Angry and frustrated? How to manage your emotions at work

If you are responding to a person who is emotional, a good strategy is to let them talk

Sophia Fromell
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Can you remember the last time you sat next to a negative coworker at a meeting or when your boss has walked into the office in an awfully bad mood? Then before you know it their negativity has spread and you’re in a bad mood too, feeling annoyed and frustrated.

Emotions at the workplace are contagious. It’s a fact. Research has now proven that humans have a tendency to unconsciously mimic the emotions of others. Mimicking an emotional expression actually triggers reactions in our brains that cause us to interpret those expressions as our own feelings.


To demonstrate how feelings impact the workplace, a recent study estimated that lost productivity due to disengaged staff costs the U.S. economy up to $350 billion a year. To put this into perspective go back to the example above and notice your emotional reaction when your boss walks in and doesn’t respond to your morning greeting. Your mind starts racing; “is she unhappy with me?” “Did I do something wrong?” and then you’re likely to spend the next few hours worrying about the cause and the consequences of her mood. If you’re working in a team, your worry is likely to become contagious to your team members too.

You do not have to have an emotional outburst at work to influence others with your emotions. Even if you think that you do not show any emotions, if you are stressed, worried, frustrated or in any way emotionally charged, your body language, your behavior, and even your tone of voice can be subtle indicators of what you are thinking and how you are feeling. Accepting that you cannot avoid emotions at work is the first step in managing them. Below are five tips to ensure that emotions stay low in the workplace:

Pay attention to your body language

Your body usually knows what and how you are feeling before you even become consciously aware of it. Your body gives you signals that something is not right – pay attention to clues, increased heart rate, a knot in your stomach, sweaty palms, hands shaking etc. These physical sensations can be an excellent alert system to help you identify rising emotions and defuse them before they become embarrassing outbursts.

Identify your emotion

In a typical work environment, emotions may run high, however, research has identified the five most common emotions at the workplace to be:

- Anger: in the workplace the most common source of anger is interpersonal conflicts and unfair treatment.
- Envy: envy usually results from the perceived unfair distribution of rewards within a specific department/team or organization.
- Fear: fear is a counterproductive emotion, primarily resulting from job uncertainty or from a distressing behavior of a supervisor or coworker (bullying colleague or a punitive supervisor).
- Guilt: guilt is an emotion people experience because they believe they have caused harm. In the workplace, this can be caused by not finishing an assignment, or because we have somehow offended a colleague.
- Helplessness: helplessness or hopelessness is experienced when you are concerned about your career and where it is going.

The ‘why’ test

If you have children, you know how important the ‘why?’ question is, because it makes you dig deeper and get to the core of things. So once you identified that you feel anger, ask yourself “why?” Why does this make me angry? because I have a deadline to reach, why is this important to me? because if I don’t submit my report on time, then I won’t look good in front of my boss.

Perception is reality

This is the hardest part of managing your emotions, as it requires you to question your perception of the world round you. Remember the example above when your line manager walks in the office in the morning and she ignores your greeting. Your perception of the event will define the way you feel and the way you react; so if you think that your manager did not greet you because he/she is upset with you, you are more likely to spend your day worrying. However, this may not be the reason for her behavior.

She might have simply been deep in his/her own thoughts and not heard you, or she might have had a bad start to the day and not feel like talking to anyone. If that were the case, wouldn’t it change the way you feel right away? Make it a habit to question your perceptions of events and other people’s behavior, and see how it impacts the outcomes of your actions.

Don’t react too quickly

No matter how upset you may be, responding to any situation while you are emotional is never productive. Try to detach yourself from the situation and think whether your instinctive response is the most productive one.

Instead, take the time to relax and disassociate from the situation and provide a response that allows you to be in control.

If you are responding to an email, draft the text and then go to lunch or have a coffee break. When you come back see if you feel the same way and if this email is really the best response. The chances are that you will revise it before you hit send.

Last but not least, if you are responding to a person who is emotional, a good strategy is to let them talk. Do not dismiss their feelings but instead, listen to what they have to say and affirm their emotions without necessarily agreeing with them for example “I see that you are angry because you are not getting the support you need from …”

Guide the conversation towards finding a solution and if the other person seems to be losing control of his/her emotions, ask him/her to take a break and resume the conversation later.

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