How to manage emotions at work

In the second in his series of articles, Phil Willcox focuses on the how of managing emotions.


In my last post around the theme of emotion at work I suggested a slight shift or reframe of how we view the ways in which deal with emotion in ourselves as people, in relationships and in companies as a whole; we work with them.

That is all well and good I hear you say, but HOW do I do that. This is the question I want to begin to answer today. I have chosen ‘begin to answer’ as I am not sure there is ‘an answer’ or even ‘a complete answer’ so we will start and see where we get to.

More Opinion 


Something that I think is important to consider when working with emotion is memory and how fallible it can be. I begin with a suggestion, get into journaling.  Recording when you needed to work with emotion is really important.  Why? Because memory is tricky, especially with emotions.

Some studies show that our recall of memories of events that are particularly emotionally charged (e.g. being happy about achieving something, feeling determined to succeed, harnessing nerves to great effect) we will remember the bits we want to and forget the bits we don’t. So, we may vividly remember what was happening when the emotion was at the peak but forget what got us there.  


That matters because all emotions work in response to a trigger or stimulus. Something happens that gets our attention (a thought, a sight, a smell, a noise etc) and then you (or your brain) associates with that stimulus with an emotion and causes things begin. All of this happens in less than half a second.  

Then a load of stuff happens including the sensations and actions we take. Our challenge is that if we want to work with emotion, it helps greatly if we can identify the trigger or stimulus. Why? Because that is what caused the emotion and if we know what our triggers are, we can work with the trigger and emotion more effectively better.


Back to my suggestion for a moment. Journaling can help us with working out patterns and themes in the triggers. I say journaling will help and that is because we will forget the triggers and occasions we experience emotion if we don’t record them.

Some questions that can help you…

What was happening?

Who was I with?

What were we discussing?

What time of day was it?

What emotion do I think I experienced?

How did the emotion feel?

What were the sensations I experienced? 

Remembering stuff is helpful and hard. Hard because over the passage of time we forget stuff and emotions can play with or distort memory. It is helpful as it gives us data for us to look back over and identify patterns or trends or themes. 

You may be thinking; Isn’t this all a bit much?

Some suggestions:

Focus on the emotion episodes that have one or more of these features;

     a) how you felt was not helpful or conducive to building relationships or collaboration (e.g. you laughed at someone else’s misfortune and they did not find it funny).

     b) the emotion was too intense or too mild (e.g. you were more scared/frustrated/happy than you needed to be or not angry enough to make your point).

     c) it went on for too long or was too short (e.g. it took you too long to move on or refocus back and so you missed out on information or opportunity).

Concentrating on these areas, combined with journaling and asking the questions above can help you with working out what triggers you, which emotion it triggers and whether that helps or hinders you.  

Once you are aware of it, you can be much more proactive in working with it. Otherwise all you can do is react and experience tells us, in cases where emotion hinders you, proactive is loads better than reactive.

About the author

Phil Willcox has made a promise; to make work better by placing emotion at the heart of work, fusing academic achievements with 20 years of practitioner experience. Contact @philwillcox and


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