Special Issue on: Handling Your Emotions When Under Pressure

Everything is changing… Constant pressure to do more with less, to adapt quickly to shifting deadlines and new responsibilities and to communicate continually with others has pushed stress in the workplace to an all-time high. More organizations are requiring that employees be resourceful, knowledgeable, and self-reliant.

During this high-pressure environment, emotions rise and make it even more difficult to find long-term solutions to work overload and continual change. Employees struggle to control their feelings as they deal with the impact of:

  • Shrinking budgets with tighter deadlines
  • Increasing customer demands
  • Intensifying competition
  • Shifting technologies

When feelings surface, they inhibit communication and effective communication is more critical than ever, since employees are assuming greater responsibility and also collaborating with others throughout the organization.

Stress raises the potential for conflicts and miscommunication. With everyone under the same pressure, negative reactions are hard to avoid. When they take over, they can inhibit problem solving, cloud the real issue, and turn work-related problems into personal animosities that threaten working relationships.

For many people, emotions in the workplace seem threatening. But emotions can be clues to important information. Learning to be sensitive to “emotion information” is difficult, but the increased awareness can provide a significant edge in knowing how to approach co-workers when problems arise.

Dealing with emotions can improve performance; ignoring them can breed major conflicts and interpersonal rifts that bring performance to a halt.

In dealing with your own emotions, you may find it hard to:

  • Get a grip on your own feelings and reactions
  • Discuss issues calmly and objectively
  • Find the improvement opportunity within the problem
  • Come to terms with the issue and move on

When faced with the emotional reactions of others, you may find it hard to:

  • Effectively diffuse an escalating argument
  • Support the other person without encouraging the behaviour
  • Remain in control, in spite of the person’s emotions
  • Avoid resentment and greater personal stress

You need to understand the role emotional behaviour plays in the workplace and, in turn, deal with emotions productively. Specifically:

  • Recognize sources of emotions in the workplace
  • Recognize when emotions are getting in the way
  • Acknowledge emotions rather than sweep them under the rug
  • Remain calm and objective in the face of strong emotions
  • Recover quickly and help others do the same

Perhaps the most difficult challenge involved in handling emotions under pressure is gaining the degree of self-awareness necessary to manage your own reactions in an emotionally charged situation.

It is easy to get swept up in the passions of someone else’s emotional behaviour. And while acknowledging your own feelings is important, keeping your cool is critical. Unless you first get a handle on your own emotions, you would not be able to diffuse the emotions of others and focus on the issues or reasons behind the emotion.

Keeping a Cool Head 

  • Talk with a friend or co-worker whose not involved in the situation.
  • Think ahead. Examine potential reaction – positive and negative and consciously choose the most productive.
  • Take time to cool off and relax.
  • Exercise to blow off steam.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask questions and force yourself to listen.
  • Take a deep breath and count to 10.
  • Remind yourself to stick to the issues and not to take the emotion personally
  • Think about the long-term work relationship.

Techniques for Handling Emotions Under Pressure

  1. Acknowledge person’s emotion & describe impact.
    • Describe what you hear or see.
    • Describe the impact of the emotion.
    • Maintain the person’s self-esteem.
  2. Invite the person to share thoughts and feelings.
    • Ask the person directly for his or her observations and opinions.
    • Let the person vent his or her feelings.
    • Remain calm.
    • Use silence.
  3. Determine whether continuing the discussion is appropriate.
    • Ask if they want to continue the discussion.
    • Determine whether you can continue.
    • Determine whether you are capable of dealing with the situation.
  4. Listen to understand.
    • Concentrate on understanding.
    • Listen for both facts and feelings.
    • Pay attention to nonverbal cues.
  5. Probe to uncover underlying issues.
    • Ask open-ended questions.
  6. Communicate your understanding.
    • Summarize the person’s point of view
    • If the person says you do not understand, explain that you want to.
    • If you disagree, remember that it’s still important to validate the person’s feelings.
    • Express your confidence in the other person’s ability to deal effectively with the situation.
    • Provide assurances (if appropriate).
  7. Help the person move on.
    • Ask what can be done to resolve the underlying issues.
    • Acknowledge feelings, but help identify issues.
    • Refocus on the work-related issues.
    • Be flexible and open.
    • Cultivate a short memory
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