- An upset employee about a poor result may signal a need to provide additional support.
- A chronically stressed employee may signal a need to reduce workload or set priorities.
- An employee frustrated with a team member may signal a need to manage conflict.
- Feeling anxiety about an upcoming project may signal a need for you to better prepare.
- Being angry about a project outcome may signal a need for you to reevaluate your work.
- Sensing your boss’ frustration or stress may signal a need to respond to their concerns.
Emotions almost always signal a need to respond. When they are responded to properly, they can be used to productively manage situations, take action, and turn them around into positive change and outcomes. But when emotions aren’t managed appropriately, they lead to negative outcomes such as more conflict, inaction, broken relationships, and reduced trust.
How do you regulate and manage emotional reactions in the workplace and use emotions to produce positive outcomes? Here are a variety of tips.
- Be aware of your feelings and behavior. Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. You must be able to recognize what you are feeling, what triggers that emotion, and alter your behavior. Name your emotions and what they are, such as anger, frustration, sadness, or disappointment.
- Recognize patterns of inner dialogue. What are your predominant patterns of self-talk? Self-talk that is destructive and contains insecurity or doubt often influences negative emotions and behavior. Conversely, self-talk that is constructive, positive, and optimistic typically influences positive emotions and behaviors.
- Watch the meaning you assign to things. Emotional reactions arise from the meaning that you assign to behaviors, events, and evaluations made by others. Exaggerated interpretations of how meaningful these are can have a significant effect on your emotions and subsequent responses.
- Revisit situations and reassess your emotions. Revisit certain situations and encounters at work where you may have overreacted emotionally. Evaluate whether your emotional responses were appropriate and justified. If they weren’t, determine how you would have responded differently should the situation emerge again.
- Monitor your behavior and its impact on others. All of your behavior in the workplace has an impact on others and their emotions. Notice the verbal and nonverbal responses you receive to your actions at work. Do people seem to react negatively or positively? What is the ripple effect? Maintain or modify your behavior accordingly.
- Stop overgeneralizing. Overgeneralizing the frequency with which a behavior occurs (e.g. He always treats me unfairly.) and labeling people with certain negative characteristics (e.g. He’s nasty.) is poor emotional intelligence. Instead, label/judge the behavior and not the person, and be objective in appraising the frequency with which it actually occurs.
- Don’t misread people’s motives. Don’t misread or try to guess what people’s true motives and intentions are, and likewise, don’t make negative assumptions about why they behave a certain way. Instead, try to ask questions and understand the “why” behind their behavior. Let them tell you what their intentions are.
- Prepare for possible emotional reactions. Create a list of expected emotional reactions that you may experience at work and possible ways that you can effectively manage your emotions to the situation, such as responding calmly, listening, speaking slowly, and asking questions.
- Remove yourself from the situation. If you’re faced with an emotional person or situation that you couldn’t anticipate, remove yourself from the situation and cool down before responding, or at the very least, pause and count to 10 before responding. Try not to respond impulsively to emotionally-volatile people or situations. Rather, consider your response thoughtfully and plan for it.
- Directly communicate. Directly and openly communicate your thoughts and feelings to the person with whom you feel negative emotions. Be assertive in standing up for your opinions and ideas while respecting and listening to others’ viewpoints. Make sure you ask, with confidence, for what you want and need from the person.
- Focus on problem solving. Poor responses to problems include negatively reacting, ruminating or complaining about the problem, blaming it on someone else, and expecting others to fix it. Instead, take responsibility for the problem and focus on trying to resolve it. If one option doesn’t work, brainstorm and try multiple alternative solutions.
- Lead discussions to compromise. Strive to be assertive and not defensive in your position, but also compromise to meet the other person’s needs. Use facts, explain your reasons and feelings, repeat your position, and be consistent. Also, acknowledge the other’s needs and propose a potential solution or compromise.
- Be sensitive and empathetic. Practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes in different work situations. Ask yourself how you would respond to a situation. Listen to their needs and show concern. Not only try to see the other person’s point of view, but also try to experience what the other person feels in order to respond in a sensitive, empathetic manner.
- Use your emotional energy constructively. Positively redirecting emotional energy into a productive task, project, or activity can help distract you from the situation and constructively deal with emotions. Oftentimes, if you stay focused on the situation that causes negative emotions, you become absorbed in it.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Take a break to relax when under emotional distress. Do some deep breathing exercises. Listen to relaxing music. Go outside. Take a walk around the building. Visit a coworker to talk about something non-work-related. These methods of relaxation can help you manage negative emotions.
Whether you are a manager, leader, or employee, these fifteen (15) tips will help you become more emotionally intelligent in the workplace, thereby improving your professional and personal effectiveness.
May your work prosper for the good of all,
Kim Langley, M.Ed.
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