Do you feel reluctant to speak up at work? If you are, you’re not alone. As a corporate psychologist and executive coach, I’ve worked with a lot of people who refrain from expressing their ideas in the office. In most cases, they aren’t staying quiet because they don’t have anything to say – instead, they ‘re purposely choosing to censor themselves.
Why are people reluctant to speak up?
In my experience, I’ve found that people are reluctant to speak up for a number of reasons. In some cases, it’s based on organizational concerns. For example, if you work in a toxic workplace, you may have seen other people being punished for speaking up. Consequently, you choose to stay quiet because you know it may not be safe to say what you really think.
In other cases, you may think that it simply isn’t your role to communicate your thoughts. This dynamic often plays out when there are people of different levels in the room. Frequently, the more junior ones will be reticent to speak up because they don’t think they’re supposed to. At other times, they may want to say something, but are concerned that it may be at odds with their senior colleague’s views.
In some instances, aspects of your personality may prevent you from speaking up at work. For example, if you lack confidence or feel like an “imposter,” you may question the value of your ideas. As a result, you might keep your thoughts to yourself because you don’t think they’re worthy of being voiced. Or, if you are introverted, shy, or uncomfortable being in the spotlight, you may choose to stay quiet so as not to call attention to yourself.
A fear of confrontation can also cause you to be reluctant to share your ideas. For example, if you’re afraid of conflict and don’t want to challenge others’ perspectives, you may stay quiet to avoid having someone disagree with you. Or, you might refrain from speaking up at work because you’re concerned that if you express a difference of opinion, you will hurt someone else’s feelings.
At the core of all of these reasons is a desire to remain safe. This is a perfectly reasonable desire; however, in the above scenarios, many of the perceived threats are based on your own insecurities. While this might feel more comfortable, do you really want to allow your self-doubt to prevent your from fulfilling your potential?
Why should you make your voice heard at work?
Given that there is a sense of safety in staying quiet, why would you want to speak up? After all, doesn’t sharing your views open you up to potential conflict or embarrassment? While that is a possibility, I’ve found that people often overestimate the risk. In my experience, if you’re in a reasonably supportive culture, there are many more benefits than disadvantages to speaking up at work.
Think of it – you have a unique perspective. No one else in your organization (or the world, for that matter) has the exact same outlook and perspectives as you do. Therefore, when you share your thoughts, they can potentially help the organization and spark other ideas in the people around you. Research suggests that cognitively diverse teams solve problems more quickly. However, if you’re not sharing your opinions, your team isn’t able to benefit from them.
Speaking up can also help your career. After all, you were hired for the contribution that others thought that you could make. This means that when you speak up, you can maximize your impact on the organization. If, however, you choose to keep your opinions to yourself, there’s a good chance that your value could be overlooked (or at least, underestimated). I’ve observed this many times, when I’ve worked with brilliant people, who didn’t speak up. Instead of being seen as the thought leaders they could be, they were perceived as mediocre employees without the potential to advance.
Finally, for many people, speaking up at work simply feels better on an emotional level, than stifling themselves all the time. (I can personally attest to this, as noted in this article). Instead of feeling frustrated, you could feel empowered by asserting yourself. In addition, it may help you to feel more connected to your work, because you could have greater influence on your environment.
So, should you just take off Your filter and say whatever you want?
Let’s face it – while it would be nice to think that speaking up at all times is the right thing to do, sometimes, it simply may not be appropriate. Therefore, the issue of whether expressing yourself will help or hurt you depends largely on what you are speaking up about, and when and how you do it.
With respect to run-of-the-mill topics, speaking up can often contribute to being seen as someone who cares about the organization, takes initiative, and has a desire for influence. As noted earlier, if you have a lot of great ideas, but keep them to yourself, others in the organization might undervalue what you can contribute. And, this may cause you to get overlooked for promotions. So, speaking up can be a good way to get noticed.
However, if you’re known for putting your foot in your mouth, or speaking without tact, then you’ll likely want to tread a bit more lightly. Speaking with consideration and diplomacy is likely to go over a lot better than saying whatever is on your mind, and justifying it by saying “I’m just being honest.” So, if you are someone who is always complaining, pessimistic, negative, or rude, then speaking up all the time will likely hurt you (unless you improve your communication skills).
Finally, if you want to speak up on a very sensitive topic, then it probably makes sense to consult with someone you trust so that you can craft your message appropriately. If it’s a one-on-one conversation you’re preparing yourself for, you might even want to role play different scenarios. You can also practice mindfulness so that you can take a step back and manage your emotions in the moment, to increase the odds that you’ll convey your ideas in a balanced and constructive way.
Some Tips for Making Your Voice Heard
Want to challenge yourself to speak up more? If you do, here are a few quick tips that will help you to do it effectively.
1. Be Sensitive to Your Audience – If you’re hoping to influence others, make sure to think about what’s important to them. Don’t make the mistake of crafting an argument simply based on what would convince you – take others’ needs, motives, and preferences into account.
2. Use Active Listening Strategies – While it’s beneficial to express your opinion, you’ll likely be more effective if others know that you’re open to their perspectives. Look for points of commonality, express empathy, and communicate to others that you’re considering their thoughts. Doing so will open the door to a more constructive conversation.
3. Speak with Confidence – If you sound uncertain or tentative, even a fabulous idea might be dismissed. Therefore, make sure to practice your delivery so that you can come across as more self-assured. Watch out for filler words, volume, eye contact, and vocal intonation (you might even want to record yourself). If you need some help, try Toastmasters. You’ll get lots of practice, valuable feedback, and support from fellow members.
4. Couch Your Opinion, When Appropriate – Sometimes, depending on the situation, the culture of the organization, and the person(s) with whom you are interacting, you might want to take a more measured approach. For example, if you are in a very hierarchical culture, then saying something like “I wonder if…” might be better received than “You really should…” when speaking to your boss. On the other hand, some leaders and cultures really value candor, and less of that might be necessary.
5. Remember that You Won’t Always Get Your Way – If you express an idea that isn’t accepted, don’t get discouraged. Great solutions often come as a result of a group of people feeding off others’ ideas and expanding upon them. Give yourself a pat on the back for challenging yourself to speak up, and commit to keep practicing!
Poet Audrey Lorde wrote, “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” When done with care, speaking up at work can make you feel more empowered, valued, and engaged on the job.
The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”
Unsurprisingly, this is easier said than done.
But of course, it’s also impossible to argue with the wisdom behind these words. Ideally, we would all love to maintain our cool in the face of conflict, irritation, and frustration. Yet, imagining yourself with that colleague that always seems to get under your skin isn’t exactly the recipe for inner peace.
In my experience, some of the most anxiety-inducing interactions and relationships actually take place at work, an environment where stress is more likely to crop up to begin with. Whether it’s the person in finance who seems to derive pleasure from saying “no,” or the micromanaging boss who nitpicks the placement of every comma, workplace relationships can easily become triggers for added stress.
That said, this dynamic doesn’t have to happen. Each of us has more control than we give ourselves credit for, and we can make the choice to manage these relationships with more intentionality. With these tips, you can become more skillful with how you approach stressful relationships at work—and you’ll come out on the other side with greater clarity about yourself, and your strengths.
1. Look in the mirror, and start with yourself.
If you find that you a lot of your workplace relationships are contentious, start by taking a long, hard look at yourself. After all, you are the common denominator in all of the interactions you have—at work, and everywhere!
Think about the people with whom you have difficult relationships. Have you found that other people struggle to relate to these people as well? Or do you think there is something about you that engenders the prickly dynamic?
If you think you may be playing a role, be proactive. Ask for feedback from a close confidant to get a better sense of how you might be having a negative impact on others. Try working with an executive coach to get to the root of the issue. During my career, I’ve seen some people make some truly remarkable transformations, so don’t be afraid to tackle this issue head-on.
