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Managing your emotions at work

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on February 18, 2008

Anger, anxiety, joy and sadness - the workplace can generate a myriad of emotions every day, postive and negative. It can sometimes be difficult to keep your emotions in check, especially when things get hectic. Here’s our advice on keeping your cool.

A good dose of emotions
Feel like telling your boss to shove it when he asks you for something right at the last minute? Get irresistble urges to exit the building just before important meetings? Want to scream with joy at news of your promotion, or burst into tears after reading your annual review?
Your professional life is made up of all sorts of emotions, which are an intergral part of working life in every company. It's essential to learn to master these emotions in order to communicate better and to adapt to different situations.

Psychologists cite two basic principles in emotion management. First, you’ve got to know and recognize your emotions and the situations that cause a change in your state of mind. Introspection is needed here to be able to anticipate and contain them. Second, it’s also essential to consider the emotional state of others. Don't try to initiate dialogue with an edgy colleague or stressed boss - you'll only create conflict.

Attitudes to adopt in different situations
It's often difficult to stay calm and composed in certain situations faced with certain emotions. What attitude to take in front of your colleagues and your boss?

Anger
You're talking to your colleagues and one of them openly attacks you about the quality of your work or about more personal matters. You think it's unfair, and the result is a build-up of anger and aggression, tears and insults. Open warfare soon follows.
The attitude to take: don’t enter into their game. Think about your reputation. The best way to counter-attack is to stay calm and assured and ask ‘Why are you reacting like that? Isn't that a bit uncalled for?’

Panic
Your boss suddenly brings forward a deadline. Result - you find yourself in a panic and totally unprepared. You feel like a complete loser and start to imagine the worst.
The attitude to take: don’t admit defeat before you've lost. Keep calm and above all don’t give up. Take a step back and think objectively about what you've got to do. Rank your tasks in order of priority and, if you work in a team, ask your colleagues for help on the little things that can save you time. Or you could ask your boss for more time. Proceed with caution; the golden rule here is not to show your boss you're in a panic, but to demonstrate that you know how to react in an emergency.

Embarrassment
If you're the shy type and have the annoying habit of going red at the slightest embarrassment and falling apart in front of an audience, presenting a new proposal can be daunting. The presentation begins, all eyes are on you, you lose your thread, your voice starts to break up and you make a humiliating mess of things.
The attitude to take: staying calm is easier said than done, so if you feel that you're losing your footing then it’s better to let your audience know. They'll be touched by your openness. Do your best to get communication going with them during presentations and let them ask questions which will help relax the atmosphere and give you time to compose yourself. Practise beforehand, try and find ways of linking your arguments and making your voice clearer.

Sadness
Your annual review comes around and your boss shows no mercy. You thought that your work was appreciated, but he was just out to get you.
The attitude to take: you're disappointed and frustrated, which is normal. But don’t break down in tears once you're outside the door, neither in front of your boss nor your colleagues. If you need to, shut yourself away for a moment. It’s also important not to let the situation overwhelm you. Talk about it with your boss, give your point of view without being aggressive and decide to change things to show him he's wrong.

Happiness
Finally that promotion you’ve been wanting for so long comes your way. You're euphoric and want to explode with joy, sing and share your feelings with your colleagues.
The attitude to take: no matter how chuffed you are, try to control yourself, at least in front of your boss. If you're on cloud nine, it can suggest a lack of self-confidence and you don't want people to think you didn't really deserve it. Don't go OTT in front of your colleagues, because you don't want to look pretentious and because your happiness could be someone else's disappointment.

Advice for managers
Obviously the situation is different if you manage a team. Managing a team involves managing people's moods - anger, complaints and fear - they can often be negative. So how to react? It depends on the nature of the relationship you wish to build. Some managers use spontaneity to express their emotions; others keep them to themselves. In both cases, co-workers tend to behave in the same way. Also, a manager must always question the reactions of the team. Why are they aggressive, bitter or low in morale? Best not to ignore these emotions but to dig deeper and get to the bottom of them.

Other solutions
To better manage your emotions at the office, you can also use another technique. If you get stressed or aggressive and tend to be impulsive, think about relaxation. Individual or group sessions can teach you how to breathe calmly and relieve tension. And if some situations really seem unsurmountable, don’t be shy about seeing a specialist for professional help.

by Sarah Horrocks

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