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We are, whether we want to believe it or not, emotional creatures. Indeed, all the decisions we make are influenced by our emotions.

As a human being who also happens to be a manager and organizational therapist, a significant part of my job is helping people (myself included) recognize and harness their emotions at work.

This could be helping someone figure out their next career move or navigate a complex dynamic in their team.

My aim here is to share with you my tools for doing so.

How to Understand And Use Your Emotions Constructively

Imagine emotions as a language, a unique form of communication that our minds use to inform us about our internal and external environments. 

Just as you'd decipher a foreign language, decoding emotions requires a similar approach: understanding, interpretation, and response.

We've all experienced those moments—that surge of excitement after cracking a challenging project or the dull thud of disappointment when things don’t go our way.

But how often do we stop to reflect on these emotions and use them to our advantage?

Acknowledging Your Emotions

The first step is always acknowledgment. Instead of trying to suppress what you feel (never a good long-term strategy) give it a name. 

Labeling emotions helps with grounding them, allowing us to view them from a perspective of curiosity rather than judgment.

Some techniques for emotional check-ins:

  • Journaling. Set aside a few minutes every day to write down your emotions. Describe events of the day and note how they made you feel. Over time, reviewing these entries can provide insights into emotional patterns.
  • Mindful Meditation. Practice a few minutes of mindfulness, focusing on your emotions. Are you feeling tense, relaxed, happy, or sad? Sit with the emotion without judgment, merely observing.
  • Emotional Wheel. Use an emotional wheel, a tool developed by psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik that categorizes and breaks down emotions to help you pinpoint what you’re feeling. It starts with basic emotions like 'happy' or 'sad' and delves into nuances like 'optimistic' or 'lonely'.
Dr. Plutchik’s emotions wheel.
Dr. Plutchik’s emotional wheel.

Apps to Aid Emotional Check-ins:

  • Moodnotes. This app allows you to track your mood and provides insights into patterns. It also offers cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to shift negative thinking patterns.
  • Daylio. An easy-to-use mood and activity tracker. It helps visualize patterns and can be an eye-opener to how certain activities impact your emotions.
  • Reflectly. A journaling app that uses AI to help guide your reflections and track your emotional well-being over time.
  • Simple Habit. While primarily a meditation app, it offers guided sessions focusing on various emotions, aiding in reflection and relaxation.
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Ask Questions

Once acknowledged, it’s time to probe deeper.

Why did a specific event trigger such an emotional reaction? Is it tied to past experiences or is it a response to present circumstances?

Such probing can unveil patterns, highlighting aspects of our jobs we love or elements we dislike or find challenging.

Over time, this can guide career choices, project preferences, and even daily task management.

Building Emotional Resilience: Self-Care and Well-being Techniques

The modern workspace, with its relentless pace and incessant demands, can take its toll.

Here are some simple techniques that can help you build emotional resilience:

  • Scheduled Breaks. Every few hours, take a moment. A simple walk, a quick chat, or even a few deep breaths, can reset emotional equilibrium.
  • Boundary Setting. It's okay to say no. Recognize your emotional bandwidth and communicate when you're approaching saturation. It ensures quality work and well-being. I really like HR leader Felicia Shakiba’s approach to this.
  • Professional Development: Consider taking courses or attending workshops on emotional intelligence, leadership, or crisis management. The skills and strategies you learn can be invaluable in helping you maintain composure and harness your emotions.
  • Develop a Support System. No one is an island. Surround yourself with peers or mentors who can offer guidance, perspective, or simply a listening ear when things get tough.
  • Seek Support. Whether through mentors, colleagues, or professional counseling, talking helps. Share, discuss, and, often, you'll find you're not alone. It's crucial to seek support when you feel overwhelmed, isolated, or uncertain about handling a situation. Remember, asking for help isn't a sign of weakness; it's an act of self-awareness and strength. Proactively reaching out can prevent minor challenges from escalating into major crises.
  • Visualize Positive Outcomes. When faced with challenges, take a moment to visualize a successful resolution. This positive mental imagery acts as a beacon, guiding you and your team through tough times.

