How to control your emotions at work | Ladders

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Mental Health

How to control your emotions at work

If robots are taking our jobs, can they also take the ups and downs of our emotions with them?

Since we spend so much time at work, it’s also where we often confront strong emotions: anxiety, sadness, loneliness or delight. It can get out of hand. Recent OfficeTeam research found that more than six in 10 employees (61%) admitted they’ve let emotions get the better of them in the office and 80% of workers said when a colleague doesn’t control his or her emotions, it affects their perception of that person’s level of professionalism.

Don’t let it drag you down 

 Jennifer Powers, of J Powers Recruiting, says “the ‘good’ stuff in life never seems to be the issue, it’s the bad stuff that drags other people into the drama and drains the energy.”

So how can you keep from dragging others into your drama? Powers says, “some employees will use work as a venting place but this hurts them (the employee) in the long run. Your friends, family and counselor are the appropriate people to talk to. Use your work time to get out of your head and to focus on being productive. This is very good for your brain and gives your nerves a break!”

And if you feel you really need to share and connect with your work friends as well, Powers advises, “go out to lunch or organize after work events with the friends you’ve made at work. Just don’t let it carry into the work place.”

Process your emotions before you speak

Andrew Faas author of “From Bully to Bull’s-Eye,” says remaining professional and in control is key when dealing with life’s unexpected moments.

“Understand the reasons for the ups and downs and how you react to each,” Faas counsels.

For example, how do you react when you are told about a down: do you shoot the messenger and blame others? Or when there is an up, do you share the accolades and rewards with others?”

Try to process either the high or low point before trying to resume your daily routine. You can do that by writing down your emotions or simply listing them in your head. Naming them allows you to control them better—and control is key. 

“Not being in control creates situations where you are forced to react. How you react, measures how professional you are,” Faas says.

Share but don’t overshare

Sometimes, no matter how professional you hope to be, your emotions can take over and clamor to get out.

“When you have an emotional event in your life people are going to notice that you aren’t yourself, that you are somewhat ‘off.’ You are much better off being transparent about it than trying to hide it,” says Mark Youngblood, an executive coach and author of a book on emotional mastery.

Transparency is your key to survival. “When people don’t know what is going on, they unfortunately assume the worst and make up stories that are much more detrimental to you eventually,” he continues. For that reason, Youngblood believes you should “share a general idea of what has happened without too many details and without dragging them into a drama story. They will then understand why you are being different than normal and grant you some slack for your mood and behaviors.”  

Choose who you trust

While the aggressive philosophy of “I’m not here to make friends” works for reality shows, it’s a less effective attitude towards work, where bonds are inescapable after spending eight to 12 hours a day with your colleagues. 

“Saying that you should totally separate your personal life from business is not practical,” says Judy Lindenberger, President of The Lindenberger Group, an HR consultancy.

She does offer some general rules to follow with friends at work: “Don’t talk about religion, politics, your medical ailments, your financial status, legal problems, relationship woes, big problems with your family (drugs, arrests), or the fact that you are looking for a new job with co-workers.”

And while you’re at it, “don’t gossip about others, don’t divulge who you have a crush on at work, and don’t broadcast your hangover.”

Lindenberger says it’s okay to announce if you are pregnant (when you are ready to let your boss know), getting married or that that you will be taking time off. Before you do though, ask yourself if revealing anything too personal might work against you. “Be friendly, be professional, but don’t look to your coworkers to be your confidants unless you trust them fully.”   

Treat others with kindness

Compassion makes for better relationships, and over time it’s also good practice for being empathetic toward ourselves. Either way, don’t ignore a colleague’s pain out of fear you’ll say the wrong thing. A small, sincere gesture is always taken well. 

“If you know that a coworker has suffered a loss, treat them with the same kindness and consideration that you would offer a neighbor,” Lindenberger says. “You might send them a card, stop by to say how sorry you are, or drop off a meal.”  

Explain what you need

While you might not want to share overly private details, it can be hard to simply try to go on as business as usual when it’s anything but. When Managing Director of Amendola Communications Marcia Rhodes’s husband Evan died suddenly in May 2008, she took three days of bereavement and reported back to work even though her boss said she could take as much time as needed.

“I decided work would help take my mind off my grief,” Rhodes said. But her co-workers had other ideas and would stop by her office to commiserate. The result: “I found myself reliving the horror of what had happened.”

Rhodes posted a note on her door that read: “Thank you for your sympathy but I am here to work. Please do not mention my loss. I would rather focus on the job at hand.” It worked. She says co-workers would stop, read the note, and turn around. “It helped me get my work done and leave at 5:00 to go home and cry myself to sleep. Looking back at that bleak period of my life, work is what kept me sane.”

Help yourself through

“Everyone has emotional events outside of work that affect their work lives” says Youngblood. And try as you might, you won’t always be able to remain top of your game. “When this happens to you, be gentle with yourself,” advises Youngblood. “Avoid stress and conflict whenever possible. Use mindfulness tools such as meditation and centering breaths to help you focus and manage your emotions. To the extent it is appropriate, explain your situation and ask for help and support from those around you. Most people are delighted for the opportunity to help.”  

Rachel Weingarten is a marketing & brand strategist and president of 729.marketing. She's a pop culture and trends analyst who frequently writes about business and style and the business of style. Rachel's a sometimes professor, teaching personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels. She leads corporate seminars on topics including evolving communication and spirituality in the workplace. Rachel is also the author of three award winning non-fiction books.