When Emotion In The Workplace Goes Too Far

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When the pressure mounts, emotions can bubble beneath the surface. All it takes is one innocuous comment for the tension to explode.

emotion in the workplace

Yes, we are thinking about that Will Smith-Chris Rock moment which has gone down in television history. Two high-profile figures in a very public spat that will go onto define them for years to come. The Oscars might not be a typical workplace, but it is a work event where respectful and professional behaviour is expected. While what we all saw went viral across the world, incidents like this happen in less glamorous workplaces every day. Perhaps not with the physical violence, but the explosion of emotion is commonplace in work environments where individuals are not aware of and then able to regulate their emotions.

Let’s take the example of office milk

You’re having a tough day and you need that coffee. But reaching for the fridge you find little more than a dribble of milk. Again. What do you do? Sigh with irritation and make do, or go in search of the usual culprit and give them a piece of your mind? You’d hope the former, but we’ve all seen the latter. This seems like a minor incident. It’s only milk. But, these are the small events that in combination with other fissures repeatedly and over time can trigger the breakdown of workplace relationships.

The answer here it’s not better milk provision, although that would probably help. Instead the answer is to build a culture of emotional awareness and regulation. We are responsible for our own reactions and responses, not the person who uses all the milk or makes a joke about hair loss. Whether Rock should have made that joke is irrelevant, Smith did not have to hit him. In the heat of the moment, Smith should have recognised his emotion, remained composed and responded in a manner that was appropriate and proportionate.

Take stock, keep hold & retain composure

Which takes us to the other two actors in the Oscars scene. Jada was clearly unimpressed with Rock, but gave nothing more than restrained eye-roll. This was an extension of her workplace and with a role to perform, her response was arguably proportionate. Perhaps she would have followed up later with a quiet word in private. The same approach could be used with that serial milk-offender.

However, the winner in terms of their reaction was Rock. Whether his joke was funny or not, insensitive or keeping with the nature of the event, we are not judging here. He could have responded in kind. He could have hit or shouted back. He could have defended himself. Yet, he was able to instantly take stock of the situation, keep hold of his emotion and retain his composure. He responded in a way that was appropriate and strived to diffuse a situation that could have become even uglier.

Put emotional awareness and regulation at the core of your team development strategy

So let’s go back to the office milk, the untidy meeting room or the always unanswered phone. Whatever it is that sparks your workplace conflict, these are the small irritations which develop into the tension, cliques and isolation that cause friction in your teams. They hinder the development of strong relationships. They prevent growth and collaboration.

These fractured relationships cause their leaders anxiety. How on earth can a leader glue these people together without some kind of magic wand? The answer lies with the individuals developing their own emotional awareness and regulation. They need to take on the responsibility to hold up a mirror to their actions and ask uncomfortable questions of themselves. Most will need support. Not just to hold that mirror, but also to recognise and improve on what they now see.

Holst’s team development programmes with flowprofiler® are both the mirror and the support structure. Through assessment, coaching and training, your teams and leaders will learn what it means to be aware of their emotions in the workplace, recognise the impact of their reactions, and crucially regulate appropriately.

Our development programmes support HR teams and organisation leaders to create positive change in their organisations and get the most out of their investment. We believe that individuals have the power to make the personal and professional improvements that lead to happy and healthy and productive and powerful workplaces.

Get in touch to learn more about team development with flowprofiler®

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