5 Steps To Managing Emotions At Work

5 Steps To Managing Emotions At Work
“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
~ Daniel Goleman

A subscriber writes:

 I have found that because I’m passionate, I tend to get emotional. I look at things objectively, however at times when I am having a much-needed conversation my emotions get to me.”

Emotions get funky and screw everything up. It’s not just the “distressing” emotions. Joy, excitement, and passion easily overwhelm your cause too. Emotional extremes of either breed raise eyebrows and damage credibility. Listen well to your emotions and hear what they have to say. Channel that energy to serve your cause.

5 Steps to Channeling Emotions

Don’t lose that leading feeling. Use it to inspire your leadership:

  1. Time Out – Back away from the scene. Let it steep. Your heart is screaming, “say something now.” “This is urgent.” “I must speak my truth.” Most moments of truth last more than a moment. You will be more effective with a deliberate plan.
  2. Name That Emotion – Naming your feeling helps you understand it. Jealous, scared, pissed off, hurt, or some combination. Sit with this a minute. Write it down.
  3. Ask Why – The old 5 Why trick is very useful here: (1) Why am I so excited? “It will help the customer”, (2) Why is that important: “their lives will be improved”, “We will win JD Powers”, “My boss will be happy.” Even the second “why” begins to uncover root cause. Go for 5 whys. Be honest. Ask a mentor or coach for help.
  4. Seek To Understand – Really listen to alternative point of views. Ask open-ended “what” and “why questions.” The picture is always bigger than it appears.
  5. Now Speak Your Truth – Write down your top 3 points. Read them aloud. Envision conversation. Breathe, don’t blurt. Use a calm tone of voice. Don’t feel compelled to handle it in one shot (see #1 back away as needed). You’ll gain respect with each well- handled encounter. The next one will be easier.

Join our growing leadership community. Enter your email address to subscribe. Have a leadership challenge you want to discuss? Send me an email at

Your turn: What advice do you have for our fellow growing leader? How do you keep the passion and channel your emotions to help your cause?
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency, Communication, Energy & Engagement
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Steve Borek   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Whenever I’m emotional, a time out is a must.

Emails especially.

If I feel I’m getting emotionally enveloped in the situation, I “try” to wait at least 24 hours before sending the email.

Doesn’t always work.

Emotions. What would we be without them?

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Steve, Yes! Sometimes I even write the email knowing that I will delete it…and rewrite it the next day. Or, save it to drafts… and compare the 2 versions. Just be careful to not accidently hit send. Thanks as always for enhancing the conversation.

Allen Krueger   |   06 November 2013   |  

When I write these type of emails that I am not sure about sending I always take the address out so I dont accidently send it. Putting the address back in is the last thing I do.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |  

Allen, GREAT tip.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Karin- I think I should pause and stop reading your posts. Why? I may even give 5-Whys. Because I agreed t write a joint presentation with Abdi (A LinkedIn friend) on Emotional Shocks. What happens when somebody is very happy because he/she has just received great news . While rejoicing, he/she receives very bad and saddening news. I experienced this many times in my life. I intend to reflect on this in the forthcoming presentation. Now, the good and bad news come from this post. I share ALL your points and out of experience you are spot on.
Karin- you must proud yourself having written such a great post.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Ali, It’s great to hear that you are working on a similar topic. Your insights into the complex nature of our lives and the depth and breath of our emotional experiences is so true. We call carry this melting pot with us each day. I look forward to seeing your presentation. Please be sure to share it with the LGL community so we can all learn more from your insights.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   06 November 2013   |  

So, you know I am addicted to your posts, Karin and that I shall not pause or stop reading your enriching posts. Surely, I shall share with pleasure what I publish with the LGL Community.
I have to register here that I feel so close to all members of LGL community. Amazing how we develop emotions towards people who are far away and with whom we have no direct bonding, except through this website.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |  

Ali, Agree… that’s the best part.

Dave Bratcher   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Great stuff Karin! This used to be a huge struggle for me, and admittedly, I have not perfected it. These simple steps will be helpful for me to fall back on next time it happens.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Dave, Alas, me either.

bill holston   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

another good one! I walk alot, and it always clears my head. I think the number one way that helps me keep emotions from getting the better of me is being disciplined with starting the day with a Psalm, prayer and journal. I realize not everyone is religious. But for me it is a reminder to examine my own flaws and shortcomings, to seek something bigger than myself. It doesn’t always work, but I at least start the day out right.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Bill, Starting the day out right is so important. I hear from so many who have such rituals… prayer, exercise, writing, journaling, connection with children…. Thank you.

Jim Ryan   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Nice… Just published a post on managing overwhelming emotions. When I’m faced with an overwhelming emotion I work on standing firm letting that emotion to blow past me. Still feeling it shake me deeply, but not letting me tear me up.

