4 Ways to Deal with Strong Emotions in the Workplace

Oct 15, 2012
4 Min Read

Emotions in the workplace are typically suppressed. But when strong negative emotions aren’t managed well, it comes out as reacting inappropriately, withdrawn, or passive-aggressive. Or we internalize the feelings and experience burnout, anxiety, or depression. Furthermore, if we don’t make our emotional state clear to others in a way that they can understand, we appear confusing and unprofessional.

Here are some steps that can be taken to positively address high emotions in the workplace:

1. Learn Emotional Triggers

You are not a therapist and you can’t help someone if they don’t want your help. Thus, sometimes the simplest thing to do is to learn what sets someone off and then not push that button. It’s also important to know your own triggers. What frustrates you and what makes you happy? To keep productive despite the daily ups and downs, identify work tasks that escalate intense emotions and which ones downgrade them and alter your schedule as needed.

2. Teach Coping Skills

Emotions have a way of shutting down the rational part of our brain in the heat of the moment. To deal, learn coping skills to keep your own negative emotions from affecting others. In a team setting, emotional contagion happens. Good leaders know that when they display excitement, their team is likely to follow suit… and when they are apprehensive, that will catch on as well. Prevent “infecting others” by managing your own emotions effectively: exit a situation to cool off when you need to, incorporate calming relaxation exercises into stressful days, and be mindful of your voice and body language. To avoid shutting others out, schedule a meeting to discuss the hot topic later.

3. Take Positive Action

Writing is an extremely effective way of dealing with strong emotions because it activates our logical thought process, helping us work through the intense emotion that sometimes initially has no words. First, write down the scenario, situation, or person that is a concern. Next, identify exactly what is bothersome and why. After that, write out what should happen instead.  Last, write out an action plan (or at least the next few steps) on how to get from here to there.

4. Know When to Apologize

When intense emotions are involved, someone is bound to feel hurt. Eventually, no matter your best intentions, when you work with others you will end up offending someone. When it is brought to your attention, think of the other person first. If you think of your action from your perspective, you will sound defensive which just adds fuel to the fire. Consider that—even if you were right—you may have still hurt the other person. Seen in this light, apologizing is not conceding you were wrong, but admitting you care.

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