2. Reconfigure your frame of reference.
If you’re in a situation where the other person does indeed have difficult relationships across the board, start by seeing if a shift in your perspective can have a positive impact on your interactions.
I once worked with someone who seemed to have challenging relationships with a lot of people. She was impatient and critical, and regularly elicited defensive reactions from others. When they defended themselves, her behavior escalated, creating interactions that were even more unpleasant. It was a vicious cycle.
As someone who truly believes in the Dalai Lama’s quote, I refused to let her behavior irritate me. I made the deliberate choice to interact with her in an even-handed manner, even if it didn’t feel natural in the moment. As a result, I earned her respect and eventually became one of the few people who could actually give her honest feedback. Believe it or not, she actually took a lot of my advice, and learned to soften her behavior (somewhat). The bottom line is that I didn’t have the same difficulty with her that others did due to the choice I made.
How did I do this? The first thing I did was choosing to focus on her humanity—in order to develop a sense of compassion for her. I thought about her as a vulnerable person, and how unpleasant her life must be with so many negative relationships. I pondered why she might be so brittle, and thought about what my life would be like if I, like her, only noticed what was wrong with people. I realized that part of her behavior was a result of insecurity.
I’m not saying this is an easy undertaking (and keep in mind, I have years of experience as a psychologist), but compassion is a practice, and it gets easier to develop as you do it.
3. Dodge bullets by thinking ahead.
If you recognize that your ultimate goal is to improve your interactions no matter what, then another helpful strategy is to think about what’s important to the difficult person in question. If you are able to tap into what the other person values most, what their triggers might be, and what communication styles might soften their edge, you can reclaim your power in your interactions.
In the case of my co-worker, I knew that she took her work really seriously and wanted high-quality output. So, whenever I dealt with her, I made sure that I worked hard and always delivered the best product possible. I knew that if she resisted me for whatever reason, I could stand behind my work from a place of integrity.
4. Confront the issue head-on.
It can also be helpful to be proactive—by meeting with the person at a neutral time (maybe over lunch) to talk about the nature of your relationship. Using “I” statements, you could say something along the lines of “I feel like we’re navigating difficulty in our communication, and I really want to improve it.” Then, listen to what the other person has to say, striving to do so without judgment. Brainstorm about ways that you can work more effectively together.
At this point, you might be thinking, “I shouldn’t have to do that!” If that’s how you feel, reflect on your goal in the situation. If you want to have most positive interactions possible, then think about how you can create the conditions under which that will be most likely.
What if all that Doesn’t Work?
While the aforementioned strategies should certainly make a dent, I can’t guarantee their success. After all, you don’t have control over how someone else chooses to behave.
5. Focus on Self-Protection
In less extreme cases, it can be helpful to keep the principles of Aikido in mind. Aikido is a martial art that has been translated as meaning “the way of harmonious spirit.” When I took a class at the rec center, my instructor stressed that the essence of aikido was to show our attacker the error of his or her ways by “gently” defending ourselves. In other words, it’s not about harming the other person; it’s about protecting ourselves.
6. Breathe into Your Anger
With that in mind, you’ll want to guard against escalating situations by getting angry in the moment. Again, while this can be easier said than done, if you can stay calm by deep breathing and reminding yourself of your goals in the moment, you might be able to maintain a greater sense of inner peace. (For more tips on managing negative emotions click here). As Mark Twain wrote, “Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
7. Set Boundaries
You’ll also want to empower yourself by setting boundaries. You may try saying something like “I’ll be willing to talk about this later after we’ve both had time to reflect.” This would obviously be more difficult to do with a boss because of the inherent power dynamic, but even something like “I would like to listen to your feedback, but it’s more difficult for me to do so when you raise your voice,” could potentially work.
In extreme cases, like abuse, harassment, or bullying, you’ll obviously want to report the individual to human resources, and/or, if possible, try to find another position. Contentious relationships at work have been found to be linked to stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic inflammatory diseases. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the trouble.
Actor Stephen Moyer said, “Conflict is drama, and how people deal with conflict shows you the kind of people they are.” Keep in mind the sort of person you aspire to be, and act accordingly.
Of all the desired areas for growth that come up during my executive coaching sessions, impatience is mentioned pretty often. This may be a concern that to the specific subset of ambitious and goal-oriented individuals with whom I work, but it also says something about human nature.
Now more than ever, our culture is struggling with an epidemic of impatience. There’s a video that’s been making the rounds on Facebook lately that speaks to this phenomenon: a girl of about four or five describes an experience of being caught behind a woman at the grocery store who was walking slowly. The tyke expresses her irritation, wishing that the lady would just hurry up. The video showed up on my timeline several times, and each of my friends who shared it wrote something like, “Story of my life.”
Of course, our world today is one where there are apps for everything—where a three course dinner can show up on your table at the click of a mouse or tap of a finger, and where communication occurs at lightning speed. And this attitude has affected all facets of our lives—from work to grocery shopping to social activities.
I get it: we’re used to immediate results. I’ve left many a restaurant when it looked like I wouldn’t be seated immediately, or driven circuitous routes (that ended up taking longer) just so I could avoid moving slowly through rush-hour traffic on the highway. But while a little impatience might be OK when you’re streaming a movie or heating up your leftovers, it can definitely work against you other times.
In a classic study on Type-A behavior, impatience-irritability was correlated with increased frequency of physical complaints. Another recent study suggested that impatient people age faster, as evidenced by shorter telomeres (caps on DNA that prevent them from fraying). One study of teenagers even found that those who were labeled as impatient or restless by interviewers ended up earning significantly less than their peers by the time they reached middle age. And I think most of us can recognize that impatience doesn’t feel good: it makes us feel exhausted, out of control and on edge. Of course, then, its physiological effects can’t be good for us.
When I’m working with clients who struggle with impatience, I’ll engage them by asking what they’ve done to address it. The response is usually something along the lines of, “I multi-task by checking my email or thinking about other stuff while others are talking about unimportant things in meetings.”
As you can imagine, the people around them pick up on this. As a result, common complaints I hear about impatient people are that they are poor listeners, and that they can be overbearing, rude, and impulsive.
So what’s an impatient person to do? Well, here are some scientifically-proven tricks to cope more effectively with your impatience. And remember: it’s a natural feeling, but we can practice reining it in.
1. Shine light on what’s good in the moment.
While being grateful might not seem to have a lot to do with patience, one study suggests otherwise. Participants were given a writing task designed to make them feel either happy, grateful, or neutral. Then, they were able to choose between getting $54 immediately or $80 in 30 days. The researchers found that those who felt grateful were more likely to wait in order to receive the $80, compared to those in the happy or neutral groups.
In moments when you are feeling impatient, try a quick gratitude exercise in which you focus on things that you are grateful for in the moment. As a longer term strategy to increase your overall level of patience you might want to develop a regular gratitude practice (e.g. write down three things for which you are grateful at the end of each day).
2. Tune into the micro-moments themselves.
I’ve found that many people get impatient because they want to get to the end result as quickly as possible. But by doing this, they overlook their experiences in the present, and lose sight of their value.
Earlier this week, I was coaching someone who is consistently frustrated in meetings. He tends to make up his mind pretty quickly, and perceives discussion to be a waste of time. But by having this attitude, he was overlooking two very important aspects of collaborative process. First, research suggests that the more ideas that people generate, the more innovative their solutions are likely to be.
Second, if he actually wants people to be bought into a decision, it’s valuable for them to have an opportunity to talk things through. Think about it, in which instance are you likely to get more behind a decision? (a) When you have a chance to talk about it and felt like your opinions were being considered; or, (b) when you’re simply told what to do? For most people it’s the former. By recognizing the value of conversation, you will likely feel a greater sense of ease and freedom in the moment (not to mention, you’ll gather additional information that could sway your opinion).
3. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
“Take a deep breath”—it’s a simple (but not necessarily easy) piece of advice. Even if it feels like work in the moment, a deep breath will calm down your body and help you to quell some of the frustration or antsiness you might be feeling in the moment. (I’ve written a more comprehensive post about how to handle negative emotions through breathing and other practices.) Plus, by relaxing on a physiological level, you will likely be less prone to exhibiting nonverbal signs of impatience like fidgeting or nodding too quickly in an effort to get your audience to speak faster.
4. Make a deliberate decision to surrender.
When there’s absolutely nothing you can do in a situation, you might just want to do nothing. To empower yourself, think of this as a deliberate, conscious decision.
Your flight is delayed. You’re stuck on hold with customer service for 30 minutes (and counting). Traffic isn’t moving. In these cases and more, there’s literally nothing you can do. Will getting irritated and frustrated about it change the situation? Not at all. So, take your deep breaths and take a moment to decide you’re going to accept the situation.
5. Expand your aperture.
There’s a reason that “put it in perspective” is a common piece of advice for all sorts of issues. But when it comes to impatience, I like to think about this advice visually: imagine your point of view is a camera lens, and you can adjust the aperture to let in a bigger picture. Think about it: in the grand scheme of your life, does a few extra minutes behind an elderly person using a check at the grocery store really matter? A year from now, will you care that your colleague wasn’t perfectly concise when presenting her argument in a meeting? Probably not. So, focus on the big picture, and relax.
St. Augustine wrote “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” Cultivate yours, and appreciate the benefits.
If you need more help dealing with your impatience, I encourage you to check out my Executive Mindfulness Online Course. To learn more, click here.
Recently, I was coaching a client I’ll call Justin, who was complaining about his difficulty falling asleep. As his company goes through major structural transitions, Justin is, unsurprisingly, very stressed out. As a senior executive, he has a lot on his plate, and often finds himself obsessing about what he needs to get done rather than just diving in.
To be clear, Justin has good reason: as an analytical guy, he typically tries to address all sides of a given issue before making major decisions or taking definitive action. While this problem-solving impulse is definitely a huge asset for him on the job—when having to develop new business strategies, or engage with clients—it can be hard for him to turn it off at night when he’s trying to go to sleep.
And Justin’s definitely not alone. I can’t tell you how often I hear about sleep issues in my work. There are the top managers who rely on cutting back on sleep as a way to get more done (especially before big meetings or presentations); then there are the company founders plagued with insomnia, who spend their sleeping hours stewing in questions and obsessions about high-level business matters. Across the board, the likely result of poor sleep is fatigue, poor concentration, and hampered productivity—plus a range of conditions spanning diabetes to immune suppression. Needless to say, pulling all nighters is rarely “worth it.”
So, how common are sleep issues?
Well, let’s just say it’s not just company founders who are finding themselves struggling to get some shut-eye. According to the American Sleep Association, 30% of Americans experience short-term insomnia, and 10% have chronic difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep during the night. Further, inadequate sleep (or consistently getting low-quality sleep) has been shown to increase stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, leading to all the ill effects associated with chronic stress—from reduced focus to hypertension and high blood pressure, among others.
Bottom line? If you have sleep issues, they are affecting way more than just the quality of your life—because the quality of your life affects the quality of your work.
If, like Justin, you often find yourself awake at night stimulated by work-anxiety, here are some suggestions.
1. Tire yourself out.
For those who deal with chronic insomnia, moderate aerobic exercise has been proven as an effective sleep-aid: regular exercise has been shown to halve the average time it took to fall asleep, while also improving sleep quality and feelings of restedness in the morning. These research results stem from a relatively long-term study (the duration of which was several months), suggesting that regular exercise isn’t a short-term fix, but a worthwhile investment that will have a positive impact on your sleep (and your mood, your relationships, your diet, and a myriad of other facets of your life).
