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Managing Emotions in the Workplace

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Understanding Emotions

In The Workplace

by Robert Pennington & Stephen Haslam

Every one experiences emotions at work.  We get frustrated with bosses giving more work when they don't understand how much work we already have.  We get upset with co-workers who don't do their jobs, so we can't do ours.  We get angry with irate customers who don't realize we are only trying to help.  We worry about an uncertain future. 

 But with all these emotions, most people don't think they have anything to do with how they are feeling.  They believe their emotions are a result of an external cause, i.e., the circumstances or situations of their lives or the behavior of others.  It looks that way because that's how you have been taught to think about emotions.  It just isn't true.


The goal is not to never have any negative emotions though.  That's not possible.  The goal is to recognize them faster and move through them quicker. That is realistic, but how?

 First, recognize you've got something to do with it. Consider EMOTION as Energy in MOTION.  That's what if feels like doesn't it, an energy moving through your body? The root word is "emote", which implies the direction the energy is moving - out.  Emotions are an attempt to express outwardly, to express what we believe.

 If your belief is unconscious then you act on automatic pilot.  If conscious, then you have some choice.  In either case, how you feel is a reflection of how you think.  Your negative thoughts produce negative emotions.  Your positive thoughts produce positive emotions.

So, emotion is not something that happens to you.  Emotion is actually something you are doing.  If you experience an emotion then you've got something to do with it.  Be curious about thoughts that precede emotion.


Second, understand laws exist about emotions just like there are laws about physics.  As mysterious as it seems, every emotion you have is a result of some thought that preceded your emotion.  The only exception to this rule is if you have some chemical or neurological damage that throws everything out of whack.  But if you have a healthy body then how you think causes how you feel.  How you feel affects how you behave.  And, how you behave produces results.  It's just a law.

 Third, accept that any choice to change how you feel will always come after the fact.  That's because you can't control your initial reaction to anything!  Your habits are too powerful.  But you can control your second thought and in that is your saving grace.


  • Reconsider beliefs that produces harm to anyone, including yourself.  Like Gerry Jampolsky says in his very popular book, Love is Letting Go of Fear, “I am never upset for the reason I think”.  If you think of why you are upset, and you are still upset – then that isn't the reason.  If you don't like how you are feeling, you might be able to change the world or change yourself and feel better.  But if you aren't willing to reconsider the "truth" of one of your beliefs then you can't change the resulting emotion.


  • Keep a journal, a record of your emotion.  Use the journal to bring your unconscious to conscious.  Ask yourself questions of your emotions to understand your underlying beliefs.  Don't ask, "Why am I feeling this way".  It is difficult to answer such a question.  Rather make guesses.  Am I feeling hurt because they didn't do what I wanted? Am I unhappy because I'm not perfect?  Am I angry because they don't understand my challenges?  When you ask the right question you will know it is the right answer.


  • Talk with friends.  Don't talk with people who gossip and just reinforce the idea you are a victim.  Talk with people who are interested in understanding what they have to do with how they are feeling.  Develop friendships with people who are interested in recognizing negative emotion and moving through it faster.


  • Read books and listen to audio recordings.  There are lots of authors and speakers who have the latest insights and guidance for living a more effective life emotionally.  Find some.  Listen or read what they have to say.  If you like it, listen repeatedly.  Find out what they read or who they listen to.


  • Get counselling.  What you don't know (about you) could be what is harming you.  Don't put up with pain.  If you are not waking up each morning like Charles Filmore, author of The Twelve Powers of Man, who was quoted when he was 94 as saying, “I fairly sizzle, with zeal and enthusiasm, and spring forth with a might faith to do the things that are to be done by me today!” then you might consider counselling.


For more information or to schedule Robert Pennington or Stephen Haslam for a presentation for your organization please call 713-305-5117.

Definitions of Emotions


Anger                                     Loss of control over others and attempt to regain it.  Corollaries of anger = frustration, irritation, annoyance, aggravation, indignation, impatience.

 Boredom                               Not taking responsibility for your own happiness or for your own entertainment. Not doing what you want to do or doing what you don't want to do.

 Confusion                             Laziness of mind to keep from taking action or making a decision because of fear about the consequences.

