How to Outsmart Your Brain and Handle Emotions At Work

“A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”

– Oscar Wilde

Office man thinkingWe think of ourselves as balanced individuals. But our lifestyle ensures that all our waking hours are occupied, at home and at work. This often makes us feel overwhelmed. It leads to reactions that are not the wisest, even to very ordinary situations. We’ve all witnessed men who have lost control of their emotions at work, slamming doors, yelling at coworkers or customers, and saying things they’ll soon regret. Reactions that are not appropriate, especially at work.

So, how can we maintain our professionalism and handle emotions at work? Here are a few ideas that will help you raise your emotional energy and help you to focus and succeed:

1. Understand that your emotions are not bigger than you are.

Sounds easy, right. But have you ever tried doing it? We are fearful of allowing ourselves to really go with an emotion because it threatens to overwhelm us. In reality, that almost never happens. What makes the feeling so powerful is the energy we put into not admitting we are feeling it. Fear, anger, guilt, and resentment – these are all like small children pulling at your leg. They get louder and louder until you finally ask what they want. 99% of the time, their response is “nothing”. What they wanted was your attention, and now that they have it, they can move on.

2. Know what anger and frustration feels like to you.

Sometimes, we can get really ‘cut off’ from our feelings and act rashly without knowing why. Learn to spot your stress triggers. Spend some time knowing what anger feels like to you, and where you notice it in your body.

3. Set a time limit on how long you are willing to vent, rant or whine.

Five minutes is usually a good time frame. Most of us will have exhausted all that negativity by the end of those five minutes and we will have freed up a ton of energy that we can put to work on achieving our goals. The very act of setting a time limit gives you a sense of control over the feeling that helps put it into perspective.

4. Take a walk to cool down.

Excuse yourself from the situation as soon as you feel yourself getting hot under the collar. Fake a page or another call to extricate yourself from a non-productive telephone call so you can step outside to calm yourself. Giving yourself time to cool down will help you clear your mind and may save you from losing your temper.

5. Ask for clarification before reacting.

Don’t let what someone says to you encourage the wrong reaction. Stall for time by asking questions. If need be, repeat what the other person just said. This ensures you understand the comment and gives your colleague or client the opportunity to clarify any miscommunication.

6. Reflect back, apply now.

Think of an instance when you have reacted well to a negative situation. Concentrate on the strength you showed and try to apply it to this situation. Keep your cool, when all those around you are losing theirs.

7. Apply the 10-second rule.

Be aware of how you’re feeling and ensure you’re not overreacting. If you feel your temper flaring on the phone or in a meeting, count to 10 to keep you from losing your cool. Analyze the facts before going on a rant or becoming defensive.

8. Don’t forget the power of the written word.

Take time to sit down and write out what you are feeling. Any way that you are able to clarify what you are feeling is good. In the heat of any emotion, most of us have the same thoughts rumbling through our brain. Writing it out can bring clarity, and more importantly, release. It can also help you identify productive and destructive states in yourself and others.

9. Distract yourself and calm down.

Sometimes, getting your mind off the upsetting subject is enough to calm you down. Consider closing your door and playing computer games or something equally mindless (but absorbing). Shifting your focus will shift your attitude. Trust me, it really works.

10. Talk to someone about your frustrations.

The best way to overcome emotions is to express them. Find a trustworthy friend and talk to him or her. Go for a beer together on a regular basis to vent. You cannot keep all your feelings bottled inside, or your health will suffer.

11. Stay optimistic all the way.

Emotions affect our ability to think, communicate and act effectively. So instead of focusing on the negatives in your life, try to think of the positives and successes at your job. Make a list of all the good things that happened in your career.

12. Don’t allow any emotion to stop you from taking action.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Allowing yourself to take action despite the fear is what makes a true hero. Rather than feeling annoyed and frustrated, transform that energy into positive movement forward, where you can.

13. Work out to work off your anger.

Don’t blow your professional image by letting others see you freak out, pound the desk or scream. Go to the gym instead. Working out will help you release those pent-up emotions. And remember, if you don’t do anything different you’ll keep getting the same results.

14. Make a strong request.

Most of us have something that we use to keep us from taking action. But If you would like something to be different, start the process of making it so now! Contact key people, letting them know that you’d like to work on the impasse, and make your needs and those of your business known. Sometimes, just communicating about your desires in the form of an appropriate request can move situations along.

