We all know emotions and feelings are a regular part of life… but what happens when those emotions and feelings come out at work?
Managing your emotions at work is a tough job.
How do we express feelings at the office, whether they’re anger, hurt, frustration, or sadness? Is it wrong to express your emotions and feelings at the office? How can we do it responsibly to avoid a hostile work environment or worse—a career-ending mistake?
Is it wrong to express your emotions and feelings at the office? There’s a tendency to downplay emotions in a work setting. We don’t want to rock the boat, speak up, or argue. So what happens? We come home frustrated and angry. We hate our job. Our performance suffers. Or worse, we blow up at an inopportune time or say something we later regret. Many of us struggle with managing emotions at work.
Years ago, before I went to grad school, I had a situation arise with my own boss. We were in a large room of people, including the president of the company. A question came up about an issue our company was facing, and my boss blamed the problem on me, in front of everyone!
In this particular case, the problem wasn’t my fault at all. So, you can bet I was pissed off! Why? Because the blame hurt and embarrassed me.
Now, at the time, I wasn’t as adept at identifying and handling my emotions. I didn’t understand it was okay to feel hurt and express it responsibly. In fact, I had been raised to believe hurt was simply an emotion that women used to manipulate men. So, when my boss made the comment, I misidentified my emotion and expressed it as anger.
I lost my temper with my boss. I told him, if you EVER embarrass me like that again, I’ll embarrass you right back in front of everyone. Needless to say, this wasn’t the right way to handle it.
Fortunately for me, my boss was older, wiser, and more mature. He responded in a calm, measured manner. We discussed the what happened and talked it out. In the end, despite my emotionally immature reaction, my boss became a great friend and advocate who helped my career later on down the road.
Managing your emotions at work doesn’t mean turning them “off” or stopping them completely. Feelings and the office aren’t a wrong or volatile mix as long as we learn to express what we’re feeling clearly and honestly.
Remember: conflict is a natural part of engagement. It’s important we keep conflict productive and focused on the outcome rather than blowing up or placing blame. We may think conflict and emotions only arise in our romantic relationships, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! Emotions arise in all areas of our lives.
After all, our livelihood is often linked closely to our identity. Many of us feel very strongly about our careers. We want to be respected, liked, and valued at work. It’s natural that these common yearnings bring up many emotions surrounding our office interactions.
It’s a hard lesson, especially for some people to accept, but we choose our feelings. We are solely responsible for our own happiness.
When we blame others for our feelings, we’re shifting the responsibility. When managing emotions at the office (and avoiding a tense situation or worse), it’s important we recognize that ultimately, we’re responsible for our own happiness and satisfaction. If we feel unhappy or dissatisfied, it’s also our responsibility to shift the situation and go for what we want. You may think your boss or coworkers are “out to get you,” but truthfully, it’s within each of us to express our feelings responsibly and seek out our own methods for satisfaction.
Every office and each dynamic within the workplace is different as well. There are some office relationships where we may feel we can be 100% honest and open. Certain words and actions of our coworkers may bother us, while others may not. This is because each persons’ history, programming, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings come in to play.
So, what is frustrating and annoying to one person may be no big deal to another. It’s all about what we’re bringing to the table. It’s about the unfinished business we bring along with us when we walk in the door each morning.
It sounds strange, but when you really think about it—your experiences, your family, and your history come right to the office with you each day. All of these pieces of your makeup comprise what’s called your matrix. It’s what you carry with you when you walk into a room.
It doesn’t matter how old we are—whether we’re right out of grad school or well into our 60s, we bring our unfinished business with us. If we had a father who was an authoritarian, we’ll tend to see our bosses as authoritarian too. If our mother was highly controlling, we’ll tend to respond and balk against the control expressed by others at work. Each time we walk in the door, these pieces of our internal programming come right along with us.
For example, a domineering boss could offer a wonderful opportunity to learn how to advocate for yourself and be on your own side. You may even decide to tell your boss you’re afraid, hurt, or angered by their behavior. By expressing your feelings, they instantly become more manageable and easier to work through. Rather than stewing or exploding, say something in a diplomatic manner, taking responsibility for your emotions.
As I learned in the situation with my own boss, it’s easy to bring our unfinished business into our interactions at work. I was lucky that my boss helped me learn from the situation rather than simply firing me on the spot for mishandling my hurt.
Learning to handle and express feelings at work responsibly is an important part of emotional intelligence (EQ). We hear a lot about EQ in the workplace and how it plays an important role in today’s healthy office environment. Bosses now realize EQ is just as important to ensuring a workplace that’s productive, has a high morale, and ultimately enjoys success.
Rather than accusing, threatening, or simply shutting down, speak up. Express your feelings. Explore your unfinished business you might be bringing into the situation and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Take responsibility for your feelings, express them honestly, and remember in any situation no one gets more than 50% of the blame.
Not only is it good and healthy for you to express emotions responsibly, but it’s good and healthy for your office as well!
For more ways to live a healthier, happier life at work, please visit the Wright Foundation. We’re excited to announce the availability of many of our courses for download. These courses are at a special introductory price, so don’t miss out!
Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.