Unless you lack basic social skills, it’s hard to imagine getting in trouble for expressing positive feelings at work. Sharing enthusiasm and encouragement is usually beneficial to everyone around you. It’s the feelings on the other end of the spectrum that most of us struggle with. We’ve all gotten frustrated or overwhelmed at work.
Maybe someone less qualified gets a promotion you worked hard to earn. Or a coworker takes credit for something you did. The slackers on your team land a major project opportunity, despite the countless hours you spent working on the proposal. Or worse, the idea you submit gets rejected and criticized. These situations will make even the most even-tempered people feel angry, frustrated, disappointed, resentful, and afraid. But it’s not the situations themselves that make or break us, it’s how we respond to them. And that just takes practice.
Here are five emotionally intelligent habits that can help you keep your cool.
1. WAIT TO REACT
Obviously, it’s not that easy. We feel before we think. But even a couple seconds’ buffer can make a huge difference. If you can practice giving yourself just a short moment to think about your reaction, you can gain a lot more control over what happens next. We all know people whose angry outburst has cost them their goodwill, promotions, and career opportunities, and have generally held them back in life.
Feeling a strong emotion of any kind should send you a cue: I need a second to think. If you have to remove yourself from a situation temporarily, do it. The crucial first step is simply noticing those negative feelings early enough to decide not to react just yet.
2. NAME THE FEELING
This is the logical next step. Being able to name how you’re feeling takes away some of the power our most unpleasant emotions have over us. Describing a feeling gives you some distance from it, allowing you more clarity. And chances are you can assign a name to the experience you’re having more quickly than you can choose the right response to it.
3. SHARE HOW YOU FEEL WITH SOMEONE WHO CAN BE OBJECTIVE
The worst thing to do is commiserate with others who hold the same grievances you do–the colleagues who will share in and urge you to hold onto your negativity. Misery loves company. While indulging in it may feel good at the time, it isn’t productive and will keep you stuck in a vicious cycle. The more emotionally intelligent approach is to find someone who’s a great listener and removed enough from the situation to offer an unbiased objective point of view. This is usually someone who has no stake in the circumstances one way or another. When explaining what happened, try to share only the data, not your opinions or feelings.
4. REFLECT ON THE SITUATION LIKE AN OUTSIDE OBSERVER
Try to look at the situation from someone on the outside looking in. Make an honest attempt to try and see things from the perspective of everyone involved. Suspend judgment if you can, and come up with as many possible explanations for what occurred as you can think of–no matter how unlikely they might seem.
This exercise is difficult, but it can help you identify alternative explanations for the situation that’s made you so upset. The tough question is, “What was my part in this–both the positive and the negative?” There may be valuable learnings in this, but at the very least, this habit gives you some time to cool off and redirect your frustration somewhere else.
5. IMAGINE IT’S ONE YEAR LATER
Ask yourself how much this will matter to you one year, five years, or 10 years from now. Consider your long-term goals and plans and think about how this all fits in with where you want to be in the future. Is this really a battle worth fighting, or will it serve you better in the long run to let it go and move on? What will be the likely outcomes of the choices you make from this point on, and how will they help or hinder you?
Feeling upset may seem like something that happens to you–an onrush of negative emotions that you can’t control. But by practicing these techniques, you may begin to see that you still have a choice: You can’t prevent yourself from feeling aggravated, but you can often control what you do about it.