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Jim- what is the link to your post, please? I use three different metaphors to quench my negative emotions. The use of these metaphors have helped me not to get angry for many years even once. Quenching has become natural.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Jim, Please share. All, always feel free to link… that’s the most fun of all.

Eric   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

I start by asking why. When I do, the event that triggered the emotion is rarely why I feel that way. Its usually past slights,experiences or values. If I identify that the why behind the feeling isn’t rooted in values or from knowing experience it makes it easier to let it go.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Eric, Fantastic insights… thanks for sharing.

Bill Benoist   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Hi Karin,

As you point out, not everyone appreciates or understands emotions based upon passion.

For those who tend to take things personally, I’ve used the Q-TIP trick – placing a Q-TIP in multiple spots to remind the individual “quit taking it personally” Maybe for the leader who tends to intimate through passion, a small “stop” sign on his/her desk as a reminder to stop and think whether the individuals they are communicating with welcome their passion and intensity.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Bill, Love the Q-TIP reminder. Excellent.

Terri Klass   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Karin, great post and reminder of the importance of double checking how our emotions are impacting our communication.

My favorite line is: “Don’t lose that leading feeling. Use it to inspire your leadership.” We all need to find that balance of having enough compassion and emotion but not too much to color our actions. I often step back, reflect and breathe if I find my emotions running high. It gives me a chance to clear my mind and re-evaluate my message.


letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Terri, Thanks so much. Stepping back is my favorite trick.. and yet, it too me the longest to learn at work and at home.

Dan Nagel   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Abraham Lincoln used to write a scathing letter to someone who he was upset. Then after a day he would simply throw that letter away.

His release from those emotions was the act of writing the letter, not in sending it.

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Dan, Great example. I do that more than I’d like to admit ;-)

bill holston   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

“Don’t lose that leading feeling.” I love that Terri. One I add to that is from a Drucker book, ‘It’s not about you…” I repeat that to myself quite a bit.

Lolly Daskal   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Love love love this post!

Our heart has two segments the emotional side and the knowing side. We MUST be clear when we react which side of the heart we want to lead with…When we have a feeling its best not to make a commotion out of your emotions.

There is so much great insight in this blog..
Why because you make us think
Why because you make us feel
Why because there is much to learn
Why because I resonate with your words
Why because it it extremely important information!

Thanks for all that you do.


Bob   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Great comment Lolly!

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Lolly, Thanks so much. Love all of your inspiring “whys.” Thanks for all that you do to provoke, uncover and inspire. Namaste.

Alma Escamilla   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

I looked to my left as I began to read your post and I see the Daniel Goleman quote within arm’s reach of my computer. My sixth step would be to quickly decide if what I’m about to do or say fits within my personal brand, be prepared to own this girl? Today’s post brought forth so many beautiful comments and ideas. Ali says he is addicted to LGL, that is hysterical. I appreciate Bill Holston’s reminder that “discipline” plays a part in emotional intelligence. Starting the day off with optimism resonated with me too. Karin, thank you for leading the discussion. Why do emotions have to get funky and screw everything up? I love it!!

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Alma, I so love this…”Be prepared to own this, girl.” Thank you.

Bob   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

This may seem strange, but I recently switched to decaf (I know, right?) and that has helped keep me from getting worked up in certain situations. I’ve been a coffee drinker for as long as I can remember (20+ years). It’s been really challenging, but I’m amazed as how this has helped to calm me down under pressure. Food for thought!

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Bob, I’m married to a decaf convert. I so believe in this. Not sure if it impacts all the same, but he believes in it (and so do I on his behalf ;-)

Dallas Tye   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

I love Goleman, but before I loved him I loved and referenced Joseph Ledoux and his book ‘The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life’ a LOT in my work with leaders and their emotions.

If you can learn to manage Karin’s Point 1, the time out, the rest will come more easily.

Sometimes, the timeout only needs to be a few seconds. As Ledoux points out, this gives your higher brain centers time to catch up to the emotional center which is screaming at you to react.

It’s not about suppressing your emotions, its about giving yourself enough time to choose the right one.

This will also help you step back a little so you can see the bigger picture.

When we step back we sometimes discover that we’ve inadvertently attached too much significance to the situation or topic. Catch enough of those in a day and you will go home with a lot more energy.

Karin- what a great work-sheet you have in your steps :)

letsgrowleaders   |   06 November 2013   |   Reply

Dallas, Thanks so much. I agree with you… the science is incredible. Worksheet… hmm…..

Ibro Palic   |   07 November 2013   |   Reply

I always ask myself “what’s the worst thing that can happen” if I really think through it logically I can ratioanlize that the worst case scenario is very unlikely to happen. Thanks for the write up, I usually take about an hour around this time to digest good career related articles. This one was worth it.

Warm Regards

Ibro Palic