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Your guide to managing emotions at work

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay


We’ve all been there; whether it’s juggling an overwhelming pile of deadlines, dealing with toxic colleagues, or having to set boundaries between work and personal issues – such stressful circumstances can emotionally burden our professional lives. It can be easy to let the pressures bubble to a boil, leading to outbursts of anger, sadness, or even an overall feeling of burnout. 

While potentially granting that much-needed relief, such behaviour can often harm your professional reputation – and in some cases, may cost you your career altogether. 

It’s thus crucial to find ways of regulating one’s feelings in the workplace, saving you and your colleagues further conflict and downtime. 

Below, we break down the importance of managing your emotions at work, and ways to effectively do so. 

Why is it important to manage emotions at work? 

Managing your emotions at work can ultimately lead to greater productivity and workplace engagement. After all, they help set the tone and pace for each day – keeping you motivated and inspired at best, while disengaging you from your tasks at worst. 

By building the emotional intelligence (EQ) to manage and regulate how you feel in the workplace, you’ll be better equipped to make clear decisions, generate ideas, build healthy professional relationships, and put forth your best performance. In fact, past research has shown that our success in both work and life is 80% dependent on emotional intelligence, and 20% dependent on intellect. 

Having this level of EQ can also help managers or team leaders in conflict management; granting them the ability to accept and understand differing personalities and perspectives while guiding workers through tense or stressful situations. 

How your emotions impact others in your workplace 

employees working together

Your emotions, and how you act on them, can have a significant effect among your colleagues, clients, and managers. Unregulated negative emotions may lead to unnecessary conflict with others at work, poor customer service, and thus – overall lower productivity. Such feelings are also generally contagious, potentially dampening overall team morale, and leading to poorer business outcomes. 

Being aware and able to control your emotions, however, can help you solve or set aside your personal issues before they affect other people. As mentioned, they also help build your awareness of others’ emotions, allowing for more empathetic and open communication among colleagues. This, in turn, leads to a more engaged, efficient, and happier work environment. 

How to manage emotions at work

  1. Learn to accept them.
  2. Figure out the 'why'.
  3. Create the change you need.
  4. Be mindful with positive emotions, too. 

1. Learn to accept them. 

Your first step to successfully managing emotions at work is to accept them as they are. Recognise what you’re feeling and identify it. This self-awareness is critical to building higher EQ, though it’s also important to be wary of how your mood, and subsequent actions, are affecting others around you. 

Additionally, while it’s tempting to judge or criticise yourself for feeling the things you are – try and exercise self-compassion in these moments. Beating yourself up is only bound to exacerbate these negative emotions, hampering your ability to find productive solutions and improve mindfulness. 

SEEK’s resident psychologist, Sabina Read, advises taking a break from these situations when you can, as our nervous system “takes at least 20 minutes [to] calm down”. Allowing your mind to step back and refresh can help you better approach the next step.  

2. Figure out the “why”. 

woman working from home

Once you’re in a clearer, calmer headspace – try and figure out the “why” behind your emotions. A key element of EQ and self-awareness is the ability to link your feelings to events that may have triggered them. Upon identifying your emotions, ask yourself how you came to feel that way – and if these are rooted in inner conflict you may be dealing with, or from external circumstances. 

If your emotional situation seems familiar, perhaps you can think back to other times you felt this way; how did you respond then? What went well? Is there something you can improve on this time around? Taking stock of your emotional strengths and weaknesses can help you pinpoint areas for social improvement, boosting your communication, collaborative, and general people skills for the workplace. 

Furthermore, ensure you never act on fleeting negative emotions. Giving in to that burst of anger can lead to rash decisions you may later regret, and can oftentimes have irreversible consequences (i.e. damaged work relationships, getting fired, etc.). 

3. Create the change you need.

If certain negative emotions are persistent, however, ensure you don’t wait too long to take positive action. Should major grievances occur, it’s important to give yourself a break before responding – typically around (or more) than 20 minutes, but never more than 24 hours. Delaying proper action can very likely make you feel worse, forcing you to stew in the negative emotions further. 

Once you’ve given yourself the space you need, it’s time to plan for the change you want. Perhaps this requires overdue conversations with colleagues or managers on long standing workplace issues. Perhaps you need to adjust areas of your personal life, such as incorporating more hobbies, exercise, or social activities to help relieve stress when necessary. 

Whatever the case may be, determine what you’ll need to ease recurring negative emotions – whether it’s changing your current circumstances or simply changing the way you think about them. 

4. Be mindful with positive emotions, too. 

Lastly, as much as we value positivity – it’s also important to be mindful of when and how to express such emotion. While maintaining a happy, optimistic energy is generally beneficial, an excess of this in certain work situations may not be appropriate. 

Coming back to work with a cheerful, happy-go-lucky attitude after a fun weekend or event may not be the best look when your company is dealing with forced redundancies, for example. This isn’t to say you should have a negative outlook instead, but it’s important to read the room and carry yourself appropriately (i.e. taking workplace crises seriously despite your naturally cheerful mood). 

Good or bad, whatever your emotions may be – having the skills to identify, regulate, and manage them is an invaluable skill; not just in the workforce, but in general, everyday life. While intense feelings aren’t inherently bad on their own, it’s the actions they inspire that can have long-lasting damage or benefits. 

Such people skills are integral to any professional role, regardless of industry. They can especially benefit those in leadership positions who are often tasked with fostering effective communication strategies and problem-solving tactics in the workplace.

Upskilled currently offers a short course in leadership and management for those seeking to build their skills in these areas, helping you cultivate happy, engaged, and productive teams. Its online delivery also offers you ease of studying according to your specific needs, pace, and schedule. 
 
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