nervous when you leave your coffee cup resting on the edge of our cubicle.”
  • Emotion charting – If you make a bullet-style journal in which you simply chart your ebbs and flows throughout the day, you can also help uncover patterns in your natural rhythm to help you. If you notice that you’re more anxious right before lunch every day, you may be able to take steps to reduce that anxiety before it happens.

Ask For Input

A companion to self-reflection, asking for input can help bring in an outside perspective. Filtering your experiences through the input of others is a critical step in building your emotional intelligence.

It’s not about establishing that an emotion or situation was right or wrong. Instead, it holds a fundamental practice – understanding the perspectives of others – that helps build a better emotional framework.

There are quite a few questions you could ask your friend or coworker, but these in particular are good ones for the learning process:

  • How did I act when I was in this emotional state?
  • How did I treat you?
  • Was I understanding or sensitive to your feelings? Was I respectful?
  • Did I make good decisions during this time?
  • Is there anything that I did that caused negative impacts?

Focusing on these questions can help you understand where to focus your efforts for building better coping mechanisms. It’s important to ask these questions of people you trust. You need honest, clear answers without manipulation.

If you don’t have anyone to ask, you might consider going to your leadership to start the conversation. Many managers are now glad to bring up emotional intelligence in the workplace, and that could help them guide you.

Pause

Because many emotions are so reactive, we often don’t take the time to fully understand what’s happening before we fly off the handle. Think about how many times you’ve taken action before fully understanding the situation.

By practicing pausing, you give yourself time to think through the situation. The pause can be adapted for a variety of situations. Maybe you count to five before you speak. Maybe you wait a day before firing off that angry email. Maybe you wait a week before making a decision that changes your life trajectory.

No matter the length of the pause, building a pause into your life helps you practice thinking before acting. You can use the time to identify your emotions first and react second. If you’re prone to taking out your own feelings on others, this can help you slow that down too.

The pause is easy to talk about but very hard to put into practice. Pausing doesn’t mean taking a breath before launching into what you were going to say anyway. Inherent in the pause is the question of why you’re doing what you’re doing and if your reaction is sound. Pause to examine your internal motivations.

Focus On Learning

Receiving criticism at work can lead to emotional reactions. Disappointment and frustration may cause the same thing. However, sometimes your emotions can blind you to lessons you can learn.

When something happens that causes a strong emotion, use your pause (learned above) to ask yourself two critical questions.

First, what can you learn from this experience? If someone criticized you at work, is there a grain of truth to that criticism? If you experienced a sharp disappointment, is there something you can do to prevent that disappointment in the first place?

Even if there’s nothing overt to learn from the experience (for example, the criticism is rooted in falsehood), you can still learn a lot about your reactions and how to handle others. Maybe it’s time to find a different job where you feel valued and mentored, and that emotion is the best catalyst for the change.

Second, how can this particular situation help your team improve? Is it possible that there’s value in what happened and can spur growth for everyone in the group? This is an especially mission-critical question for those of you already in leadership positions.

If someone mismanaged an emotion, or if that someone was you, there may be a period of healing and reflection required to handle the situation without causing permanent damage to the relationships. It’s a time to ensure that everyone is acknowledged and that the team can grow from the experience.

What Is Your Why?

The most significant way to begin understanding emotional intelligence and managing emotions in the workplace is to understand your why. This is a complicated question with lots of factors, so it’s essential to address it from multiple angles.

We know on a reasonable level that showing characteristics like empathy and understanding are good. We understand that it’s essential to control our temper or avoid jumping to conclusions. Yet, we often fail at these fundamental tasks.

Intrapersonal Why

The first sort of “why” is, “why do you want to master these qualities?” This could include a variety of answers, including not hurting the ones you love and being a better leader or teammate in the workplace.

These whys could also include yourself. If you’ve experienced the physical and mental effects of poor emotional management, your why could be getting healthier in your workplace. Maybe you’re tired of feeling depressed and fatigued, and you’d like to build up your immune system.

These critical aspects of your why can help frame the question and keep you motivated when things get tough. Your why can also give you a lot of perspective about what you’re doing and if you’re seeing improvements in your personal and professional life.

Interpersonal Why

The second type of “why” explores things from other perspectives. Why did my coworker have such hurt feelings over my behavior? Why does my spouse feel anxious when I’m around? Why did my manager react that way?

Exploring the whys of the other side helps you develop an awareness of how your emotions impact others and how managing your feelings in the workplace might improve your relationships.

Because we often have gaps in our perspective, it’s easy to forget what others experience around us. If we have a terrible temper, for example, it may seem like no big deal to us. In reality, however, it could be destroying the relationships we have and could be a good motivation for finally getting it under control.

It can also help us understand where we might be falling short in the workplace. If you’re on track to be in a leadership position but keep getting passed over, is there something about your emotional management that’s making the leadership hesitant to take a chance on you?

If you can’t answer the second type of whys, then it might be time to ask for their perspective. The exercise outlined in a previous section applies here – understanding perspective is key to a holistic picture of each situation.

Practice Strategies

When you need an in the moment strategy, there are a few quick things that can help bring down your emotions to a manageable level while you’re exploring other long term solutions.

  • Deep breathing – One of the most accessible relaxation techniques involves pausing to breathe. Breathe in slowly through your nose for four seconds and pause for two seconds. Release your breath slowly for four seconds and pause for two seconds. Repeat until you’re more clear headed.
  • Compartmentalization – Practicing leaving your home emotions at home and your work emotions at work is another common solution. If you’re feeling misplaced emotions at work, make a list, note the feeling, and then redirect to positive work activities.
  • Go for a walk – If you have the chance to take a break and walk to clear your head, you’re not only getting the benefits of physical exercise, but you may also be leaving your negative emotions behind.
  • Take a nap – In progressive workplaces where it’s possible to nap it out, taking a 20-minute breather could help you process and calm down enough to deal with your negative or disruptive emotion logically.
  • Be respectful – Reframing your emotional response into a respectful comment can help stop disruptive emotions in their tracks. You are less likely to escalate an already tense situation.

Managing Emotions In The Workplace

It’s a vital part of your overall practice to manage emotions in the workplace. Once you’ve gotten your disruptive emotions under control and developed your emotional intelligence, you could be on your way to a more fulfilling work life and a healthier outlook overall.

Implementing these practices takes time, so choose one or two to work on and go from there. As you begin to improve your emotional intelligence, you can move on to more. Take control of your emotional health and give yourself the best chance of psychological success.

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