Emotional Agility— A guide on regulating emotions at work

Nazanin Delam
Mar 2 · 6 min read

We often think our private life is not the same as our work life. We tend to chunk our life into two sections, and we act differently by which life we are living. That is where the whole concept of work-life-balance shaped itself and encourages us even further to separate the world of our private life from our work life.

If you are working in a nine-to-five job, you are spending one-third of everyday time and a half of your productive time at work. Then, shouldn’t work be part of our life? I always was bullish on separating my work from my life.

Drawing a distinct line between life and work made us act differently at work, to be professional, to hide our emotions and feelings. But, no matter how hard we try, we cannot just flip a switch and turn our feelings off when we enter the office. Feeling feelings is part of being human. A myth exists that emotions don’t belong at work, and this often makes us mistaken professionalism with being cold.

Research shows when our colleagues drop their professionalism mask and show their true selves, we are much more likely to believe what they are telling us. We feel connected to the people around us, our productivity increases, we get more motivated to get the job done, and we have more empathy for others.

Emotional behavior spectrum at work

There are usually two approaches to show to work; people are either too professional or too real-self. I read many articles showing being your authentic self can make you successful at work. I don’t believe in that. I think there should a balance between being too cold and professional and being fully open with others. We usually see a spectrum of emotional behavior at work; on one side is people who are too professionals do not share any personal facts at work, and on the other hand, some people are their true selves meaning they share everything continuously. So what is the balance between these two extremes?

I tried both of these extremes, when I started my job I use to believe in bringing my real self to work, I tend to share lots of personal facts, but after a while, I saw there is no benefit in oversharing. Sometimes it actually can hurt me than being in my favor. Then, I started shifting to the other side of the spectrum and avoided sharing anything personal at work. But that was not helpful either; I was feeling distant and strange with my colleagues. It made me not care about other’s work and their success, so I could not invest in my colleague’s career anymore. I started reading more about emotions, and I found a concept called Selective Vulnerability.

Selective Vulnerability means opening up and sharing your personal life and emotions while still prioritizing stability and psychological safety.

Being able to be selectively vulnerable is not a one-time thing; it requires constant practicing and knowing your feelings. It means knowing how and when to share your emotions that not only does it not create a negative impact, but also it has a positive effect on your work relationships.

How to handle emotional moments at work?

Not all emotions are leaking from our personal life; sometimes, it is the opposite. Feeling arises at work due to office conflict, miscommunication, missed deadline, negative feedback, or any other reason, even a promotion can make very emotional. How to handle emotions that emerging in the office?

Step 1 — Recognize

The first thing after experience the emotion, either positive or negative, is to acknowledge and recognize it.

If you are working on a project and the deadline suddenly shifts a week forward, and you are frustrated, or your colleague gave a negative feedback about you. You are angry, try to acknowledge the frustration or anger. Tell yourself: “I am frustrated because the project deadline shifted.” You can write down your emotions and put them aside.

Step 2 — Label

The attention you give your emotions and feelings occupies your brain; there’s no room to address them. One technique that helps you become more objective is the simple act of labeling. Just as you call a book a book, call a thought a thought and an emotion, an emotion.

My coworker is wrong — he makes me so angry becomes I’m having the feeling that my coworker is wrong, and I’m feeling anger.

Labeling allows you to see your thoughts and feelings for what they are:

Transient sources of data that may or may not prove helpful and may not be factful.

As you start to slow down and label your thoughts, the criticisms that had once pressed in on you as a dense fog became more like clouds passing through a blue sky.

Step 3 — Accept

The opposite of control is acceptance — not acting on every thought or resigning yourself to negativity but responding to your ideas and emotions with an open attitude, paying attention to them, and letting yourself experience them. Take ten deep breaths and notice what’s happening at the moment. Acceptance can bring relief, but it won’t necessarily make you feel good. In fact, you may realize just how upset you really are. The important thing is to show yourself (and others) some compassion and examine the reality of the situation. What’s going on — both internally and externally?

When you receive negative feedback, and you are angry, acknowledged, and make room for your feelings of frustration and anger rather than rejecting them, repressing them, or taking them out on others. Then you began to notice their energetic quality. Those feelings were a signal that something important was at stake and that it needed to take productive action. Instead of getting angry for negative feedback, you could make an explicit request for clarification on the negative feedback you received. The more you accepted your anger and brought your curiosity to it, the more it seemed to support rather than undermine your performance.

Step 4 — Express

When you unhook yourself from your stressful thoughts and emotions, you expand your choices. You can decide to act in a way that aligns with your values. I encourage you to focus on the concept of workability:

Does your response serve you and your organization in the long term, as well as the short term?

Will it help you steer others in a direction that furthers your collective purpose?

Are you taking a step toward being the leader you most want to be and living the life you most want to live?

The mind’s thought stream flows endlessly, and emotions change like the weather, but values can be called on at any time, in any situation. Acting or not acting on feelings based on the answers to the above questions is Selective Vulnerability.

If you find out expressing emotions at work cannot bring value, you still can communicate them privately. Write down how you are feeling on a piece of paper, tell the story and keep it somewhere private and get back to it in a week. If you still feel the same, think about expressing it to individuals like your manager, if not and the emotions are gone, discard the paper.

High Performing Individuals and effective leaders don’t buy into or try to suppress their inner experiences. Instead, they approach them in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way — developing what we call emotional agility. In our complex, fast-changing knowledge economy, this ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings is essential to business and self success.

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