Controlling Emotions at Work – Easier Said, Than Done
Posted on May 26, 2014 by TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd)
No matter how high tech the machines we invent are, or ever will be, we are still only human beings. As we know, human beings are complex creatures, not too unlike other animals if it were not for the human brain reigning supreme. What catapulted us to the top of the food chain was our ability to use our brains to invent tools and fire, not to mention having an opposable thumb. That came in handy, too. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Even more complex is our intrinsic emotional makeup. You might say that our emotions are instinctive, but this is still debatable since Darwin wrote his theories in his book, “Expression of the Emotions” in 1872. Darwin viewed emotions as innate traits, also present in animals.
The pretty graphic I borrowed from Wikipedia is Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. You can see the various human emotions from the most intense (inner segments) to the lightest (outer segments). It’s amazing to think that we can possibly feel all of these emotions in one day, or even within a few hours, depending on what’s going on in one’s life.
While I’m writing a blog, not a research paper, it’s interesting to me that when asked to keep my emotions “in check,” I never quite understand what that means. I suppose it means that I should not display any intense feelings (inner segments). The key here is not to DISPLAY them in the workplace. (So much for being “passionate” about one’s work.) Naturally, we’re going to feel anger, happiness, grief, or terror at some time in our lives. We’re supposed to. Even as humans with all our intelligence, our emotions can be hard to control.
Controlling emotions at work is especially hard to do. Those who can, I applaud. Those who can’t, just have to make a conscious effort to stay in control. I know. Easier said, than done. Remember, that if you give way to your emotions and throw a temper tantrum, you have to return to work the next day wearing the proverbial, “sack cloth and ashes.” If you end up crying in the boss’s office, even if you’re in the right about an issue, you’re perceived as someone who can’t control his or her emotions. Your manager may even wonder if you’re the type that will fall apart if considered for a promotion. Here’s my tip: Never go into the boss’s office to discuss delicate issues if you think you are going to cry. If you can, put the meeting on hold for 24 hours. If you are forced to go, grab a big glass of water, drink some and keep the rest with you during your meeting. In some miraculous way, drinking water halts the water fall. It might not calm you down if anger is on the horizon, but at least you won’t gush.
We are not robots and do not intend — I hope — on becoming so desensitized in the workplace that we forget our humanity. A note for managers is to understand that as well when dealing with an upset subordinate. How do you calm down employees who are very upset at a situation, whether related to the workplace or home? A) Talk to them at length with empathy. B) Send them home. C) Tell them to control themselves and get back to work. I think A is the best choice because most likely, the employee needs to be heard. Just being a sounding board by listening and offering help or insights will make the employee feel they can trust you and that in itself, will help calm him or her down. If it’s a very rare instance for a particular individual to be very emotional, perhaps some time away from the office is best in order to regroup and return refreshed.
Emotions are more acceptable in other societies than in the United States. For example, the Italians are very animated when it comes to displaying emotions. It is nothing for them – men too – to cry out loud with great fervor. It seems this ethnic group is hypersensitive and all emotions they display are extremely intense. Understanding the language, I find that nobody swears like the Italians. Most of the swear words are overtly descriptive and extremely vulgar, thus the intensity. I recall my Italian niece, Fernanda, who was visiting us for a few months, on the phone with her Italian friends talking very loudly and she sounded angry and sometimes upset. I understand some Italian, but Fernanda was speaking in a Naple’s dialect, and all I could hear were low and harsh tones. I asked her after she was through with her call if everything was okay. She laughed and said, “Yes, everything is fine, Zia (Auntie). It was just a good conversation with my friends and I miss them.”
In our society, here in the US, we tend to work best when our emotions are “at bay” and we display appropriate, professional courtesies toward our managers and coworkers. Personally, I like the Italian way.
Reference – Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions