Emotional Intelligence: How to Help Employees Control Their Emotions When Triggered
Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics said: “Anyone can get angry, it’s easy. But being angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way is not easy.
In childhood, rather than teaching us emotional management, we often learn that it is do not ok to have emotions – through the repetition of seemingly innocuous phrases such as “calm down” – and we can grow up thinking we need to suppress them.
Yet not only are emotions a useful message – insight into our authentic selves – and the suppression of this can lead to poor health; by being able to manage them, and even make them work for us, we benefit enormously both professionally and personally.
Therefore, nurturing emotional intelligence – so that we can use (rather than fear) emotions – brings results that go beyond our own sense of well-being.
Develop emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence can be defined as follows:
- Our ability to recognize emotions, to respond appropriately in our personal conduct as well as in our interactions with others
- Our ability to express and manage our feelings effectively
- Our ability to manage interactive relationships effectively – even if we need to express something different from how we feel inside (and ways to rejuvenate ourselves from that demand)
The following exercises will help you feel comfortable with experiencing and expressing emotions, as well as dealing with overwhelming waves of feelings as they are triggered.
At the trigger point
There’s no point in telling someone who’s in the middle of a cortisol rush to calm down. Instead, try engaging your cognitive brain:
- Ask yourself: ‘is there another way to interpret this?’ or “Is there anything else they could have meant?”: It can also be useful to prevent us from taking things too personally, but also to recognize when we might be inadvertently behaving in a way that could have been misinterpreted by someone else.
By being aware that communications are only ever as effective as how they are received, we keep in mind that we might be projecting our own feelings onto a situation, rather than understanding it as it really is.
- Technique of the “sight of a friend”: Do you walk out of a situation, asking yourself ‘How could X friend see this situation?’ and ‘How could they respond?’ – it can open up new behavioral choices for you.
- Active listening: Rather than listening to respond (meaning to think about what you are going to say), or to defend yourself or argue, engage with what you hear.
Ask questions about what they said or paraphrase your understanding, which allows you to check that you understood their meaning correctly. It’s also a great way to build rapport, as the person speaking feels heard. It can also go a long way in defusing a situation.
- Use affirmations: Try repeating “Even though I can’t control anything around me, I can control my breathing” or “I know I can’t save people from themselves.”
Affirmations can ground you and give you headspace to think about your next action, and as you take that action, focus on the outcome you want to achieve, rather than “winning.”
For resolution: focus on facts rather than emotions
Unfortunately, although something is not your fault, it could end up being your problem to deal with.
- When resolving a situation, try to avoid blame or “he said, she said” by focusing on facts and evidence.
- Present the situation in the most factual way possible – using evidence, if any.
- Leave or ask for the desired resolution, and listen to see if a negotiation is necessary, knowing what procedures are available to you.
- If the resolution is beyond your limits, get someone who can help you, but be clear in explaining the situation to them, so you don’t cause further problems by having an unhappy person repeat.
- Describe next steps – a sense of control can help restore emotional balance.
Emotional work outside crisis points
It’s helpful to work on building your emotional and mental strength outside of emotional moments, as it expands your “tolerance window for” or buffers your WTF moments.
Because our brains are ultimately designed to survive, we tend to seek out, process, and experience more negativity than positivity. However, due to neuroplasticity – which allows us to continually form new connections in the brain – our emotional pathways can equally benefit from practices such as:
- Cheek: Just for fun (maybe get some googly eyes on your stationery).
- Spend time with those who make you feel loved: You can ask the question: do I smile because other people make me happy, or is it because I don’t want them to be sad? But anyway, at least you’re smiling.
Longitudinal studies of happiness and work in the field of positive psychology cite healthy relationships as a key determinant of life satisfaction and longer life.
- Adventure and curiosity: Part of being mindful of threat is being mindful of difference – but difference is often felt more positively. Simple actions like taking a different route home, or looking at something from a different angle, even just looking up when taking a walk, can also stimulate our emotional brain.
It can be helpful to see emotions as a source of power rather than powerful on their own, because to get the most out of them we need to channel them. In doing so, our professional and personal lives are enriched.