Acting Superhuman: Controlling Emotions at Work
“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy”
Our lives are full of emotional moments. We have all experienced situations at work that are emotionally challenging. For instance, when we get insufficient recognition for the level of contribution and effort we provide, or our payment does not match our performance, when a customer insults us unfairly, when we laid off suddenly, or our manager does not treat us fairly. Moreover, we might also have to deal with difficult personal situations including breakups, marital problems, family health issues, financial problems and issues with children that indirectly affect the way we feel at work.
These stressful and overwhelming situations trigger multiple emotions inside us. Our emotions drive us day by day, they provide us with a way to communicate with each other and to better understand ourselves. They can be straightforward and very powerful with a great authority in our rational minds, as in many cases they cannot be controlled. Some of these emotions are entirely appropriate to the situation and some others are inappropriate and need to be managed. Although controlling our emotions requires a major effort, patience, and perseverance, however, it is imperative to take every possible action as the ability to regulate negative emotions in the workplace, has a great impact on how we are perceived by the people around us.
Much has been said and written about emotional management at work, mainly because behaviors such as crying, shouting or being angry, frustrated and sad can seriously harm our professional reputation, our productivity, and well-being in general. It is just unrealistic to shut down our emotions or feelings instantly and pretend that we are super humans who have everything under control. Instead of bottling up these emotions from the workplace, we need to embrace and work on preventing, managing, and handling them more efficiently and effectively.
So, how can we become better at handling our emotions, and choose our reactions wisely to stressful situations?
1. Be aware of your bodily sensations.
Being aware of bodily sensations is the first step to identify specific emotions before they come up. For instance, when we are upset, our heart is beating faster, we sweat or our muscles are tensed, while when we are happy, we are more energized, we breathe deeply or we lift our head. Our brain is constantly receiving signals from the body. One of the best things we can do first before taking any kind of action is to start recognizing how our body is reacting to a certain unpleasant situation. We need to take a moment to realize what is going on to our body. By scanning our body we allow ourselves to experience how each part feels, if our heart is beating fast, the face is red, we have knots in our stomach, the hands are sweating and shaking or the brain is overwhelmed with negative thoughts. This body scan will train our brain to be aware of the emotions that will abruptly show up and help us stop ourselves before our explosion.
2. Picture yourself and remember a similar past situation.
Create a mental mirror in your mind on how you look in front of your colleagues when you are upset or nervous or frustrated. Try to think how you felt in the past after your reaction, for example, you might have felt ashamed or less professional or losing respect. Picturing or visualizing yourself will give you some perspective on the situation and will prevent you to react inappropriately. Moreover, it will guide your behavior when the actual situation will arise and will help you intervene before any emotion is expressed. Although you cannot control the situation you are in or how it makes you feel, however, you can control how you express your emotions.
3. Remove yourself from the situation.
If your emotions seem to be out of control, take a break to cool down, clear your head, and get a different perspective. If you are in a middle of a meeting or a conversation with a colleague or a client be honest and tell them that you would like to drink some water or to go out for a few minutes to recompose. This way you respect not only yourself, but also others, your problem will not escalate and you will not have to waste your energy on inconsequential things.
4. Set clear boundaries about what you will and will not tolerate.
Boundaries define who we are and keep us safe physically and emotionally. Boundaries allow us to be transparent, to define what we will and will not tolerate from others, set clear limits, manage conflict, be clear and concise, and to clarify expectations. When we have boundaries we are able to effectively tell a manager or a colleague or a customer that we will not tolerate their behavior or are able to say “no” to overtime or to bad working conditions. We can set boundaries at work by clearly communicate which are our limits, for instance, we need to clearly say to our manager that we cannot work constantly overtime because we want to have sufficient time for our hobbies, ourselves or our beloved ones. We need to let the people around us know immediately how we feel and which will be our next action when our boundaries are being violated. It is really important though to stick to your boundaries. For instance, if you have agreed on not working overtime, you should leave on time.
5. Have a reality check.
Having a reality check at the workplace means taking the moment to recognize where are you and what is about to happen if an outburst occurs. It is an opportunity to consider a matter in a more realistic and appropriate way. In order to have your reality check, try to ask yourself:
How important is the cause of my outburst?
Is it really worth getting angry/upset/frustrated about it?
Is it worth my colleagues see me in an out of control behavior?
Is my response appropriate to the situation?
Is there any other appropriate behavior?
Is walking away for a while worth it?
Being emotional at work does not make us unprofessional or weak or a bad employee. It just makes us human.
“Emotions can get in the way or get you on the way”.