There are few things able to trigger intense emotions like work. You spend more time interacting with your team, colleagues and customers, than in most other relationships. That is unless you work from home with your life partner.
Inevitably tempers will flare, and when that happens, the worst of you is on display to the world.
Negative emotions and outbursts create toxic work environments, produce a fear of retribution and undermine the ability to establish a safe space.
To have a functioning work environment where employees work with you and not against you, you have to create a space where people are allowed to feel vulnerable and make mistakes.
Allowing angry outbursts generates distance and discord, which is the last thing you want if the goal is to have a thriving business or workplace.
But there is an answer. It is in developing your emotional intelligence. To become aware of situations that make your blood boil, then using that awareness to manage your response.
No, you shouldn’t disguise how you feel. That is a recipe for disaster, and often the fast track to burnout.
But you should be honest and authentic with people. The trick is not to use your honesty as a way to weaponise a conversation or meeting. This behaviour only leads to distancing the people you need to have on side.
So how do you manage your emotions at work when things get stressful? Here are three ways to get you started.
Don’t fight it
Accept that you are getting irritated, upset and angry. The emotional epicentre of your brain, the amygdala, actually responds to the perceived threat before your rational brain, the cerebral cortex, processes the threat.
In other words, you usually respond by reflex without knowing it and immediately regret it. Instead, disengage and give your amygdala a time out to allow your rational brain to catch up with the perceived threat.
Know your triggers
Emotional triggers are the same as the dentist hitting a nerve while poking around to see if you have any cavities. They are unique to each of us and hardwired from an early age.
Learn what your triggers are and be aware of how they shape your responses. If you don’t know, ask someone you trust to give you their impressions of what your triggers are. It will provide you with a starting point for exploration.
Debrief yourself or with a close friend after an emotionally charged conversation. Consider the reasons why you reacted the way you did. Is there anything that particularly riled you? Why?
After examining your reaction, condense it down to a one-word name. In the future, when you sense irritation starting, you can identify when it is happening, and focus on the trigger rather than the reaction.
The goal is not so much to remove the trigger, but be emotionally aware of it, so you can manage your response.
Don’t hit send
Given the amount of communication that happens with email and text, it is just as likely to respond inappropriately via this medium when you are having an emotional outburst. What is worse, it is immortalised. You can not get rid of the evidence.
If you ever have an inkling of anger coming through when writing a text or email, do not hit send. Keep it in the draft pile. Come back when you are feeling calmer and composed. The process of writing can often be therapeutic, but just don’t hit send.
When it comes to the end of the day, we all have emotions. They will spill over at some time, sometimes giving you a cause to regret your actions. When they do get the better of you, don’t double down and feel guilt and shame.
Apologise for your part, move forward and take the lesson. And try to do better next time.