Creatures of Emotion

How many times have you received an email and out of anger or frustration started to write a response immediately? More than a few times, I have barely glimpsed the purpose of the message before I am ready to start responding and in a less than positive way.  If I take a deep breath and the slowly read the message again, I usually discover that my initial perception characterized part of the story and not the entirety.

No matter how stoic, precise, or empirical we want to be, we are still creatures of emotion.  Emotions dictate our mood, interactions, and ability to produce and perform.  Most of us accept that happiness or its more technical sister “satisfaction” correlates with productivity in the workplace and a big portion of satisfaction relates to emotion.  More specifically, our emotions pertain to how we feel about those we work with, who we work for, the assignments we are given, and our employer overall.

How do we bring our emotions into the workplace? We possess emotional filters that we apply to different people and situations, some consciously and some unconsciously.  Before we analyze a statement, interaction, or event, we pass it through our emotional filter.  As a result, person’s mood partially dictates how any occurrence will be interpreted.  Although emotion might be thought to following thinking in most situations, the reverse prevails.  Our feelings assist in the interpretation and guide us toward the next action selected.

What are some common emotional workplace detractors?

Sudden Overflows

If you are having a bad day, little things seem bigger.   The reason for the bad day pales in comparison to the impact of additional stress.  A person being late to a meeting, missing a small detail, or not greeting you quick enough sets off a disproportionate emotional response.  Like a glass that becomes more full with each drop added, we eventually overflow.  The negative emotion develops from the previous events, but the small, yet most recent event “sends us over the edge.”

Professional Victims

Almost every workplace possesses a “professional victim.”  If an employee considers his or herself to be a victim, then every action carries a negative connotation and relates back to their personal struggle in the workplace.  Occasionally personality differences or even favoritism play a role in the development of a victim mentality, but more often it develops as an emotional response to broader issues brought into the workplace.  I recently worked with a client that characterized their team lead as “Mr. Chief Victim.”  Due to being passed over for promotion after being with the organization for more than 20 years while others moved up in less than a quarter of the time, he considered all interaction as demeaning and feedback as derogatory.  His attitude created a self-fulfilling prophecy for future advancement.

Prophets of Pessimism

Have you ever worked with someone that seemed to drain the energy out of the room when he or she entered?  If you are down about your personal life, it follows you to work.  Although everyone deals with a rough time periodically, some employees filter everything like the proverbial Chicken Little. Like the victim that sees every action targeted at his or her determinant, the pessimist assumes that every action holds a visible or invisible negative.  The recession provided a great opportunity for these prophets of pessimism in a multitude of organizations.

What can we do as leaders or professionals when emotions get the best of someone?

  • Set workplace expectations
  • Exhibit understanding
  • Show empathy, when appropriate
  • Ensure the mental health of our team


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