As children, we're told that our emotions are our own, that our feelings aren't wrong to have, and that we're entitled to them. Loving parents and teachers help us learn to navigate the way we handle the emotions that arise within a single day:
"Yes, your brother took your toy, but you don't get to hit him for it."
"Yes, you did a stupendous job on that test, but you can't stand on your desk, jump up and down, and scream 'Wahhoooo!'"
"Yes, I know you're sad and hurting, but I need you to use your words and tell me why."
Without the pressure of having to sustain our own existence, we're able to learn how to step back and process our feelings. Kids have their own stresses. But we allow them the leeway to learn how to handle the feelings that happen every day.
As adults, we (hopefully) have that handling part down pretty well. But sometimes, it's a struggle. The movement towards increased Emotional Intelligence encourages us to, once again, examine our emotional life as we were once allowed to. We deal with incredible pressures in the workplace. The consequences of mishandled or misdirected emotions aren't a "time out", they're a lost deal. Or relationship. Or job.
The level of stress we're all under often restricts our ability to reflect, pause, breathe, and analyze what we're feeling. Sometimes, it's enough to keep your head above water and survive the day. But it's vitally important that we don't let the pressure win.
I want to give you a few ways to return to that analysis we all used to do without thinking about it. When emotions flare up, it's not going to help to just have someone tell you not to feel that way. I encourage you to try a few of these things to actually check in with, acknowledge, and handle the types of emotions you may experience on a given day:
Know when you need to release the pressure valve: Pressure cookers are amazing culinary devices. They can create unbelievable things in a fraction of the time of other methods. However, if there wasn't a release valve on the unit, the whole thing would explode.
See where I'm gong with this?
While we don't have the luxury of yelling, or leaving, or throwing things when the going gets tough at work, it's important to recognize what your personal emotional boundaries are. Obviously, you can't storm out of meetings in a huff. But you can realize when you may need to fit a brief walk into your day, or ask to table a difficult discussion until you can reflect on it.
Examine your physical responses. See if you can discover what happens when your internal emotional state takes over. Then, see what you can personally do to keep things under control.
"Is it a ME thing, or is it a THEM thing?": This one question deals with 2 major tenants of emotional intelligence — self-awareness and social awareness. If there's a point of conflict, or if you feel stung by another person's actions, start with this thought and work it through a bit. Are they out of line? Are you? Have they misinterpreted something you said? Have you taken something personally that wasn't intended that way? What are the emotions happening on both sides?
When you ask this question, you give yourself space to reflect on the situation, avoid escalating an emotional scenario, and better equip yourself to come up with a solution. You'll avoid treating only the symptom and not the disease.
"Use your words" is still good advice: Often, the hardest types of emotions to handle are the ones that are left unsaid. If you're struggling with something at work, voicing it may help you clear the air or solve a problem. The key is to keep things positive.
If your difficulty is a project or task, bring it up to your team, or a co-worker, if possible. Ask for help in finding a solution. They may help you see something you're missing because you're trapped in anger or frustration.
If it's an interpersonal issue, try and air it out. But again, be positive. Condemning or blaming the other person won't help. Acknowledge that you're having some difficulty. Take responsibility for your part in the situation, and ask to work together to improve your communication.