During your presentation at work, a coworker seems to begin challenging you and raising his voice as you were trying to drive home a point for a group which included your peers, supervisor and skip level management. You later mentioned to another coworker; ”He made me so mad!”
In actuality, did your coworker make you mad, or did you make yourself mad? Although external situations may at times provide the fuel, we are the ones that set it on fire. Contrary to popular belief, we and only we, create our own emotions. Understanding and accepting this is the first step towards mastering your emotions instead of allowing them to master you.
Observation-> Interpretation -> Emotion Creation -> Reaction – > Reflection
The emotional workflow is rather straight forward. For simplicity, let’s break this into a five (5) step workflow. We observe a situation; interpret/judge it; an emotion is created; we react according to that emotion; then we reflex at some point on our actions. And the first four steps, possibly all five, can happen in seconds. We go from ‘observation’ to ‘emotion creation’ (and sometime to ’reaction’) in 0.058 seconds. However, think about it. Is it the observation of a situation that actually makes us mad? No. Rather, it is step No.2, our own interpretation\judgement of the situation that creates an emotion within us (e.g. frustration, annoyance, anger, etc.). That is why a group of people can all observe the same event and have different reactions. The problem is, that many time we are too quick to finalize our interpretation of events and pass judgement. Now, add into the equation the accelerated pace of business and it could lead to an even faster path through the emotional workflow . . . if we let it. So, in such an environment, how do we master our emotions rather than allowing our emotions to have the mastery over us?
Practice Holistic/Systemic Thinking with Your Emotions
One thing to do would be to slow down and take an honest, realistic estimation of your interpretation of the situation and possible subsequent reaction. In such a fast pace business world, slowing down may seem to be ill advised. However, instead of immediately giving vent to an impulsive reaction, mentally fast forward five minutes or even 30 seconds into the future. Doing this is applying the agile principle of holistic/systemic thinking. What would be the viewpoint point of other stakeholders observing your reaction? Too, you should first ask yourself – is your interpretation of the situation all together commensurate with your response? Was your coworker reacting to you personally or to the information that was being presented? It is important to separate the two while determining the reason behind your coworkers reaction and the correct response. It would be easy to simply conclude that s/he’s just a jerk! However, as hard as it may be, displaying empathy (i.e. understanding the reason for their reaction) will go a long was in measuring the appropriate action to take, one that will be of long term benefit for all parties involved. Additionally, an emotionally intelligent response will be good for your reputation, elevating your personal brand. It shows that you can handle challenging situations with professionalism.
Identify Annoyance, Frustration & Anger
Next, understand how you are truly feeling and stay in control of your emotions. Are you angry, annoyed, frustrated or a combination? These emotions may seem to be the same, but there is a difference. Frustration is always related to a result you are trying to achieve or a goal you are trying to attain. Annoyance differs in that it always has a person or an object as its target. You simply feel that the person or thing should not be a certain way, because it disturbs you. You may feel a combination of these emotions. For example, as in our previous situation, you are having difficulty getting your proposed process implemented at work because of the reaction of your coworker during the meeting. You feel their reaction may have discredited your proposal in some way. You can feel frustrated and annoyed – frustrated that you are having difficulty getting adoption of the process and annoyed with the coworker that seemingly created a roadblock to your new process being accepted by their reaction. Anger may come into play only if you believe the person has a bad motivation or bad intent behind their actions.
Learning to identify the true emotion you are feeling and then address each individually will help you react more appropriately to the situation and/or the people involved. Allow this to be part of your regular personal SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity & Threat) analysis.
So remember, even if you don’t address the situation at that very moment (which at times it is best to let time pass for clarity of thought) you should be certain to address it – within yourself emotionally and possibly with the other party involved. Otherwise you may find yourself nursing more extreme emotions that would make managing the situation increasingly worse.