Emotions: Allies not Enemies

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

One of the many things that make humans interesting and distinct is our ability to noticethat we are having an emotional reaction to something or someone. Not only can we notice the emotional reaction, but we can decide how to respond to  that emotional experience.  Emotions are pretty remarkable, and can be very intelligent. They are an ephemeral and completely non-tangible experience. And yet! They can dominate so much of our day. They can result in physical discomfort and distraction. On a daily basis, they can be disruptive as we try to be successful in our jobs. As the in-house performance coach at DigitalOcean, as well as having my own practice, I often act as a guide for emotional regulation and in fact. More often than not, through their work, my clients are able to leverage these emotions to be successful in the workplace. At DigitalOcean specifically, employees have me as a partner in navigating these difficult emotions and determining how to use them constructively.

But how?!” you ask. Well – it takes investment and dedication but these 8 strategies are a great place to start:

#1. Start with Awareness

  • It is important to know when you are experiencing emotions. Often your body can give you indicators (heart beating, jaw clenching, chest tightening, fists closing). Notice what your physical indicators are when having different emotional experiences. Notice your body language when receiving certain information.
  • Awareness is huge! Once we are aware of what is going on in our physical or emotional body, we are then in a position to make a decision on how we want to respond instead of being a victim of the experience. At DO, feedback not only plays a critical role in employee development, but also yields this kind of self-awareness. I am always available to employees to process critical feedback conversations.

#2. Think of Emotions as Information

  • Once you have an awareness of a certain emotion, notice what information it is giving you. Do you feel like your voice isn’t being heard? Do you feel like an expectation isn’t being met?
  • Articulating what the emotion is telling you is important. Once you have more information, there is more you can do to move forward.
  • Orient to the space and circumstances around you. Is your emotional reaction meeting the gravity of the situation? Is there a fire, smoke or did someone just turn the heat up in the room – metaphorically speaking? This mindset helps you to have a conversation with the emotional experience. If it’s only the heat turned up in the room, you can then decide to respond in a less extreme way than you would if there was a fire.

#3. Know your Triggers

  • Often we can notice patterns in our emotional reactions. “Every time I step into a meeting with my manager, I start feeling angry.” “When I’m interrupted I start to retreat and shut down.” Knowing these patterns can be very helpful.
  • If we know what kind of people or situations create negative emotions within us, we can start setting intention before walking into the room, and better mentally preparing for the situation.
  • Setting intention can be related to what we want to get out of the interaction. “I need to make sure that this person understands where I am coming from.” “If I get interrupted, I will ask to be able to finish my thought.” “If my expectations aren’t being met. I will make my expectations clear and ask where the disconnect is.”

#4. Remember Emotions are Ephemeral

  • The good and the bad about emotions is that they are all impermanent. One moment, I’m happy and feeling fulfilled and the next, I’m frustrated and angry. This is a real perk for the emotions we don’t like very much!
  • Some of us have chronic emotional states, like anxiety or anger or numbness (that’s an emotional state too). But even in those chronic emotional states, there are still shifts in the degree of the experience. Sometimes our anxiety is a little less, sometimes it is off the charts. It is important to start noticing the small shifts as they can empower you to trust that the bigger waves will pass.

#5. Leverage Your Positive Emotions

  • Positive emotional experiences are important too. Not only do positive emotions make us feel better, they become resources we can draw upon when we are not feeling so great. If I’m spiraling into a negative place after a difficult meeting, maybe I do something I find more enjoyable for the 30 minutes following that. For example, I take a walk to clear my head or work on something I find more fulfilling.
  • It’s also helpful to tap into the other instances where you’ve successfully navigated a difficult situation. For example, I know that the previous meeting I had with my boss went really well. So what was different about this meeting? How did I show up differently? What can I do differently next time?

#6. Take the Time you Need to Step Away

  • It is never too late to address something. Truly. If you need time to step away and think about the situation, do so!
  • We won’t always be 100% before we need to re-address a situation. But often, we will be able to get some perspective.
  • Use the time away to check in with yourself – On a scale of 1 to 10 how critical is this issue? How do I want to address this? How important is this to me? What additional information do I need before coming back to address it?

#7. Decide What to Address and What to Forget

  • When you are ready to address what came up, set an intention for the circumstance. Whatever the intention is – it should be something you can influence and have control over. We can control our own actions and not those of anyone around us.
  • Check in with yourself: What is important to you to address about the situation? What are you open to letting go of? When we are angry or frustrated, we often start nitpicking on things that may not have bothered us if we were feeling our best. It is important to notice that and decide what really matters. If everything matters to us, that is a great indicator that we are not in a good place to have a conversation. Let the wave of the frustration ebb before regrouping on what is important to you.

#8. Take Charge – When you are not so emotionally charged!

  • If you are feeling really emotionally charged, wait a few moments. Sometimes we may still be frustrated when we need to address something. With that being said it’s always best to wait until the eye of the storm has passed. Once it has passed be curious about it – what were the indicators that you were starting to get emotional? What was going on around you- what prompted the reaction? How would you have liked to have responded differently? How will you respond differently next time?

As you start to consistently walk through the above steps, there often is a shift in your relationship to your emotions. And, it never hurts to have a partner to guide you.  DO is a great example of an organization that values these kind of partnerships. Like one of my favorite Pixar movies – “Inside Out” – we can begin to see how our emotions can not only be our friends, but in fact, a powerful and effective team in helping us navigate our job and the outside world successfully.  

Published by

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

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