How to Manage Emotional Reactions at Work

Jul 10, 2015

Everyone experiences emotional reactions. Sometimes it’s not a big deal, but other times, it could cause an extensive ripple effect. It is important to manage your negative emotions at work to avoid that ripple effect. You might have a project rejected by your manager. You may encounter conflict with a coworker. You might get irritated when a client reacts angrily toward you without an explanation. It is normal to experience all kinds of emotions, but some of your emotional reactions may have negative effects at work.

Knowing how to manage your emotions is helpful in all areas of your life, but managing emotions at work is crucial for several reasons. The biggest reason may be that sometimes employees are let go because they can’t control their temper. Employees who have the ability to work under pressure without having an emotional reaction will likely get to stay the longest. Learning how to manage emotions the right way will up your continued employability. If you follow these tips for how to handle the four most common negative emotional reactions, you’ll be well on your way to that promotion, or at least to another week of vacation in a couple years.


Dealing with frustration at work is not pleasant, especially if a coworker tries to steal a project that you routinely work on. If your manager is disorganized and is late to meetings with you, or forgets completely, you’ll have to find a way to curb that frustration as well. It’s how you deal with that frustration that’s important. Regardless of the reasons for your frustration at work, you must be able to handle your negative emotional reactions to avoid causing more problems. When you deal with your frustrations as fast as possible, it can help you avoid other negative emotions that may come along as a result.

Stop and Evaluate

The best thing you can do when frustrated is to stop and evaluate. Think about the situation that caused you to feel this way. Consider why you feel frustrated and quickly jot it down. A sticky note works great! The point is to own your feelings. After doing this, it’s important to turn the situation into a positive to help those negative frustrations subside. Think of one positive thing you can take away from the situation.

A Silver Lining

For example, if you get frustrated because the manager is always late to your meetings, you can look on the bright side. Now you have an opportunity to prepare a little bit more or just use the time to relax a bit. Finally, try to recall the last time you got frustrated and how you dealt with the situation. What could you have done differently? Try to implement that into this new situation.


Dealing with anxiety at work is important to avoid burnout and depression. The anxiety and fear that come with thinking about a potential layoff may cause excessive feelings of nervousness and worry. Feeling worried about the security of your job can go overboard if you allow it to and can even affect your productivity and make you avoid taking positive risks you would normally take otherwise. If you like your job, it would be wise to cure your anxiety to avoid burnout and depression. If you didn’t like your job to begin with, maybe it’s time for a change.

Avoid Negativity

You should never surround yourself with anxiety and worry. If you realize that your fellow workers gather just to gossip and talk about negative things at work, avoid them. If you watch the news in the morning, and you feel inundated with negativity, consider switching to the evening news instead. Or change the radio station to listen to upbeat music instead of depressing news. Having an awareness of current events is important, but not at the expense of your job or your health.

Breathe Deep

Deep breathing can help anxiety go away. Plenty of research exists to explain how this works. Try these simple breathing exercises to help slow down your heart rate. Gaining control of your breath can help clear your mind so you can think again and function without blowing a gasket.

  1. Count while you breathe. In for six seconds and out for six seconds. Repeat 5x for a total of one minute.

  2. Sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” or another song – loudly and a little slower than usual.

  3. Breathe through a straw. Make it slow, deep, and fierce, for one minute.

  4. Strike a yoga pose – in a bathroom stall if you have to. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Do tree pose, then downward facing dog, then a simple sun salutation. Repeat 3x. Aim for 5 minutes or less.


Excessive anger is one of the most destruction negative emotional reactions no matter where you are. It is also an emotion that most people do not manage well. Controlling one’s temper is a life-long pursuit for some people. Watch for early symptoms and learn to deal with them when they start. Stopping your adult temper tantrum early will help you keep control. Use the breathing exercises above to interrupt your thought process. Other common ways to deal with anger in a healthy way might be to shout like Tarzan, run half a mile, do 50 pushups, or go to lunch if the timing is right.

Shut Up

But if you’re in the heat of the moment, the best thing is to shut up. You may be working with someone you don’t like or with whom you don’t see eye to eye. You don’t want to say something you’ll later regret. If you can respectfully walk away, do so. Removing yourself from the argument or situation will also help you to not yell at others.

A Little Respect

In case you have to work with a colleague you hate, you have to set aside your ego and pride. Treat them with utmost respect and courtesy the same way you treat the others you have strong relationship with. Even if they behave in an unprofessional way, you should not behave unprofessionally yourself.

Be Assertive

You may explain to the offending party that you do not like being treated in an unprofessional or rude manner. Then leave the situation. When it comes to managing emotions like anger, set an example for others.


Dealing with disappointment at work, and in the rest of your life, can be difficult to handle. Of all the negative emotional reactions you may have at work, disappointment can greatly affect your productivity. Repeated disappointments can cause unhappiness and job dissatisfaction. Your energy level will run low and you may not be able to reach your goals. Yes, disappointment is sad, but time does heal. In the meantime, try to see things from another perspective.

Grow Up

Sometimes, making a shift to your mindset can free you from disappointment. Things do not always go as expected, but don’t be a “Pouty Face.” If you don’t reach your goals, make small changes. Adjust your way of thinking, adjust the path you are on, or adjust your goals.

Forgive and Forget

Receiving disappointing news can dishearten your mood, for sure. Disappointment is normal, but don’t carry around a grudge. Hang out with your friends, watch a comedy movie, or a thriller if that’s more your style. Surround yourself with positivity and you’ll feel back to normal in no time. If you are consistently unhappy at work, perhaps it’s time for a change. We can help!

Manage Your Emotional Reactions to Stay in Control

All of us have to handle negative emotions at work from time to time. Managing emotions will prevent overreactions so you can stay in control. Since emotions are often contagious, it’s important to keep the negative reactions contained. Nobody wants to be near a “Negative Nancy.” The most important thing is to know the types of emotional reactions you face most. Then you’ll be able to put your own personal game plan in place to counteract those negative reactions at work. Family and friends will appreciate it too because those skills translate into all areas of your life.

About the Author

Charlie Kimmel

As President and CEO, Charlie has dedicated his 25+ year career to executive search at Kimmel & Associates. Charlie began his career at Kimmel & Associates in 1990 as a Recruiter. In 1993, he graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he received a BA in History.

Read More About Charlie Kimmel
Contact Kimmel and Get Started Today
Let Us Help