Embarrassment                  Feeling that another will think something about me that I would not want them to think.  Feeling that what I am is defined by what others think of me.

 Fear                                        Entertaining a fantasy of a danger that is not happening at the moment of the fear.

 Grief                                       Loss of opportunity to interact with a source of attention or love, often fear over an undelivered communication.

 Guilt                                        Indulging in a concern over a past situation in order to avoid taking action now. Fantasized repetition of the action which continues the harm of the fact that you did something you believe is not in your best interests.

 Hate                                        Misplace expression of importance, protecting myself because of how a person may have influence over me or those for whom I care, when I don't feel safe or when I feel hurt by another.

 Hurt                                        Punishing yourself when someone is not doing what you want him or her to do.

 Jealousy                                Feeling inadequate to a known or unknown competitor.  Believing in your own inferiority and fearing that someone else will agree with you by comparing you to another.

 Loneliness                           Placing responsibility for your happiness on another person.

 Regret                                    Feeling inferior because you believe you have performed poorly.


Nine Step Process for Mastering Emotions

 Managing Emotions

            I.       Awareness of Doing an Emotion

Whether happy or unhappy we are taught that the events of our lives cause how we feel.  Our culture teaches us that emotions happen to us.  The truth is that emotions are not something that happens to you.  Emotions are something that you are doing.  There is a moment when you decide that a particular emotional response is the action to take in a given situation.  Becoming aware of the onset of an emotion in the present leads to an ability to choose a better more productive emotional response in the future.  It requires a lot of practice.

            II.      Honest Description of an Emotion's Purpose

An honest description of all emotions as actions you are choosing to take is necessary for overcoming the misperception of yourself as a victim.  You have been taught to use your emotion in an attempt to change or influence your surroundings.  An honest and accurate description of your emotional/action will aid in your ability to be responsible for how you feel and to be more successful in how you affect your surroundings.

            III.     Acceptance of Response/Ability for Your Emotions

You feel what you choose to feel -- unless you have some chemical or neurological damage.  You can assume total responsibility for what you feel and what you express.  What 'they' did may be very wrong, but that does not obligate you to feel a particular way in response.  You cannot control your initial reaction to anything - don't even try.  You can learn to accept responsibility though thus giving yourself the ability to respond in new and more caring ways, for yourself and others. You can always clean things up.


Managing Thoughts

            IV.     Identification of Facts Vs. Beliefs

Our cognitive perceptions about what is true in our lives cause our emotional responses.  Perceptions are comprised of attitudes, prejudices, judgments, and beliefs
that we think are true.  Ascertain the exact facts about the incidents in your life, separate from your beliefs about these facts is the beginning of freedom.

            V.      Identification of Beliefs about Your “Self”

A primary influence on your abilities to deal successfully with life's challenges is your own beliefs about you! 
By identifying the distinction between the facts and your beliefs about the facts, you will uncover irrational and unproductive beliefs about yourself. 
When your self-defeating beliefs are examined with a loving and understanding eye, they may very well change. 

            VI.     Acceptance of Responsibility for Your Thoughts

Having discovered negative self-beliefs, you may ask yourself whether it feels good to hold such beliefs. Your answer will always be 'No'.  That should tell you something.  Recognize that, for whatever reason, you have chosen to accept an irrational self-defeating belief in the past.  You can choose to believe something more positive in the future.  Your thoughts are not determined by others or by what happens around you. Your thoughts result from your own choice.  Change and growth occur by taking responsibility for what you are choosing to create within yourself.  Choose to continually be making better choices.


Managing Behaviours

            VII.    Identification of Your Desired Behavioural Goals

Behavior is motivated by conscious and unconscious desires. Becoming conscious of your goals as implied in your behavior leads to more responsible and successful attainment of your desired outcomes.

            VIII.   Relationship between Your Present Behaviour and Your Desired Goals

The way you behave when you are upset is often counterproductive to your goals. Identifying the relationship between your present course of action and your goals will increase the possibility of choosing the most appropriate behaviors for attaining greater personal and professional success.

            IX.     Acceptance of Responsibility for Behaviour

Creative behavior results from acceptance of responsibility for emotions, thoughts and behavior.  Effective self-management results from an ability to chose more appropriate behavior in response to conflict situations and to put your choices into action - every day!