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.

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The Insiders Guide To The Dark Side

You’ve had those moments. So have I. You desperately want a leadership do-over, but it’s too late. It’s out there – your dark side in all it’s glory.

“Powerful you have become. The dark side I sense in you.”
~ Yoda

You hear yourself apologizing: “I just wasn’t myself.” Don’t be too sure. “I never act like that.” Yes, you just did. Your evil twin’s an excellent teacher.

Listen well to what your dark side has to say.

 A Lesson From My Dark Side

I like to think of myself as a caring leader, yoga woman, introspective, positive, working to develop others. So why was I screaming at this manager from another department? I’d completely lost it. That wasn’t really me. Or was it?

It was MY values that triggered the response. It was MY exhaustion that wore down my filters. Was the manager arrogant and closed minded? Oh yeah. Was I right in defending against the racial prejudice clearly at play? Yup. But I was the one swinging the figurative punches. He stayed calm. Dark side 1. Values 0. No cause advanced by my reaction.

I’ll never forget the incident that plunged me into a deeper understanding of my values and how I respond. Sure I regret my stupidity, but my fight against “bad leadership” now shines a bit clearer.

4 Lessons From Your Dark Side

Your dark side comes bearing gifts. Lean into your stupidity to understand your pain.

  1. Conflicting Internal Goals – When your dark side shocks you, look for signs of internal conflict. Distressed hearts yearn for deeper focus. Consider your competing priorities and options.
  2. Values – When your dark side takes wheel, check for squashed values in the rear view mirror. Look for patterns. Ugly reactions signal what you care about most deeply. Passion is good– even better when managed productively. Values don’t translate well through tantrums and other mishaps. Take time to understand your ugliest moments, and work to reframe them for good. Apologize and talk carefully about what drove the reaction. Dive deeper into the muck to find deeper meaning and connection.
  3. Triggers – Face it, sometimes your evil twin just overreacts. Know your triggers, and see them for what they are. Learn your patterns and ways to cope. Take a break. Walk away. Use your dark side to teach you patience, compassion, and understanding.
  4. Balance – Everyone’s looks and acts a bit uglier when exhausted. You can fake it for a while, but sooner or later tired and cranky brings out the dark side. Your inner witch may just be your body’s way of telling you it’s time to rest. Listen.

Frustrated And Fuming: 5 Ways To Still Lead Well

“I’m just so frustrated,” his eyes had changed from fuming to weary. He shared, “I know anger isn’t working, but as my wife would say, “I didn’t yell the first 5 times.”

The situation was complex. We were both frustrated with the stagnant results, and had been collaborating on several strategies. He’s a strong leader, but I’d received feedback about his approach. His intensity was impacting his effectiveness. Even the perception of yelling is bad. But his words made me pause.

I had just yelled them in my kitchen.

Meat Drawer Meets Frustration

“I didn’t yell the first 5 times.”

  1. Honey, please don’t put the lunchmeat in the drawer with the raw meat
  2. Sweetheart I’ve labelled the drawers so you know where everything goes
  3. This is the 3rd time, please don’t put the lunch meat with the raw meat
  4. (Now slamming the meat into the right drawers) and an evil glare
  5. Why won’t you listen to me?
  6. You’re doing this on purpose to spite me. Why don’t you value our relationship enough to listen (you get the picture).

5 Ways to Lead Past Frustrated and Fuming

  1. Pause – When you’re that mad, don’t react. Walk away and consider the approach.
  2. Explain Why – Now one could argue that a grown man should understand “why” you don’t want leaky chicken on your bologna. That’s futile thinking. Instead share your vision and reasons for your point of view. Maybe the team doesn’t really understand the “salmonella” you’re working to convey. Step back, and calmly explain your vision.
  3. Ask Questions – People behave in patterns for a reason. There’s always a counter argument. Ask sincere (not sarcastic) questions and truly listen for the response. It turns out, my labels were still confusing. Lunch meat is meat after all.
  4. Model It – Roll up your sleeves and calmly model the behavior. Ask them to join you and explain what you’re doing and why. Again, gently. It’s easy to act like a jerk when you’re frustrated and fuming.
  5. Tell Stories – Tell your friend’s story of the provolone kept in the meat drawer that made her whole family sick. Stories are always more memorable than yelling.

