Mastering Emotions in the Workplace: How to Pay Attention to What You’re Feeling and Make Moves Based on That

by Augusto Cuginotti

Many of us have been taught that being emotional is like being out of control. And since control and predictability are vital to reducing anxiety, expressing emotion is silently forbidden everywhere, especially in the workplace.

We all know emotions can be uncomfortable and may surprise us, so it’s natural to want to push them away and work hard not to manifest them. However, everything we do carries an emotion, and not being aware of your emotional state is like flying blind. As for displaying them, as long as you are aware, they can help us move forward.

emotion (n.)

1570s, “a (social) moving, stirring, agitation,” from French émotion (16c.), from Old French emouvoir “stir up” (12c.), from Latin emovere “move out, remove, agitate,” from assimilated form of ex “out” (see ex-) + movere “to move” (from PIE root *meue- “to push away”).

Our emotional state defines what actions are possible for us

When we’re feeling frustrated, for example, we may not be able to think as clearly or come up with as many creative solutions as when we’re feeling inspired.

Think about the moments you felt angry – what actions/thoughts does this emotion invite? What can’t you do if you are operating from it? How about joy? Fear? Enthusiasm? Recall times in your life when you experienced those emotions intensely; you will see that what is readily available to you is very different depending on the emotion you are experiencing.

While making a presentation at work, if you feel frustrated or enthusiastic can turn out to be two very different presentations. Likewise, holding a baby in your arms, feeling sad, or expressing tenderness are two separate emotional states that allow for different relationships.

How to learn about your emotional state?

The first step is to get in touch with what you’re feeling. Emotions can be perceived and usually arise in your body as physical sensations, so pay attention to the clues your body is giving you.

Are your muscles tense? Is your heart rate accelerated? Butterflies in the stomach? These are just some physical indicators that can clue you into what emotion you’re feeling. The more you pay attention, the easier it will be to know from what emotional state you are operating.

Then, once you’ve identified the emotion, ask yourself what actions are available to you from this emotional state. If they do not allow you to operate well for a task, you might choose to postpone or adapt that critical presentation or care for the baby, for example.

Becoming emotionally aware

The first step to being more emotionally aware is learning to pay attention to your feelings. Emotional intelligence starts with self-awareness: the ability to notice and identify your emotions as they’re happening. Some people have that connection more available than others, but everybody can master it.

Your body and emotions are instruments for you to perceive the world. It is common for you to experience one emotion before understanding what is triggering it. When you identify the emotion you carry, you can better understand what is going on.

Don’t apologise for bringing emotion to the room

Emotions are natural, and we all experience them. Being aware of and understanding your emotions (and the emotions of others) is a valuable skill in any setting, whether personal or professional.

In my experience, many people apologise for allowing their emotions to surface. But they shouldn’t. Emotions are not something to be ashamed of – they are a part of who we are and can provide valuable information about what’s going on around us and how we’re affected by it.

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where emotions run high, take a deep breath and step back. See if you can identify what information has been given to you and what’s the best way to act on them.

When emotions are out of place

There are, of course, times when emotions need to be managed because they’re out of place or inappropriate for the situation. Not because we are emotional, because we always are emotional, but because we are reacting rather than acting from that emotion.

For example, suppose you’re in a meeting, and you suddenly feel angry about something that happened earlier in the day. In that case, it’s probably not helpful (or professional) to lash out at the person sitting next to you.

In this case, it would be more effective to take some deep breaths and try to calm down before re-entering the meeting.

If you’re unsure if you can trust yourself to manage your emotions in a particular situation, it might be best to remove yourself from that situation until you feel more level-headed.

Be your whole self, embrace emotions

In conclusion, it is vital that we allow ourselves to experience emotions fully and not try to bottle them down. Emotions are a part of who we are; they provide valuable information and can guide our actions if we let them.

So next time you’re feeling an emotion knocking at the door, take a moment to identify it, and then ask yourself what actions are available to you from that emotional state.

And don’t apologise for bringing your whole self – emotions and all – into the room. Instead, embrace them, use them, and be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Thanks for reading!