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Management Harnessing the power of your emotions to improve your work day instead of hampering it

Emotions can trip us up at work and so we try to ignore or deny them. But author Liz Fosslien says emotions can actually be your superpower at work. “The truth is that being in tune with your emotions makes you smarter overall,” she tells First Round Review. “Being aware of emotions, and the signals they contain, can be an enormous strength.”

She highlights seven emotions that we all deal with and try to push away at work: Anxiety, envy, uncertainty, conflict, spiralling (when negative emotions grow out of control), not belonging, and rejection. Let me focus on two on that list – and on one that isn’t.

For anxiety, she urges you to get it out of your head. Make a list of everything that’s causing stress, then divide those into two categories. “Withins” are issues that you can act on, while “beyonds” are those beyond your control. For the first group, the co-author of No Hard Feelings suggests breaking them down into micro-steps you can take, and then tackling those. And by micro, she means micro. As an example, she says if you’re worried about a presentation and as a first step you tell yourself you’ll need to make the slides, “you’re going to be even more stressed.” Instead, go for the microstep: Today, you will make the first two slides.

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As for the beyonds, admit constraints and again look for small wins. You can’t fire a bad boss, Ms. Fosslien notes, but you can limit interactions with that individual.

For envy – something we don’t like to admit – she says if you pay attention to it you will get an indication of what you want. Indeed, she urges you to look at people in your network, think about the careers of four of them, and consider which one you are more envious about. Then close the gap between envy and reality by figuring out what that person’s career path indicates about the first steps you can take in that direction.

Fear isn’t on Ms. Fosslien’s list but it’s on that of consultant Art Petty because it can stand between you and career reinvention. “It’s always present, lurking in the corner ready to pounce. Just when we sense there’s something new, different, or creative we might pursue,” he notes on his blog.

Perhaps you have heard its siren call. “The devil you know is better than the one you don’t.” Or: “With two kids in college, I can’t possibly think of making a change.” Or: “I can’t afford to fail at this stage of my life or I might not recover financially.” Mr. Petty says the difficulty is that the fear “leverages tiny kernels of truth, wraps them in doubt and then amplifies them in our minds until we succumb by doing nothing.”

You need to wrestle with that kernel of truth but make sure you keep moving ahead. Explore and experiment. Redouble your efforts to change. Fight fear with deliberate action, he advises, but keep away from stupid decisions since there is a kernel of truth in the fear.

Amit Goldenberg, the lead author of a recent study on regulating emotions and a Stanford doctoral candidate in psychology, says “our emotions are not passive nor automatic. They are a little bit of a tool.” For example, we have the ability to use our emotions to achieve certain goals, expressing them to convince other people to join our collective cause. He suggests to Thrive Global when you wake up each morning you should set an emotional intention for that day such as to feel grateful, content, or calm; those will help you stay motivated in the face of negative emotions.

Emotions are about you, but you are in control. They are tools, perhaps even superpowers.

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Quick hits

  • Set expectations at the start of a meeting – including that everyone should be fully involved – and then show you welcome engagement, meetings expert Elise Keith says on Business Insider, by getting everyone to do something within the first five minutes. Perhaps a quick go-round in which each attendee speaks, or a meditation to clear the mind, or, like at Amazon, have people read briefing notes.
  • Consultant Tim Sanders, after five million miles of business travel, recommends in his e-mail newsletter always buying a big bottle of water for a flight so you can control its quality and not have to wait for an attendant to eventually give you half a glass. Also, carry a PowerBar or bag of nuts in case you aren’t given any healthy options at the airport or in flight.
  • If asked for a second job interview, Halifax executive recruiter Gerald Walsh says act as if you already have the job, answering questions with “we” rather than “you” and indicating what you will do to help solve the organizational pain points. Prepare and share a 30-, 60-, and 90-day plan.
  • Do for your transgender co-worker what you would do for yourself, Queen’s University professor Lee Airton writes in Fast Company. Stand up for them when they are not there. And help them to go to work, do their jobs, and not have to talk about themselves and transgender issues all the time.
  • “It’s always your choice as to whether the best is yet to come,” says futurist Jim Carroll. It all comes down to decisions and choices – by you.

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