3 ways to better understand your emotions at work

How can you manage what you don't understand?

Effective leadership relies on good emotional intelligence. Here's how to better understand your feelings.

The ability to manage your thoughts and feelings is essential to leadership success, but how can you manage what you don’t understand?

In the November 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, Susan David, founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching and author of Emotional Agility, lists three ways to gain a more accurate sense of your emotions in the workplace.

1. Broaden your emotional vocabulary

If you’re experiencing a strong emotion, David advises taking a moment to consider the most appropriate word to describe it and to go beyond the obvious words to help identify exactly what you’re feeling. 

Are you “angry” or are words such as “defensive”, “impatient” or “offended” more precise?

2. Consider the intensity of the emotion  

Every emotion comes in a variety of flavours. As you learn to better label your emotions, David suggests rating them on a scale of one to 10. 

How deeply are you feeling the emotion? How urgent is it or how strong? This may make you choose a different set of words to describe that particular emotion.

Professional Development: Using emotional intelligence on the job

3. Write it out

Experiments by American social psychologist James Pennebaker show links between writing and emotional processing. If you’ve had a difficult experience that you’re yet to process, David suggests setting a timer for 20 minutes and writing about your emotional experiences from the past week, month or year. 

“Don’t worry about making it perfect or readable,” she advises.

“At the end, you don’t have to save the document; the point is that those thoughts are now out of you and on the page.” 

How important are emotions in the workplace?

Further research from Harvard University shows that emotional contagion – the tendency for another person’s feelings to affect yours – has been demonstrated in settings from roommates to teammates and customer service.

Read next: Can you catch a mood?


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