Learning from Emotional Reactions at Work | Progression Partner
stress, mindfulness

Learning from Emotional Reactions at Work

Since a child, I have had large emotional reactions for various reasons. I grew up with people who yelled a lot to be heard or to emote. Because of that, I have striven for much of my life to be calm and neutral. This has served me very well and it is truly who I am. Unfortunately, emotional reactions still occur in my life as I never really cleared the emotional wounds on the inside and when they grew so intense and I am triggered; my non-serving toolbox seems to come in handy and I react. Usually it is at someone. Not only do I feel worse afterwards, but the person I am projecting on is also affected. These things rarely happened at work, but they did a couple of times in my career. Otherwise, I would stay cool and calm and collected at work and then project my anger or frustration on a stranger driving down the street or, the worst circumstance, with the people I love when I got home.

Right after I had my first child and was working as the HR Director of a mid-size company, I was going through a lot of life changes. The company was going through a merger and I was handling all the HR transitions. To say the least, I was maxed out on stress, lack of sleep and many emotional triggers were arising as I was being tested in all areas of my life. It just wasn’t healthy or sustainable. To the outsider- it probably appeared that I was doing a great job with a smile on my face. On the inside, the storm raged on. I went into survival mode and just kept pushing through, telling myself that if I just got through the tough time the stress would go away.

Meanwhile, there was a colleague who seemed to know how to push my buttons. In my perception, I was doing a good job with the best intentions for the employees and company. Unfortunately, it is also my style to question status quo and ruffle feathers when trying to change “the way things have always been.” This colleague didn’t like some of the things that I was doing (again my perception) and we were not working well as a team. This was an emotional trigger for me in many ways and it really bothered me. I realized that I needed to address the situation and talk with her about what was going on and the tension between us. Sounds like an appropriate thing to do, right? Well it would be if I had been able to deal with my own emotional baggage first. Instead when I received information from her via email, I was triggered and fuel was added to my internal fire. I got up, walked to her office and yelled at her in the doorway. Many others heard. She was mortified, hurt, caught off guard and upset. I then shut her door, broke down crying and apologized.

Unfortunately, in my emotional reaction, who I am, a productive conversation, uniting and respect was lost. I may have had some valid points in what I was trying to communicate, but no one heard that. Not even me; never mind my co-worker and the innocent bystanders. Our relationship was further tarnished and it was even more difficult to work together. This was so unlike me and I spent the next few weeks really looking at my life. I realized that I was not doing my life well- family, high stress job, marriage, fun and health were not balanced. For many reasons, I resigned from that job. It was another big change for me, but it is what I needed in my life right then. It was clear that I needed space and time to deal with the storm inside. It was great for someone else who could give the job much more focus a chance to succeed. I am fortunate to stay in touch with my co-workers and bosses at that company who treated me so well.

While I am horrified by that display, I am so grateful for it happening. It was a large wakeup call that I needed to hear. Had I not listened, I fear that the stress I was under would have shown up in other scary ways- both inside and outside of work. It also was a reality in learning how I can handle things differently both at work and at home.

Become Aware & Deal with Your Shit. Each and every one of us have emotional wounds or triggers inside of us. When we have intense emotion at work (or any area of our life), it is generally because it’s a trigger for us. Take time to notice what triggers you have, what you feel, where you feel it in your body, and perhaps what the underlying root may be. Take this information and process it separately with a professional or your mindfulness toolbox. You may realize that what you think is stressing you out isn’t even really what is stressing you out- it’s something completely different that you need to address instead of the easy moving target at work.

Don’t React. When you feel something bubbling up inside of you, it’s there for a reason. But that probably isn’t the best time to address the issue with the co-worker; take my experience for example! Once you have cooled down and let the emotion pass through you; schedule some one on one time with your co-worker and talk it out so the discussion isn’t lost in emotion. Remove yourself from a situation if necessary and if someone approaches you, just tell them you aren’t ready to talk because you are still processing.

Find Your Truth. Get to the bottom of your emotions. Then discover your truths. Turn your emotions into positive fuel for living and speaking truths in an intentional way. Positive change generally comes from this. You will hopefully be heard and received in a different light.

Meditate & Breathe. Connect with the emotion that is brought up and just sit with it. Listen to what’s telling you. Take deep belly breaths and up the back to relax and reconnect.gratitude, career coach, colorado, mindfulness

Have gratitude. Why are you thankful for this trigger, situation or co-worker? What about it is positive and serving your higher Self?

Apologize. If you’ve had an emotional reaction, apologize to the person and/or project that it may have impacted. Being humble and vulnerable is part of life and healing. It also hopefully helps us with our lesson. It might not actually repair or improve the relationship, but you have taken ownership for your part in it and can hopefully move on.

Forgive. We are all human, whether we are supposed to be so at work or not. And guess what, we all make mistakes. The emotional reaction is not who you truly are. Go ahead and forgive yourself. Holding a grudge and shaming anyone, even yourself, just isn’t worth the energy.

Emotional reactions can come out in many different ways- anger, outbursts, sarcasm, irrational quick decisions, etc. At work they are “frowned upon.” I can tell you that they aren’t really loved in any area of life. But we are human and they happen. The best we can do is take the opportunity to pause, listen, deal and learn so that we don’t repeat the cycle. If the cycle is repeated, who you are will continue to get clouded and larger consequences may occur. Take a larger pause and get help or an outlet in any way you can.