15. Let go of your anger at the end of each day.

Emotional energy is a very important aspect of your life. So get into the habit of letting go of your anger as you leave work every day. Otherwise it could fester and make you more likely to blow your cool. Focus on doing something you enjoy once you leave the office, whether it’s hanging out with friends or watching the game on TV, and leave the stress and emotion behind.

16. Recognize what ticks you off.

Become aware of your personal response to different situations, and be alert to those that knock you off-center. If you don’t like questions interrupting your presentation, plan how you’ll handle any hecklers. Planning a positive way to react will help you defuse your anger before it throws you off.

17. Prepare yourself to stay calm.

The goal of self-development is to grow into someone who can handle anything that comes your way. Anticipate any objections or questions you might face when you’re making a presentation, especially ones that might put you in a bad light. Create a backup plan if there’s a technical glitch in case your PowerPoint presentation freezes on you.

18. Wait before writing a strongly worded letter.

You should choose your words carefully, ensuring that you don’t hurt the sentiments of the person opposite you. Never disrespect others, even if you’re right. It’s easy to let contempt, fury or resentment cloud our judgment. Hold that strongly worded business e-mail or letter until the next day and reread it.

19. Understand your colleagues.

Read your colleagues’ signals. What initially seems to be a snide comment might be a feeble attempt at humor. Be professional and tactful. By getting to know your coworkers’ characters and personalities, you won’t be blind-sided when they do or say something that irritates you.

20. Apologize for any emotional outbursts.

One key to getting along well with people is knowing when to say you’re sorry. You don’t need to offer a long-winded explanation of the pressures you were under, the background on the misunderstanding or the reasons you thought you were right. Saying “I reacted badly and I am sorry” will demonstrate your professionalism, integrity and leadership skills.

Keeping a rein on your emotions while at work goes a long way in achieving healthier relations and professional growth. And no matter what, don’t snap. It takes years to build up a reputation, and only seconds to destroy it.

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9 Comments

  • Nirah says:

    Finally, something that I have been trying to explain to people, but never really knew how to explain properly. You’ve got them perfectly.

    These are really great points on how to manage one’s emotion, or at least, pat it down before it transforms itself into an ugly monster.

    A lot of people believe that they can’t ‘own’ their emotions, and that feelings are something to be felt and reacted upon. They don’t understand and refuse to believe in the concept of just because you feel something, it doesn’t mean that you have to indulge in it or succumb to it.

    One of your brilliant entries, this one. Thank you so much for sharing all the advices.

  • Pamela says:

    If only we have the time to think about the things we are about to do, then sudden outbursts and other actions based on impulse will be avoided. Focusing our attention to the things we do will surely help us to be successful.

  • Nirah says:

    It’s not whether ‘if only we have the time’, I believe.
    It’s whether we want to take the time. 🙂

  • Dave says:

    I agree with the list. I believe that understanding is the core idea that we should consider. If we are understanding enough to consider everything in every situation, we shouldn’t have any problems with it.

  • viji says:

    Great points to follow. We normally face it sometime in our life and it is difficult to avoid. Thanks. Viji

  • Kelly says:

    This is a fascinating read. I found your blog via a link to your inspirational Steve Jobs commentary. This is also incredible – I like the dual ideas of letting it out and venting (“if you don’t dump your garbage, you start to stink,” to put it crassly 😉 but with the caveat of putting a time limit on it. Like all things, moderation is the key. Terrific post, thanks.

  • What a great 20 ideas to handle emotion at work!

    To react angrily or remain calm to an issue is a matter of choice which we can make.

    For me, when I encounter a potential emotional flaring, I will take few second to assess the best reaction (I have a choice) I can have. If I choose to become angry, I will ask what is the intention behind.

    Often I choose to remain calm as this choice is better for my well being.

  • Fenton says:

    These are what we need when the emotion tries to overtake the rational. Keep peace and be smart.

    Great writings!

  • Ginger Dugas says:

    Currently we are in the process of developing a new program in the State of Louisiana. The LEAP (Louisiana Employment Assistance Program) is a collaboration between the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the Department of Children and Family Services to provide a Job Readiness Class to individuals seeking cash assistance and food stamps. This class will also include soft skills. I am on the committee that will be determining the curriculum to be offered in these classes throughout the state. I am interested in “How To Outsmart Your Brain and Handle Emotions At Work.” This information would be presented to the committee for review and determination. Would there be any copyright restrictions/cost for use throughout the state in a classroom setting. The article would be distributed in an electronic format to be printed at each office on a as need basis. I would be happy to forward a copy for your review

    Thank you for your assistance in this manner.

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