A Good Mad is a Terrible Thing To Waste

Are you good at angry? Or, do you waste your “mads?” Angry informs. Angry teaches. Mad makes us care. Unless it doesn’t.

Use anger to fuel passions and accomplish change. Don’t respond with frustration, outbursts, or retaliation. All you’ll have then is embarrassment, regrets and apologies.

When you are really ticked off, don’t just get mad get thinking.

4 Ways to Use Your Mad

1. Understand Your Inner Mad

Try studying and documenting your anger for 2 weeks (10 Ways to Manage Anger at Work)

“What was the situation?”
“What disturbed me, put me off, or made me genuinely angry?” (This could be an action, way of behaving, a word, etc.)
“What did I think and feel when this occurred?”

“Mad as heck” patterns help you understand your leadership values.

2. Be Mad Better

When you’re mad it’s tempting to raise your voice, throw insults, and say useless words. Some insights on the destructive nature of ignored anger (American Psychological Association).

Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren’t likely to have many successful relationships.

Great leaders cultivate their ability to manage emotions, so that they are in control. 

3. Teach From Your Mad

Use your anger to create “teachable moments” for your team or other leaders. Chill first– you can’t teach with your head exploding.

Explain exactly WHY you are frustrated. When your team is angry, help them explore and understand their emotions.

Help leaders become better by watching bad leaders.

4. Act Against Your Mad

Anger motivates (psychological benefits of anger). I blog to act against my enemy of “bad leadership.” What makes you mad? What are you doing about it?

On Anger: Techniques for Managing Emotions at Work

I run, I do yoga, I reflect, I write and sometimes I get angry.

As leaders, how we manage our anger and other emotions is vital. Everyone is watching, and if we don’t handle our anger well we can make a tough situation even more difficult.

“Anyone can be angry, that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way this is not easy.”
~ Aristotle

I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but when I’m in a values clash, or if someone isn’t straight with me I get ticked off. I don’t always love how I react on the inside or the outside.

In his work on Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes,
Anger is the most seductive of the negative emotions; the self-righteous inner monologue that propels it fills the mind with the most convincing arguments for venting rage. Unlike sadness, anger is energizing, even exhilarating.

Intervene Early in the Anger Cycle

Goleman talks about intervening early in the anger cycle, to challenge the thoughts and assumptions at the source of the anger. This is similar to the approach recommended by the Arbinger Institute in their work around “Self-Deception”. Both approaches focus on truly considering the emotions and values of the other person. Reframing the issues and changing perspective help to organize a more productive response.

While anger breeds more negativity as we subconsciously look for ways to justify our negative emotions; reframing diffuses the intensity and makes room for more logical approaches.

Consider Meditation and Other Mindfulness Techniques

In his book, The Mindful Leader, Michael Carroll recommends mindfulness practices and meditation as a way to get better insights and mastery of our emotions.
Emotions are like unruly but beautiful creatures that we work hard to tame. We want our emotions to behave themselves, but they are not always predictable. Some emotions seem very powerful and threatening, so we have them caged for fear that they will escape, and make us do all kinds of things that we might regret. On occasion, an emotion may break out and frighten others or we may let one out of its cage to prance around and have a little naughty fun, but generally, we work hard to keep them under lock and key. Other emotions we domesticate, and they behave like circus monkeys– entertaining us and keeping us distracted and happy.
Meditation helps us to sit with these emotions and handle then more objectively.

Of course, the techniques that will work best, are the ones we will actually use. As leaders, it is vital that we acknowledge how we handle our emotions and find productive way to manage those feelings productively.