How to Manage Your Emotions at Work (and Come Off Like a Slick Professional)

Learn how to control your emotions before they control you.
Sarah Si
Sarah Si
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You might’ve experienced one of these awkward situations before – losing control of your emotions at work or school. Maybe you snapped at a colleague, flared up at an unreasonable customer, or growled at your project groupmates at school when you ended up having to do their assigned tasks.

While this is a normal (and often understandable) human reaction, it’s still unprofessional behaviour. At school, you might have been able to shrug off your outbursts when you moved on to your next class, and then started your day again with a clean slate. But at work, it doesn’t quite work the same way.

In fact, you’ll quickly find out that these reactions can, and will, negatively affect your professional reputation. What’s worse, your productivity might even take a hit if you sink into a mindset where you’re unable to churn out good work as you try to recover. In light of all this, how can you better control your emotions as a newly-graduated professional?

Remember: This doesn’t mean you have to suppress your emotions completely. You’re human, and you’re definitely not perfect! It’s okay to have emotions; it’s how you express them that’s important.

Identify negative emotions

Because we’re more naturally inclined to concentrate on our negative emotions, this is often the easiest step. After all, there’s no need to identify positive emotions when they lead to good things, like productivity, happiness and effectiveness!

So, if you feel negative emotions rising, start looking for physical signs. For example, you might feel a tenseness in your forehead and shoulders when you’re worried, or anger manifesting itself in heat in your head and cheeks.

Pro tip: Emotions tend to be triggered by external factors, like anxiety from starting a new job, so get to know what triggers you, and link them to the emotions they bring about.

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Acknowledge your emotions

Emotions tend to come into play when you’re involved in a situation out of your control, such as stress brought about by a demanding schedule or looming deadlines. The thing is, we’re taught how to deal with – or repress – them with phrases, like “calm down” and “it’s not a big deal”. Unfortunately, suppressing negative emotions actually does more harm than good, as bottling them up often leaves you a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode.

Instead, acknowledge that your emotions are a big deal to you, and accept that they’re there. You can start by telling yourself: “I’m upset, because this affects me for this part of my day.”

Pro tip: Try not to make important decisions when you’re feeling emotional.

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Give yourself some space

And by space, it’s not about drawing a circle around your desk. It’s taking some time to “remove” yourself from the situation. You can do so by taking an objective look by pretending to be a fly on the wall, or simply counting from one to 10 to cool down and recompose yourself. Here are a few other suggestions.

Once you’ve given yourself space to think, you’ll likely realise that the situation isn’t as bad as you initially thought it was, and you’ll be in a better headspace to approach it!

Pro tip: Your colleagues are human, too. Like you, they have feelings that can be hurt. You have a far less chance of hurting them (and burning professional bridges) if you’re aware of your emotions and can get a handle on them.

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Find a "safe person" to confide in

In a perfect world, it’d be easy to find someone you can share your emotions and feelings with. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Instead of letting this defeat you, take your time and slowly suss out a trusted friend who can empathise with you. They don’t even need to be a fellow employee at your company, though that’s a bonus.

Finding that “safe person” starts with you, though, so be that trustworthy person first when you start approaching people. Look to understand them first, before making it clear that you’re looking for a long-term friendship. Most importantly, be honest with the person you’re looking to trust!

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Draw boundaries that can help you recharge

Not looking at work emails or messages after working hours is a boundary, and so is dropping what you’re working on as soon as your work day is over. You just need to keep in mind that the most important thing about boundaries is that they should be clear, and can help you keep negative emotions at work from spilling into your personal life.

You can then use your remaining time to “switch off”, recharge and unwind. By doing so, you’ll be able to stick to healthy responses at work when your emotions get involved.

Pro tip: When establishing boundaries, be sure that you’re comfortable with them, because you’ll have to stick to them!

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At the end of the day, our emotions are a vital part of daily life. We should always be aware of our emotions, as well as others’ emotions. But if you do have an emotional outburst, there’s no need to condemn yourself – be respectful and apologise, and then take some time to recalibrate before jumping back into the thick of things!