Hijacked by emotions at work? Name, tame, transform them

The workplace can make people feel a full range of emotions — sometimes, more intensely and frequently than one experiences at home.

The difference is, people are often reluctant to show or acknowledge to themselves their full emotions while on the job. But burying those emotions can cause bigger problems.

Emotions are part of your survival kit. But for too many, emotions are the black box in the aircraft. You look at them only when there has been a crash or a tragedy.

In the workplace, emotions get ignored for a variety of old assumptions, such as they’re a sign of weakness. But the message that one can separate their emotions and still function well is a myth. Research shows that when you can identify your emotion, you are able to slow your reaction. Thus, you can name it, tame it and then can take the right action to shift those feelings.

Howard suggests using a journal to evaluate the following common emotions experienced at work and turn them into positives:


Get to know your anger. When ignored, anger turns to rage, resentment, heart disease and it shuts down your ability to be happy. Anger alerts you to set boundaries and facilitate change. Ask yourself these questions: What happens as a result of experiencing anger? How does it affect other people and interfere with your goals? Who or what flips your anger switch on?


Anxiety arises from thoughts. It can catch you in an endless thought loop. Did I sign off on that contract? Did I forget something? Anxiety can serve as a messenger to help you clarify a situation, so you can take action. Use your phone to create lists or download one of the many apps that will help you stay organized and focused. Consider these questions: How does anxiety interfere with your goals? Who or what flips your anxiety switch on? What would you like to experience instead?


This emotion often brings a desire to withdraw and the need to cry. It’s a cue you need time to reflect and let go of things that are not working. Sadness gives you a window into what you value. And when you can acknowledge your own sadness, you increase the ability to demonstrate empathy. You develop the courage and ability to do other difficult things.


When left unchecked, discouragement can erode confidence, motivation and momentum. Go from discouraged to determined. Reframe it by identifying three things that are going well for you. Recognize the discouragement is not permanent. Find a safe person to talk to, then let go of discouragement and focus on your big vision.

All these emotions tie into stress. Chronic, unmanaged stress, often caused by an unwillingness to confront these emotions, interrupts the ability to think clearly, work well with others and in general, perform. Identifying your emotions leads you to having more control over them.

Cynthia Howard ( is an executive coach, performance expert and the author of “The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room.” She researched stress and its consequences in performance during her PhD. In the past 20-plus years she has coached thousands of professionals, leaders and executives toward emotional agility and engaged leadership.

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