Controlling your emotions at work

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“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”. —Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.

We have all been in one of “those” situations before. Here are some situations which trigger emotions at our work stations: — 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.

In “normal” circumstances, your reaction to stressful situations like these might be to start shouting, or to go 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.

Typical stress 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 lay-offs, 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.

How best to manage emotions

So, how can you become better at handling your emotions, and “choosing” your reactions to bad situations? In this installment, we look at the most common negative emotions experienced in the workplace — and how you can manage them productively.

Why are we focussing only on negative emotions? Well, 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!

Frustration or 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 too 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.

Dealing with frustration

l Stop and evaluate: One of the best things you can do is mentally stop yourself, and look at the situation. Ask yourself why you feel frustrated. Write it down, and be specific. Then think of one positive thing about your current situation. For instance, if your boss is late for your meeting, then you have more time to prepare. Or, you could use this time to relax a little;

l Find something positive about the situation: Thinking about a positive aspect of your situation often makes you look at things in a different way. This small change in your thinking can improve your mood. When it is people who are causing your frustration, they are probably not doing it deliberately to annoy you. And if it is a thing that is bothering you — well, it is certainly not personal! Do not get mad, just move on; and

l Remember the last time you felt frustrated: The last time you were frustrated about something, the situation probably worked out just fine after a while, right? Your feelings of frustration or irritation probably did not do much to solve the problem then, which means they are not doing anything for you right now.

Worry or 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:

l Do not surround yourself with worry and anxiety: For example, if co-workers gather in the break room to gossip and talk about job cuts, then do not go there and worry with everyone else. Worrying tends to lead to more worrying, and that is not good for anyone;

l Try deep-breathing exercises: This helps slow your breathing and your heart rate. Breathe in slowly for five seconds, then breathe out slowly for five seconds. Focus on your breathing, and nothing else. Do this at least five times.

l Focus on how to improve the situation: If you fear being laid off, and you sit there and worry, that probably will not help you keep your job. Instead, why not brainstorm ways to bring in more business, and show how valuable you are to the company?

l Write down your worries in a worry log: If you find that worries are clogging your mind, write them down in a notebook or “worry log,” and then schedule a time to deal with them. Before that time, you can forget about these worries, knowing that you will deal with them. When you are worried and nervous about something, it can dent your self-confidence. Remember, being self aware is a sure way of managing your emotions and improving your leadership qualities.

Robert Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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