Emotions in the workplace: You may not like them, but they’re there, all right, and you can’t get rid of them. “Feelings and emotions” reminds me of those “ring around the collar” ads for Wisk back in the ’70s: “You’ve tried soaking them out and scrubbing them out, and still you get” feelings and emotions, feelings and emotions! They’re messy, and can become permanent if you don’t deal with them skillfully. And yet emotions can give you truly pertinent, useful data about business problems that need attention.
Practice with yourself first. Your emotions tell you when something’s wrong or wonderful. Note what feelings come up during your workday, and whether certain kinds of events lift you up or bring you down. Learn to recognize your triggers. This kind of self-awareness is crucial to emotional intelligence and skillful self-management, and helps you deal with whatever is going on around you.
The Positive Side of Negative Emotions
For example, negative emotions are useful indicators of both your instincts and your beliefs:
- If you’re angry, you may have a fairness issue of some kind, and the anger may be telling you about a sense of violation or something that needs to be set right.
- If you’re feeling sad or down, you’re more likely to be unhappy with your own behavior or the effectiveness of your response to events. You might be thinking that something has gone wrong and that it was your fault. Sadness may prompt you to see how you could do better in the future, but be careful not to leave sadness unattended or it can slide into hopelessness or a belief that you’ll never be able to make things better. Look for small actions and steps to make a little headway toward fixing the problem.
- If you’re afraid or you don’t feel safe in some way, you may feel that something is going to happen but you’re not sure what it is and you think it might damage you in some way. Or perhaps you don’t trust upcoming events or the people involved, and you fear that a bad thing is coming — something that might be unfair and could make you angry in a way you don’t want to be.
Think through what kinds of conditions or circumstances would help you feel differently. Explore those options. Can you work toward making any of them happen?
An Emotion By Any Other Name…
Even if you can’t control the circumstances, just naming what’s occurring, being mindful and identifying for yourself what you are experiencing, will help calm your negative emotions and enhance your positive ones.
This is not just touchy-feely psychobabble. The mere identification of the feeling activates brain processing that helps you recognize what’s going on. And even that split second of recognition can create a moment of evaluation instead of reaction.
So articulate it explicitly for yourself: “I feel emotional state about particular circumstance.”
Classifying the situation and naming how you feel about it will help you know whether you’ve pinpointed the thing that’s really bothering you or you need to analyze it further: “Yes, that’s just how I feel.” Or it might take a little more digging and introspection to accurately characterize how you feel: “No, I’m not quite angry; I’m more frustrated and worried that I can’t change this by myself and I feel a little fearful that I won’t be able to get anyone to help me.”
Once you’ve finished the analysis, you can think about how to separate the circumstances and your reactions and find some pieces you can do something about.
You’ll reduce your own stress because you’ve broken up the big horror show and the sense of being overwhelmed; instead you’ll have specifically relevant responses to different aspects of the situation and take up the “logic problem” of how to work on it. And just starting to work on it, judiciously and practically, will help you feel better because you’re doing something about it. (See Five Steps to Recovering Your Equilibrium for more tips.) And if you’re effective, well, then you can feel terrific!
In the next post we’ll look at how your new understanding of emotions and how to work with them can help make your colleagues more productive too.
Onward and upward,