Emotional expression is part of being human – emotions need to be communicated, shared and debriefed whether they are positive or negative in their origin. All emotions need resolution – joyous news needs to be celebrated together with others; sadness needs empathy and closeness within meaningful relationships. The work environment is no exception as it, too, is emotionally charged. Emotions at work, however, need to be sensitively communicated in order for the work culture (its values and connectivity) to be upheld. Maintaining your composure at work involves managing your stress levels, your work pressure and your emotional responses – avoiding impulsive judgements and decisions. This emotional intelligence seems to be a key competency for establishing your credibility and professionalism and an integral part of any career development plan. Not all people display this control, however, allowing situations to get to them and responding, without much thought, out of the context of their emotional dissonance. These impulsive responses can lead, for many, to others’ perception that these employees lack maturity and this same perception potentially diminishes the impact of their professional influence. In essence, their lack of emotional control is perceived badly and eats away at their possible spheres of influence.

Positive emotions usually don’t affect others negatively, but negative emotions expressed badly do. To avoid creating disruptive ripples throughout the organisation, negative emotions can be addressed in the following ways:

  • Frustration/irritation – usually caused through personality conflict, expectations not being met, being overlooked or requests remaining unanswered. Not wanting frustration to escalate into a more intense emotion, it is essential to swiftly deal with it and do the following:
    • Pause and evaluate – understand the cause of the frustration (how it conflicts with your own desires and motivation) and assess its justifiability. If justifiable, then,
    • Resolve with the person/s concerned – approach the issue as objectively as possible, using “I messages” in your communication, e.g. “Sam, I am concerned about something and I want to really resolve this issue as soon as possible. I am frustrated by … and would love us to discuss a possible solution”.
  • Anxiety – usually caused by uncertain business environments, restructuring, job cuts, etc. Anxiety is inner turmoil and as it deepens, it affects your health, productivity and your ability to take risks in your role. If you find yourself filled with panic, then:
    • Speak to your boss about it – communication needs to be accelerated during uncertain times, e.g. “Mary, I am concerned about our company’s survival and growth during these difficulties that we are facing. I want to be part of the solution. What can I be doing at this time that will assist the company in making it sustainable? How can I help?”
    • Stay away from negative conversations – don’t entertain the grapevine, but be an encourager of positive behaviour.
    • Be creative – innovation and new ideas, focus and energy – they are all needed during difficult times. Prove that you are an asset.
  • Anger – usually caused by breaches of confidence, breaks in trust or blatant rudeness and disrespect. Anger can be highly destructive if left unresolved, so work at the following:
    • Pause – “blasting off steam” is not helpful, often causing more conflict and resentment. Take a walk and know that you can choose your responses. Walking allows the initial felt emotion to calm and creates space for you to think things through in a more logical way.
    • Deal with yourself – even though you may be hurting, there is no need to diminish your dignity by exploding, shouting and saying the unnecessary. Taking control of self is essential here. Write down the issue and what needs to be said about it.
    • Deal with the situation – calm assertiveness is usually the best approach. Again using “I messages”, address the issue and do not attack the person who is involved. Affirm that you want to find a solution to the issue so that it doesn’t happen again.
  • Disappointment/unhappiness – usually caused by a goal not being realised, a promotion not achieved or a culture that is toxic. Feelings of unhappiness really mitigate against productivity and possible success. To counter a downward spiral, attempt to:
    • Understand your mental make-up – things will not always go your way. Life is not a straight road, but hilly country with many twists and curves. Flexibility in your approach indicates that you are able to accept that you might have to approach life’s challenges differently to achieve success.
    • Adjust goals accordingly – minor tweaks in goals or timelines don’t mean failure, just refocus of applied energy.
    • Address pervasive issues – when culture is dysfunctional, start motivating change with strategic conversations elaborating on your concerns. Never underestimate your own potential influence.

Controlling your emotions at work is an essential part of self-development and even positioning yourself within your career growth. Expressing emotions is natural and part of being human, but needs to be done sensitively if your dignity and the integrity of the work culture are to be kept intact.

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