Managing Emotions at Work

Work can be rewarding. Work can be frustrating.

When an employee is truly engaged, there will be strong emotions involved.

Emotions are going to happen. We can’t control that.

But we can control how we manage them.


Researchers call it emotion regulation, and there are 3 basic ways to do it.

  1. Paying attention (or not)
  2. Changing how we think
  3. Changing how we respond
Note: People also regulate emotions by choosing situations or trying to change the situation, but that’s a slightly different topic.




1. Paying attention (or not)

Should we pay attention to emotions at work?

Sometimes you might be better off just ignoring emotions. But rarely.


Emotions in the workplace can encourage some amazing benefits such as:


2. Changing how we think

You don’t have to change your emotions.

It might be better to just change how you think about emotions.


For example, imagine that you’re getting ready to give an important presentation. It’s normal to have performance anxiety.


But how do you really feel about all that emotional energy? Is it really fear? Research has shown that you can use that same energy to get excited.

Feeling excited can actually make you perform better.


3. Changing how we respond

Responses to emotions can be just as important.

The same situations can end up leading to very different outcomes.


Everyone fails or makes mistakes sometimes.

It’s not uncommon to get emotional about it.

Distress in the workplace is often seen as “unprofessional.” In fact, people who show distress are perceived as less competent, less hirable, and less desirable as teammates.

But emotion also shows that you care. Research has shown that when people describe strong responses to setbacks as “passion” for work, they are perceived as significantly more competent, hirable, and desirable as teammates.


You know that “negative coworker” that’s always complaining about something?

Why are they being so negative?

It could be that they’re just an angry person. Or it could be that they’re reacting to real problems. After all, anger can be a perfectly normal reaction to unfairness, incompetence, wastefulness, basically any serious problem at work.

Research has shown that identifying problems is associated with negative emotions—and addressing problems, trying to fix problems, is associated with positive emotions.


Your reactions can completely turn things around.




Image credits: Karyn Christner, Tim Green

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