I used to coach a person who wanted to be an entrepreneur, but whose business was not generating sufficient income. “John” took full-time job, after full-time job, always finding fault with the people he worked for, soon after orientation and the honeymoon phase. He was a reliable employee who often got frustrated because he cared a lot about doing good work, but he resented that he wasn’t working in his own business.
We were working on a transition plan that was taking longer than expected, which meant that our weekly calls seemed insufficient to him. I began getting text messages at 7 AM on weekends, during court hours, and while I was everywhere from bed to the gym.
Everything was always an emergency with John, and his messages would come with increasing frequency and hostility, until I finally responded. I feared he was reacting similarly at work, not realizing how invasive and disruptive such behavior could occur. He thought he was showing passion.
I had just left a hearing that did not go as well as hoped, when I got the text message informing me he wanted to throw a tantrum. It reminded me of a technique my sister used with my nephew when he was a toddler. She set the timer and had him stomp in place for several minutes, until he had released his anger and recognized the futility of stomping when what he really wanted was a treat. He eventually learned more effective ways of asking for what he wanted, and his requests were met with more respect. I wanted that for John, too. I think our conversation went something like this.
JOHN: “I need to throw a tantrum.”
ME: “Is there an office, broom closet, or other place you can go?”
JOHN (shocked and confused): “What?”
ME: “If that’s what you need to do, give yourself permission. Remove yourself so you don’t disrupt or harm anyone. Set a timer. Allow yourself to stomp, yell, growl, or whatever you need to do until the alarm goes off. Then, it’s back to work.”
ME: Did you find a place?
JOHN: No. I don’t really need to throw a tantrum. I need to [a, b, and c].
Sometimes, we just need to be acknowledged and have permission to feel what arises naturally. We need to free those emotions, so we can move on, not hold them in, allowing them to feed on other emotions we’ve shoved deep inside. Yet we need to do this with awareness of the impact a release might have on people around us, especially when we are not sure if only responses to the immediate situation are the only ones likely to come out.
Have you ever tried to address how disappointed you were when someone didn’t do what you expected, only to have you experience the rage or hurt from every other disappointment you have felt? Did you walk away a bit embarrassed and surprised by your own reaction? Me, too. That is what I hope to help you avoid, especially at work.
Other techniques my clients and I have used to free emotions in the workplace are:
Request 10 minutes to take a walk and “gather your thoughts” (even if you’re truly going to let most of them go). Breathe deeply as you walk, slowly exhaling all air. Repeat. If your mind wanders, just go back to focusing on your breath. Allow your brain to rest, refresh, and recalibrate, so you can focus on an effective action plan when you return.
Start writing, without editing any of your thoughts or feelings. Curse if you need to. Say what you wish you could say, without an impact on anyone else. Then shred it. You just ranted on paper and no one else needs to know what came out in your brain dump.
If your workplace doesn’t allow you to take a break immediately for one of the other suggested actions, promise yourself you will make the time for a powerful emotional release (ideally to empty). Then, shift your focus to three positive things about the instant situation.
- What do you love about how you got where you are?
- What do you have now that you didn’t have before you got this job, promotion, assignment, etc.?
- What can you learn about yourself in this situation?
- What do you really like about yourself?
- Did you notice you can control your brain? That’s an amazing skill. Do you like that you have it?
Need more help to free your emotions? Buy the book
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).