2. Be disciplined with a bedtime ritual.
Those of us who have children know that parenting experts frequently suggest having some sort of a routine to get the kids mentally and physically prepared to fall asleep (e.g. I use a bath, book, and lullaby with my preschooler). Yet most of us ignore this wisdom when it comes to ourselves, instead choosing to “lull” ourselves to sleep by checking email, surfing social media, reading news reports about crime or politics, or something else equally unsettling.
Well, the parenting experts have long-been right: just like our children, we do far better when we are conditioned for sleep with a wind-down routine of our own. So try going to bed at a consistent time each night, choosing a relaxing activity or two (e.g. bath, reading, quiet time, meditation) as a lead-up to bedtime, and you might find that it helps you to wind down and go to sleep.
3. Resist the temptation for digital distraction.
Perhaps it’s comforting to know that our entire culture is constantly tempted by distraction, inundated with images, updates, notifications and more at all times. Whatever your reaction, it’s clear that indulging these distractions isn’t a recipe for relaxation.
When you’re tossing and turning in bed, it is certainly tempting to pass the time by scrolling through social media or getting caught up on your stack of magazines. However, by doing these things, you’re engaging your mind in activities it finds “interesting,” and therefore increasing the odds that you’re not going to fall asleep.
Fortunately, I’ve never had problems with insomnia; but I have spent countless nights staying up later than I wanted to be because I got sucked into Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. (If you’re wondering if that extra time spent scrolling was particularly edifying or enriching to my life, the answer is no). If it’s too hard to resist the siren call of your smartphone, don’t keep it near your bed.
4. Establish—and maintain—healthy spatial boundaries.
Commit to putting your work away at a certain time, and stick to it. And, while it might be comfortable set up your laptop and work in your bed (even before your cut-off time), if you have sleep problems, you should really avoid doing this. Aside from the fact that it’s bad for your posture (my massage therapist has admonished me for this on multiple occasions), it’s also strengthening a connection between your bed and work. (i.e. like Pavlov). A classic piece of advice from sleep experts is that the bed should be reserved solely for sleep (and sex). (Similar reasoning to the wind down routine – want to condition yourself appropriately).
5. Schedule your “worry-time.” Really.
This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a Cognitive Behavioral Technique (CBT) for people who suffer from anxiety disorder. Select a time on the calendar during which you deliberately decide to devote 15 – 30 minutes to worrying. You can aim to do this every day for a week or more. And instead of leaving it to chance, insert it as an entry on your calendar, along with a reminder. Think of it as a trick for your mind.
Strangely, when we are having anxious thoughts, we usually try to avoid them; we feel like we shouldn’t be worrying, or start telling ourselves stories to try to convince ourselves that we feel differently. But with this paradoxical technique, you are actually embracing your worries, and giving them less power. During your “worry appointment,” spend the whole time worrying about whatever problems are bothering you.
This might cause anxiety the first few times, and that’s normal. But what tends to happen over time is that people can become bored with their own worries, which are often repetitive. The other benefit of this approach is that when you catch yourself worrying about something at other times during the day, you can tell yourself, “I don’t need to think about that right now— I’ll worry about it later during my scheduled time.” (And, since you have the time scheduled to do so, you actually will).
6. Vent about your stress…to your journal.
Research has shown that expressive writing can help to reduce intrusive and avoidant thoughts. To make this exercise effective, focus on creating a cohesive narrative, using words related to cause and insight. In other words, try to use the writing to make sense of the experience – instead of just getting stuck in the worries, look at the meaning you can make of it, or the learning you can experience from the events. (e.g. If you have a friend that is constantly complaining about the same thing over and over, it’s unlikely to make her feel better. However, if she is gaining perspective and growing as a result of the experience, then the mental exercise is much more likely to be beneficial to her).
7. Keep a notepad by your bed.
When you have a lot going on in your daily life, it’s totally natural to feel your upcoming tasks and agenda items tugging at your mind when you’re lying in bed each night. There are the projects steps that need to get done, the ideas that need to be generated, the people you need to remember to call.
