Naming emotions helps us to understand them

Own it or not, we are emotional creatures, and often our emotions get the best of us.  Two of the top reasons someone hates a job are that they don’t like their coworkers, or they don’t like their boss, because they are jerks.

I have never met someone whose intention is to be known as a jerk, but because they don’t control themselves when times are stressful, that’s how they are known.  As you remember from my previous articles, I’ve mentioned that managing conflict and emotions in a dignified way helps people not hate their team or you.  Yet, we all have a story describing when someone’s emotions got the best of them and a tantrum ensued.

One of the fastest ways to be more effective as employees or as leaders is to learn to manage emotions. Back in the 90’s, Daniel Goleman discovered that humans have an Emotional Quotient (EQ) that is just as important as our IQ. I read that difficult book back then and I got absolutely nothing from it. However, lucky for all of us, Travis Bradberry recently wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and took the concept of EQ to a whole new level.   If there is one book that you must read this summer, it is this book.  Or if you don’t have time, keep reading.  I’ll give you the abbreviated version now.

First, you need to know that no matter what we do we cannot control our emotions — they come and go — but what we can control is the way we react to them.  We can’t control them because our reptilian brain kicks off our emotional process with a triggered reaction of either fight/anger; freeze/apathy; or flight/fear.  Most of the strongest emotions we experience have to do with one of these negative emotions, and when we run with them, we generally don’t have good outcomes.

However, if we can take the time to understand the root of the emotion — why it triggered you — and name it, we start the process of managing our reaction to it. To control our reaction, you can ask yourself some great questions like “Why do I feel that way? What is really bugging me? Why did that just trigger me?”  Once you can name the emotion, you then can start to ask new questions “Is that person intending me to react that way? Are they doing this to provoke me?”   When you take the time to ask these questions, you create a new neurological pathway in your brain that paves the way for better emotional responses.

Let me give you an example.  I hate being told to follow a rule that makes no sense to me.  Rules are not a substitute for intelligence, and I am often triggered by people who love to enforce rules. I will inevitability get into a no-win power struggle that hardly ever benefits me (and has resulted in missed flights and the like).  However, once I started working on my EQ, I haven’t had this experience.  Instead, I say “Wow, there’s that pedantic-feeling. There’s a rule enforcer. Deep breath. They are just doing their job and the easier I make it for them the better. Deep breath. Smile.  Ok. We made it.”

At work, this is powerful because we all have colleagues who trigger us.  When we’re triggered, we lose our dignity and it does not help us whether we are the boss or not.  No one likes to work with a jerk and when we lose our cool, we are perceived as just that. 

The bottom line is that we cannot lose our cool at work unless people are going to die. If you work in a hospital or maybe a zoo (creatures count, too) you can lose your cool.  Otherwise, I promise you, the damage you inflict will not be worth it.

Kendra Prospero is the CEO and founder of Turning the Corner, a Boulder-based organization that does recruiting the way it should be done for job seekers and companies.