Confronting Emotions at Work

Emotions and feelings are often dismissed as being irrelevant to work or just simply ignored, thus supporting the avoidance-based coping strategies that research tells us are ineffective. People can’t necessarily just “build a bridge and get over it”.  This type of approach is not only problematic at an individual level; what kind of culture does this foster in an organisation? My guess is probably not one that supports open communication, team work, and support.

Our emotions are not necessarily a result of what happens to us, but how we appraise or perceive those events. That is, how we think about them. For example, it’s not the event of being late for a meeting that makes us feel bad, but what we think about being late for work that leads to this experience.  There are ways for emotional situations to be managed in the workplace, in a way that builds constructive relationships rather than dismissing feelings as being irrelevant to work and shutting down the lines of communication.  Distraction and disputation techniques are two commonly used examples of these. 

Helping people to reframe confronting emotions is known as disputation. This can help people to see more clearly and open their mind up to a different perspective in order to deal with the situation. Yet, immediate emotional responses can cloud this rational judgment and we need to assess the situation and the emotional reaction first.  For those of us who want a practical solution and to fix things straight away, it’s not always the right time. The key differentiator depends on the intensity of emotion at the time.

Distraction techniques are useful when emotions are heightened. Things such as going for a walk, listening to music, making a cup of tea, taking three deep breaths, or calling a friend can help to reduce the initial intensity of the emotional reaction. When this subsides, then disputation techniques can be applied. This is the best time to start supporting people to identify potentially irrational thoughts, review how useful these are, and to consider alternative ways of thinking and feeling. This often involves questioning what the implications are of continuing current patterns of thinking and how more constructive thought processes could be beneficial.  What are some of the strategies for managing your emotions at work that have worked for you in the past? What are some of the triggers that cause you to reach the threshold to move from disputation to distraction?

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