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 letsgrowleaders@gmail.com.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Communication, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.


  9. 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.

  10. “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.

  11. 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.


  12. 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!!

  13. 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!

    • 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 😉

  14. 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 🙂

  15. 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

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