By Julie Fuimano, MBA, BSN, RN
Every day it happens. You experience emotions. We all do. But how good are you at managing them when they arise? How did you learn how to deal with anger, hurt, disappointment, frustration, and fear? What about joy? How often have you experienced joy, and do you know how to enjoy it when it arises?
Like everyone else, you probably learned about emotions from watching others, like your parents. How well did they express their emotions? It's not like someone takes you aside in high school and teaches you how to recognize and manage all of the different emotions you experience in life. Each of us has to fumble along and figure out what works for us.
Until the last 15 years, that is. There is now a whole field of study dedicated to emotions called Emotional Intelligence or EI. EI is defined as the capacity to effectively perceive, express, understand, and handle your emotions and the emotions of others in a positive and productive manner. EI is about connecting with others and with yourself on an emotional level. People who possess a high EI are more successful in relationships and are viewed as more effective leaders.
The first step in managing your emotions is to recognize that you are experiencing one. You have to be self-aware. Most people are not. They act out of habit. Someone experiences an emotion and there is an automatic response that occurs without even being consciously aware. So before you know it, you are doing it again. You've raised your voice or shrunk away and said nothing because you could not find the words. Saying nothing is just as bad as screaming.
It's easy to see why there is so much emphasis on conflict in the workplace. People disagree and tempers fly. And if you are not skilled at managing your own emotions, it's even harder to handle it when others are emotional in your presence.
Here are several things to know when dealing with emotions in the workplace:
1. Emotions are inner messages. The next time you experience an emotion, just notice. Identify what emotion it is that you are experiencing. Pause before you respond. This is the way to gain control over your emotions rather than allowing them to control you.
2. Acknowledge the emotion you are experiencing.
3. Separate the emotion from logic. If you are upset, and you cannot think clearly, take a time-out. If you can think clearly, then handle the situation at hand and process the emotion later.
4. Don't try to problem-solve, rationalize, or communicate with someone else's emotions. If the other person becomes emotional, acknowledge the emotion. "You seem upset. Do you want to talk about it?" The emotion is a distraction and requires attention.
5. You don't have to tolerate other people's bad behavior. You need to teach people how you want to be treated. This is best done in the form of direct requests. "Please lower your voice." Or "It's not acceptable to speak to me in that way. " 1. This is known as having personal boundaries and it's a way of letting people know what you are willing to tolerate in your presence. If you don't tell them, they will continue to treat you in whatever way they like.
People often experience emotions in times of conflict, both internal conflicts as well as conflicts with others. Understanding the sources of conflict can be helpful in transcending it.
1. Conflict occurs when people take things personally, when they are attached to the outcome being the way they want it to be and no other, or when they make assumptions about the knowledge you have in your head and what they have in theirs.
2. Seek to understand what the other person is trying to say. Ask questions. When you are genuinely interested in what they have to communicate, they will feel that you are interested in them. If you repeat back what they have shared to be certain you understand what they are saying, they will feel heard.
3. People are limited by their use of language and their ability to express themselves clearly. They don't always speak with purpose or intention; they just want to get their feelings or thoughts off their chest. After listening and reflecting back what's been shared, ask them if they need something from you. They may not. Being heard may be enough.
4. You can only control you so make sure that you do not take it personally when someone else becomes emotional. It is not about you; it's about them.
5. And do not be attached to the outcome. In other words, listen to them, do what you can to express yourself and then let it go.
The steps I've outlined here are not easy. They sound simple but they take practice and discipline. Mary is a client who was frustrated by her boss's demeaning and intimidating behavior. Through our work she is able to see how, while she cannot change him, she does control how she responds to him. His continued treatment of her in this way sends the message that she is not being clear enough with him about how she expects to be treated. Her feelings of frustration are about her, not him, and bring her attention to what she is doing (or not doing) to allow him to continue his inappropriate behavior.
Mary might be thinking, "He should know better." And maybe he should but the fact is he doesn't. Or maybe he does know better but he doesn't practice it. This is how he acts. She needs to respond to reality rather than indulging her emotions or wishing he would be different.
You can become more comfortable at handling emotions as you learn a process of self-mastery that allows you to experience your emotions and honor what they are trying to teach you. When you can be calm in the midst of chaos, this is the goal of a self-management process. The more you practice, the more comfortable you become with not only your own emotions, but with other's emotions as well.