We are emotional creatures. It is hard for us, as humans, not to be emotional. Whilst it is generally good to be in touch with our emotions and to not suppress them, there are situations where we must somehow manage our emotions especially well. That’s notably the case at work.

Emotional outbursts at work could be due directly to work-related matters or to stressors from our personal life spilling into our work life. Handling our emotions (particularly negative ones) at work is often seen as a measure of our professionalism.

According to a 1997 study done by Prof Cynthia Fisher from Bond University, School of Business, the most common negative emotions experienced at work are frustration, worry, anger, dislike and unhappiness.

Do any of these emotions seem familiar to you? You may experience other, less common negative emotions that will also leave you feeling stressed. From a psychologist’s standpoint, it is never good to repress or suppress emotions, positive or negative. However, our emotions must be managed to allow us to function in various situations. What are some of the strategies we can use to cope with negative emotions?

Here are 10 strategies to manage negative emotions at work

1. Compartmentalisation (when negative emotions from home affect your work)

  • Try and leave personal matters and issues at home. When you commute to work, use that time to tell your mind to let go.
  • For example, if you are taking the MRT/bus/driving, at each station/bus stop/traffic stop, mentally ask the offending person to get off or ‘push’ the stressor out.
  • Some find it helpful to mentally ‘store/lock up” the issue in a box for the time being.
  • You can also compartmentalise work-related stressors so that your emotions at work don’t spill over into your personal life too.

2. Deep breathing & relaxation techniques

  • This will help with emotions like anxiety, worry, frustration and anger.
  • Take deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly until you calm down. Slowly count to 10.
  • You can take a walk to cool down, and listen to some relaxing music.
  • Talk to someone who can help you calm down.

3. The 10-second rule

  • This is especially helpful if you are feeling angry, frustrated or even irate.
  • If you feel your temper rising, try and count to 10 to recompose yourself.
  • If possible, excuse yourself from the situation to get some distance but do reassure the other party that you will come back to deal with the matter.

4. Clarify

It is good to clarify before reacting, in the event that it could be a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication.

5. Blast your anger through exercise

  • Instead of losing your cool, plan on hitting the treadmill or going to a kick-boxing class to let the anger out of your system.
  • Exercise is also a good way to get a solid dose of mood-enhancing endorphins.
  • In addition, exercise will help to release any physical tension in your body.

6. Never reply or make a decision when angry

  • In this day of instant communication, it’s easy to just shoot off an email or text that you may regret later.
  • Never let your anger or unhappiness cloud your judgement.
  • Hold off all communication while you are still angry. You can type it first but save it as a draft and sleep on it for a day. Re-read it the next day or even let someone you trust take a look at it before you send it.

7. Know your triggers

  • It helps when you are able to recognise what upsets or angers you.
  • This way, you can prepare yourself to remain calm and plan your reaction should the situation occur.
  • You may even be able to anticipate the other party’s reaction.

8. Be respectful

  • Treat your colleagues the same way you would like to be treated yourself.
  • If the person is rude, there’s no need to reciprocate. We can stay gracious and just be firm and assertive without being aggressive. Often, rude people will mellow down if they don’t get a reaction from you and realise that they are the only one shouting in the room.

9. Apologise for any emotional outburst

  • Sometimes our emotions do get the better of us.
  • If you do have an emotional outburst, apologise immediately to the person and perhaps to those around you who have heard it.
  • You need not explain yourself or be defensive. Just a simple “I am sorry. I reacted badly” would make a big difference.

10. Never bring your negative emotions home

  • It is good practice to let go of any anger, frustration and unhappiness at the end of every workday.
  • Harbouring negative emotions allows them to fester like mould, bringing you to a breaking point. So it’s best to empty the emotional “trash can” on a daily basis, to prevent overwhelm.
  • You can use the compartmentalisation method mentioned above, or you can plan to engage in enjoyable activities after work with your friends and family.

Ref: S13