11 minute read

Check Your Attitude at the Door

Reach Out And Touch Your Emotions

Most of us have taken an IQ test at some point or another, but you've probably never given your EQ a second thought. Author and psychologist Hendrie Weisinger explains that EQ, or emotional intelligence, means intentionally using your emotions to guide your behavior. For example, let's say your boss just told you that his budget has been cut and your pet project must be canceled. In this situation, it's likely that negative emotions would overwhelm you. Without even thinking, you might fly off the handle and lash out at your boss. When you've honed your EQ, however, you immediately stop and consider how this development has made you feel. Once you've ascertained that you're angry, you might prevent your emotions from spilling over by talking yourself through them or taking a time-out.

Achieving Self-Awareness

High self-awareness is the basic building block of EQ. Think of it as stepping outside of your body, and then objectively observing yourself in action. Let's illustrate Weisinger's strategies for increasing self-awareness by using the previous example of the canceled project:

Strategy #1: Examine how you make judgments about the world. Your judgments about yourself, other people, and situations are influenced by your personality, beliefs, and experiences. By becoming aware of your judgments, you learn how your thoughts influence your feelings, actions, and reactions, and you can then alter them accordingly.

Positive Reaction: “My boss canceled my project because our funds to pay the vendor were cut off. The decision had nothing to do with my work.”

Remember that it's your own judgments—not someone else's behavior or an external event—that cause your emotional reactions. You are affected by the meaning that you assign to events or people you encounter—not the events or people themselves. If you recognize that you tend to put a negative spin on your judgments, remember not to react out of anger, and try and talk yourself out of them.

Strategy #2: Get in touch with your feelings. When you understand and acknowledge your emotions, you are better equipped to work through them. You can identify your feelings by being on the lookout for physical manifestations such as increases in heart rate, breathing, and perspiration.

Positive Reaction: “The second the words were out of my boss's mouth, I noticed my heart was beating so fast it was almost in my throat. I didn't need to start talking to know I was really angry.”

Strategy #3: Learn what your intentions are. Take the time to consider your hidden agenda, or what's really driving you to act a certain way, so that you can better strategize your course of action.

Positive Reaction: “I really want to get promoted at my next review, but I'm worried that I won't be able to build a case in time because my primary project was canceled. Maybe I should think about how I can prove myself some other way.”

Strategy #4: Pay attention to your actions. Nonverbal cues such as speech patterns and body language can clue you in to your emotions and behavior. Becoming aware of these also helps you monitor how others might perceive you.

Positive Reaction: “I can tell I'm feeling really defeated by the way I'm slumping down in my chair. To my boss, it might look as though I've totally given up on my job because this project was canceled.”

By using these self-awareness strategies, you'll be able to better understand your emotional hot buttons and, therefore, manage your negative emotions much more easily. Now, let's introduce some specific tools for diffusing anger, worry, and stress.

Managing Anger

Frustrating circumstances often lead to feelings of anger—that's human nature. However, for the sake of your corporate persona, it's in your best interest to refrain from showing anger at work. Even if you have a legitimate cause, this type of negative reaction will never reflect well on you. Whether you display your anger in the form of an irate tirade, a single rude comment, or subtle insubordination, failing to control this emotion can result in serious consequences. One friend of mine was fired on the spot when he screamed at his boss for handling a project ineptly. Another was suspended from work after sending a scathing e-mail to a colleague. During the most stressful phase of my career, my anger masked itself as tears. I wasn't fired or suspended, but I did compromise my credibility and reputation. All it took was one supervisor to perceive me as immature, and, next thing I knew, I wasn't getting the promotion I deserved.

Regulating your thoughts, existing in the moment, and boosting your EQ are good strategies for preventing negative emotions from creeping into your workday. Despite your best efforts, though, anger may threaten to overflow at times. The key is to manage it so that you don't end up in hot water. In the midst of a heated discussion or situation, use the self-awareness strategies from the last section to determine when you're losing control. Tell the person or people you're arguing with that you need to take a break, and then temporarily remove yourself from the situation. Whether you're right or not is irrelevant. After all, winning the argument won't mean anything if you lose your temper. A month from now, your point will have been forgotten, but everyone who was within earshot will still remember your inappropriate behavior. Go back to your office or cube and decompress. Make an effort to relax, calm yourself down, and adjust your thoughts to erode some of your negativity. Consider ways to reapproach the situation anger-free, and then catch up with your colleague or colleagues to continue the discussion in a civil manner.

Sometimes we need to express our anger physically. This is fine, provided you don't destroy any company property in the process. I suggest taking a time-out and heading outside the building where no one can see you. Wrap an item of clothing around your mouth and scream as loud as you can. It works for me!

Managing Worry

One day last winter, things just weren't going my way. I'm not crazy about my job to begin with, and, on this particular day, my computer wasn't working. I was also managing a major project that was going horribly. I was totally freaking out, so I went to the cafeteria and ran into one of my coworkers. I told him how I was feeling and he said, ‘What's the worst thing that could happen?’ My response was, ‘I could get fired and have to go on welfare.’ He went on to ask me if there was much of a chance of that happening. I felt a little silly, but from that point on I refused to let work stress me out too much. Whenever I feel anger or worry starting to overwhelm me, I always think of that conversation.

Kim, 23, Minnesota

Once upon a time, I spent huge amounts of time worrying about the past and the future. I worried when something bad happened, and I worried that something bad was going to happen. Then, one day, I visited my grandmother in the hospital. After we talked awhile about my anxiety, my grandmother told me that I was wasting energy, because most of the things we worry about never come to pass. I decided to do a little experiment. I went home and wrote down all of the things I was worried about. A month later, I looked at the list and laughed. The worrisome things that had occurred were already just innocuous memories, and most of the other things had never happened. My grandmother was right. I was wrecking my mental and physical health for virtually no reason at all!

As I've talked about, you can only control the moment you're in right now. Because you can't change the past and you don't know what the future holds, what's the use of worrying about them? As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “Let's be content to live the only time we can possibly live: from now until bedtime. Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall.” You'd be surprised how negative energy diminishes when you focus solely on the moment at hand. After all, doesn't any problem seem surmountable when you look at it from the vantage point of taking one small step at a time? Now don't get me wrong: you should absolutely prepare for your future as best you can. But once you've done everything possible to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome, let go of your anxiety.

One summer, I worried obsessively about landing an agent to represent my new novel. Every day as I drove home during my lunch break to check the mailbox for agent responses, my blood pressure zoomed into the stratosphere. Several weeks later, I finally recognized that my worry was out of control, and I talked about it with my husband, who is a psychologist. He said that I should consider the worst-case scenario and resign myself to accepting that outcome if necessary. I took his advice and imagined that I couldn't find an agent, and that my novel would never be published. I then brainstormed ways to improve the situation. This was a hard pill to swallow at first, but I actually felt better once my mind was purged of all the what-ifs? Free from worry, I was able to concentrate rationally on new strategies for obtaining an agent.

Just because you refuse to worry about a problem doesn't mean you are denying its existence. I'm just suggesting that you skip the part in which you play out a thousand variations of the same drama in your head. As soon as you become aware of a problem, consider the best way to approach the issue rationally. Make a careful decision based on facts, take action, and then consider the matter over and done with.

There are always going to be bumps in the road, and if you think about it, there's no end to the things you could worry about. Remember, though, that those who break the habit of worrying live happier, longer lives. From a practical perspective, they're more productive, because they spend time resolving issues rather than fretting over them. They're also more pleasant to be around, because they're not constantly surrounded by a cloud of negativity. When you consider all of these benefits, why wouldn't you want to stop worrying?

Managing Stress

The World Health Organization calls job stress a worldwide epidemic. It costs companies billions annually—and what does it cost you? During the first few years of my career in corporate business, I was so stressed that I came home from work every evening and collapsed on the couch. By the time I woke up, it was almost time to go to bed again and I had missed the whole evening. I was in the doctor's office so much with aches and pains and coughs and colds that the nurses thought I was a hypochondriac. I cursed my poor health all the time until I signed up for a self-improvement class. It wasn't until then that I was finally able to pinpoint the problem. There was nothing wrong with my health, but my stress management did need some serious work.

Did you know that people get physically tired because of emotional factors such as boredom, frustration, and anxiety? True intellectual stimulation, on the other hand, doesn't exhaust us at all. If you are drained at the end of the day, it's not because of the mental work you have done, but rather the way in which you did it. The first time I heard this, a lightbulb went off. It occurred to me that I could write nonstop for 8 hours and then run a 5K immediately afterwards, yet after spending a few hours at my corporate job I could barely drag myself to the train station. I now make reducing stress a priority, and I do not consider a day productive unless I have a substantial amount of energy left at the end of it. Here are some strategies for managing stress on a daily basis:

  • • Identify what stresses you, and plan to cope with it in advance.
  • • Work in a comfortable position.
  • • Schedule frequent, short breaks throughout the day.
  • • Take time-outs to stretch, massage your temples, or get a drink of water.
  • • Join a gym and go during your lunch break.
  • • Pick your battles: If it's not worth it, let it go.

There's also no substitute for leading a balanced life. Even if you love your job, remember that people who work all the time are boring, one-dimensional, and, ultimately, unsatisfied. Careers in the corporate world are demanding, but don't let your intellectual, social, and spiritual needs slip through the cracks. Do family members or your old college friends live nearby? Visit them. Do you like to read for pleasure? Pick up that classic novel instead of another industry trade magazine. Spend a few hours volunteering on the weekends, because we feel better when we attempt to make our world better. And regardless of your religion, don't forget to pray. Seriously. Did you know it's been proven that people who practice religion lead more contented lives? They have faith in a power greater than themselves, and their attitudes reflect it.

Three years ago, my roommates made fun of me for sleeping more hours than the average 2 year old. Now my husband has to coax me to bed at midnight. Was my corporate job then any harder than it is now? Definitely not. In fact, I've climbed the ladder a bit, so my current position is objectively more taxing. The difference now is that I remind myself every day how stress once destroyed my health and well-being—and I don't let it win!

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareer Advice: Career 101 for Recent Graduates, New Hires, and Would-be Corporate ClimbersCheck Your Attitude at the Door - No, You're Not Crazy, Combating Negativity, Reach Out And Touch Your Emotions