Expressing Emotions at Work: Fear and Anger

Oct 10, 2012
4 Min Read

Emotions occur spontaneously and produce real changes in our body. By definition, an emotion is “a conscious mental reaction subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.”

We all experience a wide range of emotions throughout the day and there really isn’t a simple way to switch them on or off. What happens at home affects our work and vice versa. Some of these feelings are minor and fleeting, and we are easily distracted from them by the next task or interaction we encounter. Others may stick around, especially if the situation causing them is continuous and long-lasting.

When these strong, pervasive emotions aren’t managed well, it can result in outbursts, maladaptive behaviors, and/or psychological distress. This comes out as displaying an emotion inappropriate to the situation, withdrawing contact or passive-aggressive behaviors, burnout, or anxiety and depression. To others who don’t know what we are going through, this is confusing and appears unprofessional.


While very few of us experience genuine fear on the job, the less intense form of this emotion—anxiety—is quite common. We often feel anxiety without it being attached to any situation in particular. Thus, identifying the cause of your anxiety should be the first step. Sometimes anxiety can be productive; it can prompt you to change course or take action against a worrisome outcome. Other times, it’s merely crippling and the only thing to do is to muster courage and keep going.


There are big individual differences in how we experience anger as well as what situations cause anger. Hopefully true anger is rare in your workplace, but frustration is probably a familiar reaction. Oftentimes anger and frustration happen when we see the situation only from our own point of view and we infer motive, make assumptions, or otherwise jump to conclusions about the other point of view. Empathizing and looking at the situation from another perspective (including finding the positive aspects), is a good way to abate anger and frustration. Additionally, communicating when you are angry and knowing how to say that you are frustrated about something is a crucial skill to learn.

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