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People Management Issues: Managing emotions at work

At times the workplace can be a hot pot of emotional distress so it is very important to be able to control your feelings before they control you. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, asserts that: “Everything can be taken from a man but the last of human freedoms — the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.”

ROBERT MANDEYA

We have all been in one of “those” situations before. You know, when your favourite project is cancelled after weeks of hard work; when a customer snaps at you unfairly; when your best friend (and co-worker) is laid off suddenly; or your boss assigns you more work when you are already overloaded.

How do we often react to stressful situations?

In your personal life, your reaction to stressful situations like these might be to start shouting, or to go and hide in a corner and feel sorry for yourself for a while. But at work, these types of behaviour could seriously harm your professional reputation, as well as your productivity.

Common stressful situations

Stressful situations are all too common in a workplace that is facing budget cuts, staff layoffs and department changes. It may become harder and harder to manage your emotions under these circumstances, but it is even more important for you to do so.

After all, if management is forced into making more layoffs, they may choose to keep those who can handle their emotions, and work well under pressure. As the above quote shows, no matter what the situation is, you are always free to choose how you react to it.

Today, I focus on the negative emotions because it is my understanding that most people do not need strategies for managing their positive emotions. After all, feelings of joy, excitement, compassion, or optimism usually do not affect others in a negative way. As long as you share positive emotions constructively and professionally, they are great to have in the workplace.

In 1997, Bond University professor of management Cynthia Fisher conducted a study called Emotions at Work: What Do People Feel, and How Should We Measure It?

According to Fisher’s research, the most common negative emotions experienced in the workplace are as follows: frustration/irritation, worry/nervousness, anger/ aggravation, dislike, disappointment and unhappiness.

Strategies you can use to help you deal with each of these negative emotions:

Frustration/irritation

Frustration usually occurs when you feel stuck or trapped, or unable to move forward in some way. It could be caused by a colleague blocking your favourite project, a boss who is disorganised to get to your meeting on time, or simply being on hold on the phone for a long time.

Whatever the reason, it is important to deal with feelings of frustration quickly, because they can easily lead to more negative emotions, such as anger. Here are some suggestions for dealing with frustration: Stop and evaluate. Find something positive about the situation, remember the last time you felt frustrated.

Worry/nervousness

With all the fear and anxiety that comes with increasing numbers of layoffs, it is no wonder that many people worry about their jobs.
But this worry can easily get out of control, if you allow it, and this can impact not only your mental health, but also your productivity and your willingness to take risks at work.

Try these tips to deal with worrying: Do not surround yourself with worrying and anxious colleagues-move away. Try deep-breathing exercises, focus on how to improve the situation and write down your worries in a worry log.

Anger/aggravation
Out-of-control anger is perhaps the most destructive emotion that people experience in the workplace. It is also the emotion that most of us do not handle very well.

If you have trouble managing your temper at work, then learning to control it is one of the best things you can do if you want to keep your job.

Try these suggestions to control your anger: Watch for early signs of anger. If you start to get angry, stop what you are doing and do the deep-breathing exercise. Picture yourself when you are angry to see how you look and behave while you are angry-certainly it is not a pleasant sight.

Dislike
We have probably all had to work with someone we do not like. But it is important to be professional, no matter what.
Here are some ideas for working with people you dislike:

Be respectful — if you have to work with someone you do not get along with, then it is time to set aside your pride and ego. Treat the person with courtesy and respect, as you would treat anyone else. Just because this person behaves in an unprofessional manner, that does not mean you should as well.

Be assertive — if the other person is rude and unprofessional, then firmly explain that you refuse to be treated that way, and calmly leave the situation. Remember, set the example.

Disappointment/ unhappiness

Dealing with disappointment or unhappiness at work can be difficult. Of all the emotions you might feel at work, these are the most likely to impact your productivity.

If you have just suffered a major disappointment, your energy will probably be low, you might be afraid to take another risk and all of that may hold you back from achieving.

Here are some proactive steps you can take to cope with disappointment and unhappiness: look at your mindset, adjust your goal, record your thoughts — what exactly is making you unhappy?

Smile! Strange as it may sound, forcing a smile — or even a grimace — onto your face can often make you feel happy (this is one of the strange ways in which we humans are “wired”) Try it — you may be surprised!

Mandeya is a senior executive training consultant and communication in management advisor, a personal coach in leadership and professional development with the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on mandeyarobert@yahoo.com or mandeyarobert@gmail.com. The views contained herein are personal views.

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