Do you have an impatient boss who constantly lashes out at employees? An overly critical colleague who complains about almost everything in the office? A co-worker whose stress and burnout are palpable in every meeting? Or a supervisor who becomes hostile at the drop of a hat when overworked?
We all have been in situations at work where someone has had difficulty managing their emotions, especially the damaging ones like anger, fear, frustration and disappointment. We, ourselves go through most of them throughout the day. Working with and around such strong emotions can be pretty unpleasant.
Emotional Contagion is a term in psychology that exactly explains this emotion. It is defined as the tendency for our moods to be influenced by the moods of those around us. This happens when we tend to unwittingly mirror others’ expressions, postures, and behaviours, which causes us to experience similar emotions to those others are feeling.
On the brighter side, this is a foundational piece of empathy, when we are able to ‘put ourselves in another’s shoes,’. When we are around someone whose happiness or enthusiasm radiates forth, their positive emotion becomes motivational. However, this dynamic can be a real downer if we are around someone with a bad mood and we’re unaware of a need to manage our own emotions in response.
You might be at the target of your boss’ criticism and soon you will find yourself absorbing the negativity through osmosis. It’s important to understand where these strong emotions are seeded. You need to understand that the negative emotions are in response to the experience of that person, and might not have anything to do with you personally. In the instances when this happens the other way around, you need to be mindful that your reaction to your experience will affect the other person.
So, the golden question here is how do you develop greater awareness of your emotions in the moment so that you recognise what’s going on? and how do you manage them so that they don’t unintentionally hijack your behaviour and others around you?
Here are some ways in which you can handle emotions at work:
Compose yourself in the stressful moment
The emotional chain reaction begins at the crisis-moment and its essential to understanding what can be done in ‘that moment’. Try to be mindful of what’s happening around you and note as you feel your emotions bubbling up and showing up in your body. Take a deep breath, inhale and exhale making sure to expand your belly to help calm your nervous system. Check-in with your thoughts and contemplate what if there is a way to look at the situation differently. Practice empathy!
Listen to your body when stressed
As humans, we experience emotions physically. Our body is the first respondent to emotions.
When we are under stress, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released in the blood that unfolds several feelings. We begin to sweat and our heart beats faster when we are scared or angry. Pay attention to your body’s responses to various emotions. Realise that it’s normal to feel that way.
You get better at catching negative emotions early on by becoming aware of how they show up in your body.
Identify your stress triggers
When you notice the frequent occurrence of poorly managing strong emotions at work, try to trace it back to your triggers. Do feel angry around certain people? Does your reaction have anything to do with your lifestyle pattern like not getting enough sleep or skipping meals? Were there any psychological triggers involved?
When you recognise your potential triggers, you put yourself in a position to understand that you need to be cautious and will operate on your coping skills when those situations arise.
Recognise your trusted colleagues and reach out
Have a confidant at work who will be real with you and let you know when you seem to be having difficulty managing your emotions. Let them know to gently nudge you when you are excessively stressed and are revealing irritability in meetings. Encourage them to help you notice the strengths and weaknesses of your behaviour. You may get defensive in the moment, but that wisdom will help you in the long-run.
Be proactive about the situation
At times, you may get into situations, or around people, that are constant stressors but choose to be ignorant. In turn, you cause more trouble for you, your work, and your colleagues. By avoiding this, you are allowing your emotions to corrode inside of you, that ends up causing resentment at the moment and decreases your resilience in the long term. If you tend to be introverted, understand that being open and vocal when things get too intense is reasonable.
Speaking up is a more constructive approach for effective learning to manage emotions in conflict.