Emotions in the workplace

One of the hardest things about being human is that sometimes life hits us with very powerful and very painful experiences—emotions that we can’t just ignore. 

Emotional pain is one of the great disrupters in life and in the workplace. Good leaders don’t ignore pain, but they don’t succumb to it either: they lead through it and they find ways to help others do the same.

When confronted with pain, a good leader will acknowledge it and then determine the best way through it. Sometimes, going through it means taking time away to grieve fully. Other times, it means acknowledging it and then putting it to the side to be dealt with later. 

Putting it aside isn’t ignoring it or stuffing the feelings far from your reach. Putting it aside in a healthy way means that you focus your attention on what needs to be done while putting your emotional response on hold until you have the space, support, or sanctuary to feel your feelings fully.

Ignoring feelings is repression, which is dangerous because the feelings will eventually resurface—usually at the wrong time, in the wrong place, with the wrong people. 

You’ve seen it; it’s the rage that comes from an incidental mishap, or the fury that follows a minor failure. Rage and fury are usually misplaced emotions that are born out of unreconciled pain and grief.

The next time you find yourself filled with emotions and having to be present at work, take these four steps so that you’re able to lead yourself forward:

  1. Breathe – not just once, in and out slowly for at least a full minute. 

    Breathing will open up some brain space (and decrease your emotional reactivity) so that you can figure out what’s next.

  2. Sort – the feelings from the thoughts that you’re having about the feelings. 

    There’s nothing wrong with feeling the feelings you have. But, people get into trouble when they ascribe thoughts to those feelings and then act on the thoughts.

  3. Plan – what needs to happen to move forward.  

    You can use the emotions you’ve felt (or that others are exhibiting) as data that will inform your next move, but it should be in addition to other information. You don’t necessarily want to rely on emotional data alone.

  4. Take Action – on the plan you’ve made, and if you’re presented with new data, use that information to create a more effective plan.

There are many reasons why emotions show up in the workplace. Sometimes, they’re brought in from outside, and sometimes they’re the result of what’s happening at the office. Either way, understanding that you can take action rather than succumbing to the feelings (even if they are strong feelings) increases your presence and your agility as a leader.

See you next week,
Your Coaches and Allies at Carpenter Smith Consulting

If you'd like support in developing strategies to manage emotions in your workplace, click here to contact us about our coaching services.