Emotions in the workplace: You may not like them, but they’re there, all right, and you can’t just wish them away. “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 noticing your own. 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. 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 feeling sad or down, you’re probably 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. 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. Instead, let sadness prompt you to do better in the future: Look for small actions and steps to make headway and improvements.
- 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 afraid or you don’t feel safe in some way, you may feel that something bad 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. Your fear can alert you to do extra preparation and contingency planning so you’ll have your best shot at success.
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 touchy-feely psychobabble. The mere labeling 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 characterize your feeling accurately: “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 any aspects 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; now you can take up the “logic problem” of how to work on the situation. And just starting to work on it, judiciously and practically, will help you feel better because you’re doing something about it. And if you’re effective, well, then you can feel terrific!
Onward and upward,