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Managing Emotions in the Workplace

How should you show up in the workplace? Should you be you, or a version of you? What do people think about you? Do you need to be liked? Do you care?

My old, cynical self used to say that to play it safe at work, never talk about yourself and never talk about others. In my experience, that juvenile approach was a useful safety net, but in pursuit of building strong relationships you have to give a little of yourself.

But what about managing people where you have pressure from the top and attitude from the bottom? You're a teacher adapting your style to the personalities of every kid in the class, teaching en mass and mentoring individually, all wrapped in performance targets and annual appraisals. You want to come across as nice but you also want to be respected; how do you strike that balance?

The risk is that the manager that cares oscillates between rude and overly friendly, both of which frustrate her. The result is that she walks away dissatisfied with her response, doubting herself and wondering how she could have handled the situation or the person differently, and what she would do next time. Why is next time never better?

Try to maintain a neutral approach to people and situations. Don't make assumptions or adopt a pre-defensive position. Imagine you have a lot to learn from the person and ask questions. Take your time to understand their points of view and listen to what they have to say. Find them 'mysterious' and uncover the thinking behind their statements. Slow them down and make it about them so that they are neither aggressive nor defensive, creating neutral ground for a productive conversation. If it goes on a tangent, reign it back in, but don't pounce. Maintain an inquisitive state and when you have everything you require to match your desired outcome with theirs, suggest a solution and agree on it.

Own the conversation through empowering the other person. Reframe your objective to be less about you and more about the business. Don't make it personal... your winning the argument is not a long-term solution, but your collaborative efforts will neutralise emotion and move the company forward.

Your personality will shine in everything you do. You're not compromising the person that is you - you're simply holding back that which will not lend itself to the business situation at that time. And as for the extremes, would you respect a colleague that was either rude on the one hand, or overly friendly on the other?

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