The Managerial Role In Steering Emotional Currents

It’s a manager's job to regulate their emotions and those of their team members.

We’ve already discussed how you can harness the power of your own emotions and look after your emotional well-being.

Now we’ll discuss how you can help your team members with theirs.

The Art of Feedback: Timely and Constructive

For employees, feedback isn't just about performance metrics; it's an emotional touchstone. 

Timely, constructive feedback reinforces a sense of purpose and belonging and actually shows that you care enough about someone to try and help them improve. But there's an art to it. 

Managers should ensure feedback is specific, balance positive reinforcement with areas of improvement, and always end on an action plan.

This clarity not only drives performance but also nurtures emotional security.

Further reading: 5 Ways To Give More Effective Feedback

Initiating emotional touchpoints: The power of regular check-ins

Meetings, typically seen as functional forums, can be transformed into spaces of emotional well-being. 

A common technique is to ask someone for a word and number. A number, usually of out 10, to help convey how positive/negative someone is and then a word to describe their emotional state.

This communicates care, offers employees a moment of introspection, and sets a collaborative tone for the session ahead.

I make sure to have regular 1:1’s with my team members and provide them with space to share how they’re feeling as opposed to checking in on projects.

While it isn’t a manager’s job to be someone’s therapist, if someone is struggling then you can help them get any help they may need.

Foster a culture of inclusivity

Encouraging open and honest conversations helps address the root causes of negative emotions before they spread.

This means cultivating an environment where team members feel they can voice their concerns and feelings without fear of reprisal. 

For example, James, a team leader in a tech firm, noted a decline in Karen's performance.

Instead of a reprimand, he initiated a conversation and asked questions to get to the bottom of what was really going on.

Karen felt safe enough to open up about personal struggles affecting her work. James, with empathy, adjusted her workload and provided resources for counseling. 

Result? A grateful, more productive Karen.

The psychology of recognition: Celebrating achievements

Every achievement, big or small, is a culmination of effort, passion, and resilience. Recognizing these milestones uplifts the emotional ambience of the workspace. It instills pride, boosts morale, and serves as motivation.

This is why managers should actively seek out moments of recognition, fostering a culture of appreciation. 

Related read: 20 Creative Employee Recognition And Appreciation Ideas

Communicate transparently

Often, rumors and misinformation can fuel panic or negativity. Ensuring that you communicate transparently with your team and setting the right expectations will build trust and help you work collectively through any difficult periods.

Emotions meet motivation: aligning well-being and drive

The emotional well-being of employees is directly linked to their motivation levels. Managers should recognize this interplay and adopt motivation techniques that cater to emotional needs. 

Whether it's through team-building exercises, personal development plans, or simply creating spaces for open dialogue, the emotionally attuned workspace is invariably a motivated one.

Emotions At The Heart Of Workspaces

Emotions, much like an unseen colleague, influence our day, shape our interactions, and mold our perceptions.

It's a testament to their power that our career trajectories often mirror our emotional journeys.

As you navigate through your professional endeavors, remember to honor and validate these emotions—yours and those of your colleagues. 

Take a moment to reflect, acknowledge, and channel these feelings. Whether you are an employee navigating your emotional responses or a manager steering the collective emotional currents of a team, understanding is the first step, and compassion is the compass.

In the modern era of workplaces, where metrics, deadlines, and deliverables often dominate discussions, let us also champion the cause of emotional well-being.

For it's in these unseen, often unspoken emotions that the true essence of our work lives resides. Embrace them, for they hold the key to a fulfilling, collaborative, and harmonious professional life.

Further resources:

You can also seek emotional support in the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business professionals sharing knowledge and expertise to help you create greater impact in your organization.

By Miriam Groom

Miriam is a nationally renowned industrial & organizational therapist and HR strategist with 15 years of experience in coaching, counselling, employee experience, recruitment, retention, and employee development. She's the CEO and Founder of and Senior Director of Human Capital Consulting at KPMG.