To deal with this, it can be helpful to keep a notepad by the bed, so you can make a quick note of these thoughts when they came up, rather than ruminating about them. In my own experience, this little trick saves me from the worry that I’ll forget the thoughts. And once you write the thoughts down, think of it as a release—then you can think about something else. (And, if you’re thinking you’ll save yourself a step by entering these ideas straight into your favorite organization app of choice, I recommend staying with the old school approach so that you don’t get pulled into all of the other potentially distracting delights that your smartphone has to offer).
8. Give your mind something else to do.
Instead of counting sheep, you might want to try out University of British Columbia researcher, Luc Beaudoin’s technique called the “cognitive shuffle.” To do this, when you are in bed, come up with a word that has no repeating letters. Then, think of words that start with each letter of the word. For example, if you came up with the word “plate,” you would first, come up with a list of words that start with “P,” then “L,” “A”, and so on. Apparently, this strategy is engaging enough that it gives your mind something to do instead of worrying, but not so exciting that it will get in the way of falling asleep.
9. Meet your new friend mindfulness.
I know you’ve probably heard the benefits of mindfulness touted for productivity, but hear me out. Developing a regular mindfulness practice will also help you to create a different relationship with your thoughts, and help you relax a bit—especially before bed, when monkey-mind can go wild.
The Greater Good Center at the University of Berkeley defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” A simple mindfulness practice is to strive to observe your breathing. As you notice thoughts coming up, gently notice them, let them go, and resume focusing on your breathing. Repeat this process throughout your practice.
By learning to observe your thoughts with a greater sense of spaciousness, you’ll get more skilled at letting them go, instead of getting caught up in them. With consistency, your mindfulness practice will create changes in your brain that will help you to better regulate your emotions and stay calmer.
To learn more about the benefits of mindfulness and how to develop a practice of your own, click here.
We’ve all worked with someone who had difficulty managing their emotions—especially the “bad” ones like anger, fear, frustration, disappointment.
You know, the impatient boss who lashes out at employees in response to the slightest bit of bad news; the overly negative colleague who complains about almost everything in the office; the co-worker whose stress and burnout are palpable in every meeting; your supervisor who becomes hostile at the drop of a hat when he’s overworked.
As you’ve probably experienced, working around people who struggle to manage their emotional struggles independently can be pretty unpleasant, and even unbearable, if you happen to be on the receiving end of the negativity. But even if your boss’ criticisms are aimed at someone else, or you’re not the pessimistic colleague’s chosen confidant, you might still find yourself absorbing the negativity around you through osmosis.
There’s a term for this in psychology: Emotional Contagion (EC) is defined as the tendency for our moods to be influenced by the moods of those around us. Researchers Elaine Hatfield et. al. argue that this occurs because we can tend to unwittingly mirror others’ expressions, postures, etc. This can cause us to experience similar emotions to those others are experiencing. On the positive side, this is a foundational piece of empathy—when we are able to “put ourselves in another’s shoes,” in other words. Or, when we’re around someone whose happiness or enthusiasm radiates forth, their positive emotions, too, may become infectious. But this dynamic can be a real downer if we’re around someone in a bad mood and we’re unaware of a need to manage our own emotions.
In office environments, research has shown that when a team’s boss is in a positive mood, the effects tend to spread to their team members; participants showed a greater ability to coordinate and collaborate compared to groups whose leaders were in a negative mood.
So, the golden question: how is it that you develop greater awareness of your emotions in the moment so that you can (1) recognize what’s going on and (2) manage them so that they don’t unintentionally hijack your behavior?
Here are my suggestions.
1. Honor the cliché: listen to your body.
Believe it or not, we experience emotions physically. Take stress, for example. Cortisol and adrenaline (aka “stress hormones”) are released in the blood, and several effects unfold. We may begin to sweat, or feel our hearts beating faster. These symptoms may happen, too, when you’re scared or angry.
Whether or not you’ve realized your body’s responses to various emotions, they are there—so start to pay attention. You can get better at catching negative emotions early on by becoming aware of how they tend to show up for you in your body.
