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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

How to Control Your Emotions (Even When Nobody Else Is)

Have you ever been working steadily as a group, everything is going fine, and suddenly the tenor in the room changes? Things get tense, silent, then explosive? Maybe someone is raising their voice, using strong body language, or even swearing in anger. If you have, you've seen a room get hijacked by emotion.

This hijacking happens when our brains go into an escalated state of emotion that makes it harder for us to do long-term thinking. The part of our brain responsible for higher order processing gets taken over by emotion: that fight or flight response you've probably heard about.

When this happens to women (and especially women of color) the result can be very different than if a male colleague does something hot-headed. You may end up labeled emotional, sensitive, difficult to work with, or (the worst) that "angry black woman" stereotype that's so pervasive.

The label isn't fair, and getting emotional is part of being human, but if you want to keep your cool in the workplace, you do have options and tactics you can use to help you keep your grip on the situation and maintain your composure.

Strengthen your emotional intelligence

If you know me, you've probably heard me talk about the false divide between personal and professional. There's an idea that we leave our baggage at the office door and keep our personal selves private, but that's baloney. Everything personal is going to affect your professional life, so really ask yourself how you're doing emotional regulation in the office.

Is it different than you'd do at home? What areas of your emotional growth do you need to focus on to get better at this?

Understand your triggers

Think about the last time you lost your cool. What triggered it? Sometimes it's a particular meeting, or a phrase, or a specific individual that sets you off. Set aside the fairness or "right and wrong" questions about those triggers and look at them in a neutral way. If you know what sets you off, you'll be able to prime your body to keep a level head when you encounter the trigger.

Have an accountability partner

Sometimes just being honest with someone makes all the difference.

"When Jeff says ___ in meetings, it makes me feel angry."

"When I get critical feedback in front of everyone, sometimes it makes me feel ___."

Being honest with someone about your issue helps you to eliminate the shame factor and build in an accountability partner who has a perspective on your journey. Try finding a sympathetic colleague, friend, or mentor who can check in on you from time to time.

Take a breath

Ultimately, our emotions are physical experiences. They're chemical processes that happen inside our bodies, so if you feel your emotions escalating, take a deep breath. I know this may sound a little new-age, but your breath has an important role to play in the regulation of your heart rate and emotional response. When you get triggered, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you want to show up as your best self, even when you're frustrated.

Emotional regulation is a journey, but you don't have to travel alone. Click here to get a one-on-one consultation with me on your calendar, and we can develop a road plan for your specific situation together.

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