Managing your emotions at work

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14 November 2019
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Managing your emotions at work

Imagine for a moment a boiling pan of water on a gas stove – what happens if the pan boils over? If the fuel is running too high under the pan, the water inside the pan bubbles, the pan lid can no longer contain the water and so it spills over, eventually putting out the gas flame.

Now, if we take our own emotions, what influences them and emotional control? You could compare this boiling pan to day-to-day managing of our own emotions. You could consider the gas our fuel or the aspects that drive our emotions like pressure at work, the lid our emotional control and what on most occasions keeps our emotional reactions under check, and the water our emotions. With that in mind, if there is too much pressure or stressors fuelling our emotions at one time, our emotional control can struggle to control and stay respectfully under the surface, and can result in a pouring out of emotions without control.

Emotions play an important role in day-to-day life, and this also accounts for working life too. Emotions are important as they help us and others understand our reactions to situations. Emotions themselves are by no means a bad thing and shouldn’t be controlled to the point that they are suppressed – this can be unhealthy and cause problems down the line. At work or in life outside work, however, it is sometimes more appropriate to ‘manage’ these emotions, so an unnecessary build up, outburst or ‘spillover’ of emotions doesn’t occur.

Emotional intelligence

Something that greatly impacts how we control our own emotions is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence can be defined as the capacity to be aware of, control and express emotions, as well as possessing the ability to maintain relationships with empathy. Goleman categorised this into four categories. Self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness and relationship management. As it's widely known, EQ is often regarded as being associated to job success more so than IQ alone.

The aspect of emotional intelligence that’s most important when talking about managing your emotions is the recognition of our own emotions as well as the ability to filter and control these. Higher affective emotional intelligence (as opposed to cognitive), can allow an individual to recognise emotions in others and accurately label them in themselves. The awareness itself greatly contributes to being able to control the emotion, but highly emotionally intelligent people also possess the capability to mediate the emotions in themselves and how they are portrayed to those around them.

There is an argument for whether EQ is an innate capability that we are born with, or whether it is something that can be learnt. Either way, principles from emotional intelligence and what makes this attribute better at handling emotions can be taken on board.


Tips for managing your emotions:

From in the moment control to general maintenance, here are our tips for managing your emotions at work:

1. Take four deep breaths

Taking a deep breath has been shown to be sufficient to disrupt your fight or flight reaction and calm you down in a moment of non-calm.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is now well known for its benefits through regular practice, to aid positive wellbeing, sleep management etc. and so it probably comes as no surprise that this is a great tool for becoming more centred and more in control of your emotions if a stressful moment ever does arise. There are also plenty of apps that provide an in the moment fix in times of stress or panic through a short meditation or guided breathing exercise.

3. Try reframing

a. Label the emotion or mood – the more specific you can be the more effective this is. Then briefly experience the emotion and let it go.

b. Cognitive reappraisal – reframe the emotion and change your interpretation of the meaning of an event that’s caused the emotion. For example, imagine you arrange a meeting with somebody at their office, when the day comes you arrive and are told they aren’t on site today. Your response and thought process might be ‘the client doesn’t want to meet me’, but if we reframe it ‘maybe she forgot’/’maybe something came up last minute’.

4. Think about how to increase your emotional intelligence

Try to have more empathy for others by putting yourself in their position, increase your self-awareness and see how others see you and respond instead of reacting to conflict – understanding differences in behavioural styles can help with this (see our Animals model for more on this). These are just a couple of examples of how you can aim to improve your emotional intelligence.

For more information about this topic, have a look at our related courses

NLP for business

Emotional intelligence

Managing difficult conversations

Coaching for managers


Other useful resources:

Happy Workplace: A Holistic Approach to Achieving Mental Wellbeing

9 Tips For Reducing Stress At Work - Infographic