2. Determine your trusted colleagues, and reach out.
Find someone at work who will be real with you and let you know when you seem to be having difficulty managing your emotions. Perhaps you are excessively stressed and are exhibiting irritability in meetings. Try to think of someone in your team who could gently call you out on this, and encourage them to help you notice the strengths and weaknesses of your behavior. Even if you get defensive in the moment, I assure you that the wisdom will help you in the long-run.
3. Identify your triggers.
When you have an incident of inadequately managing strong emotions at work, try to trace it back to your triggers. Do you feel angry around certain people? Did your reaction have something to do with your internal state (e.g. not getting enough sleep, skipping meals)? Were there psychological triggers such as feeling criticized by a supervisor or, feeling overwhelmed by too many demands?
When you are able to recognize potential triggers, you put yourself in a position to know that you will need to be vigilant about applying your coping skills appropriately when those situations arise. Keeping track in a journal can be a helpful means of getting more in touch with your triggers
4. Be proactive about the situation, as uncomfortable as it may be.
If there’s a situation or person at work that’s an ongoing stressor for you and you’re avoiding it, then you might be causing more trouble for yourself, your work, and your colleagues. By avoiding what is bothering you, you’re allowing your emotions to corrode inside of you, which may end up causing resentment in the near-term, and decreasing your resilience in the long term. If you’re someone who tends to be unassertive, then explode when it gets to be too much, learning to manage conflict effectively and speak up is a more constructive approach.
5. Get enough sleep at night.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to greater susceptibility to mood disturbance. I’m sure we’ve all had experiences of being more irritable after a poor night’s sleep. While this tip is more of a preventative measure, it’s a tool to rely on always for greater mood stability, boosted immunity, heightened productivity and focus. There’s no ill effects of getting adequate rest!
Of course, many of these tips require a bit of planning in advance—so what to do if you’re stuck in a crisis-moment? The answer is simple, but not easy. 1. Try to be mindful of what’s happening in the moment. Notice your emotions bubbling up, how they’re showing up in your body, and simply take note. 2. Take a deep inhale and exhale, making sure to expand your belly (not just breathing into your chest). This will help calm the nervous system. 3. Check-in with your thoughts. Is there a way to look at the situation differently? What other explanations might there be for what’s going on?
This 3-step process itself may not be possible each and every time a tough emotion catches you off guard. But the good news is that these tools are portable and always available to you. So practice on!
Need some more help managing your emotions on the job? Click here.
Here is a guest post I wrote for the aptly-named site, Work Awesome. I hope you enjoy it!
Last fall, after putting off going to my first Toastmaster’s meeting for the umpteenth time, I decided to enroll in an improv comedy class. I had been watching Whose Line is it Anyway? and thought to myself, “Why can’t I think off the cuff and engage in witty banter like those guys on the show?” So, on the first day of class, I girded up my loins and forced myself to actually attend.
I knew I wouldn’t become the next Will Ferrell or Tina Fey, but I figured it would help me to round out my public speaking skills. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that it would provide so many valuable lessons that could be applied to a professional environment.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that anyone who wants to become more effective in the workplace could benefit from taking a whirl at improv.
Here are the top six lessons from improv that can help advance your career.
1. Observe and Listen
This is one of the foundational rules of improv. In essence, to be able to react effectively to your scene partners, you have to be completely attentive to their words and actions.
So, as opposed to thinking about what you are going to say next or wondering what interesting tidbit your vibrating smartphone is tempting you to read, your task is to give the other person your full attention.
The benefits of this approach in interactions with colleagues are pretty obvious. By taking this lesson into the workplace and being intentional about staying present with your co-workers, they will feel more understood and valued.
In turn, this will encourage them to return the favor by being more attentive to you. Further, by staying present you will be able to gather more information, including concrete data like specific facts and more subtle information like nonverbal reactions and group dynamics.
Read the rest of the post here: