Are your emotions in check in the workplace?

Photo by Michele M.F. (via CC)

My son is a very passionate six-year-old. When’s he’s happy, he’s ecstatic. And when he’s angry, well, I just try to keep him away from as many people as possible. Like most children that age, he’s learning how to properly deal with his emotions. It’s a test and learn process; some things, like hitting or shoving, aren’t appropriate, and others, such as walking away to cool off, are.

If anything, this stage in my son’s development has made me notice the behaviors of those around me. There’s lots of people in this world who still act like children. (Those of you without children may have a gut feeling this is the case, but we parents can absolutely assure you that this is true.) Plenty of adults are spoiled, short-tempered individuals who fly off the handle when things don’t go their way. It’s even more horrific when I see a parent act this way. Can you imagine what their home life is like?

Anyway, my wife and I have taken a hard look at our own behaviors and are working to model the kinds of reactions and attitudes we want to see in our son as he matures and grows up. Trust me; it’s not easy.

Emotions and the Artist

In essence, we’re conducting an experiment on behavior modification. For example, our son has shown an innate talent and interest in the arts, and he gravitates towards creating pictures, music, and stories as a way to express his feelings and thoughts. So, we’re learning to embrace it.

When our son gets upset at home and starts to yell or act like six-year-olds do, we give him plenty of paper and crayons.

“Here, Marcus. Draw,” we tell him.

“But I’m so mad, I can’t make a good picture,” he’ll say.

“That’s ok. It can be scribbles, lines, whatever you want. Just put how you feel on the paper.”

It’s amazing, but it works. I’ve seen him pound crayons into paper, color so hard he rips sheets, move his hand so fast, the crayon gets on the table, too.

In short, he looks like a miniature Jackson Pollock; quickly lost in his own world, creating art in manic bursts time and again, until the frustration subsides. And his art from these moments looks like something Pollock could relate to, as well.

Of course, this realization led me to think about my own coping mechanisms, and whether or not I support and encourage my colleagues and teammates to do the same. I’m certainly not perfect, but I’d like to think I’ve matured enough to handle setbacks and frustrations like an adult. (Exercise and creative side projects like this and my podcast do wonders for me, but then again, so does an occasional gripe session with a select few people I trust.)

Emotions in the Workplace

So my question for you is this; how do you cope with your emotions? Would you be embarrassed if your parents or children saw how you react in the workplace? Are your reactions to emotional situations in line with what you expect from others?

It’s not an easy thing to consider, but it’s worth the introspection.

Just as important, how are you handling these situations and demonstrating an example as a leader? How a team collectively deals with stress or negativity has a huge impact on workplace satisfaction. Want proof? Take a moment and consider the person who has the most negative attitude of anyone at your workplace.

Now, think of how others interact (or don’t interact) with that individual. Negative, pessimistic people are often like a cancer in the workplace; they find themselves cut off from those around them, and when they do interact with others, their negativity spreads and permeates through a culture.

If you’re a people leader, this shouldn’t be surprising. That’s why it’s all the more important to set an example of how to handle setbacks and tough emotions in a mature, professional way. And that means reinforcing positive responses, and influencing and coaching those with negative reactions.

Now normally, this is where I tie my point back to the original story, but there’s no way I’m going to imply that leaders are like parents. Teachers? Maybe. Coaches? Definitely. But I’m leaving it at that.

Still, if you and your team are struggling with some less-than-professional reactions to situations, maybe there’s something you can do. After all, the best leaders lead by example.

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