Tools and Strategies to Manage Your Emotions at Work

Are You Taking it Personally?

By Laurie Friedman Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Strategic Business Consulting | March 18, 2018

It's easy. As a leader or as a follower we sometimes take words others say personally. This is natural but not good if the feelings get in the way of positive relationships at work. When words are taken personally, people react emotionally. Emotional reactions at work can cause workplace drama, disengagement, decreased productivity, and decreased teamwork and collaboration. The research data is compelling, “The average employee spends 2 hours and 26 minutes per day in drama and emotional waste” (1)

The moment your emotions are triggered at work you are not your best self either as a leader, colleague or teammate. When we become emotionally charged we allow negative thoughts and feelings to drive our behavior and we lose our compassion. Examples of emotional reactions include: yelling, eye rolling, defending, sarcasm, and disengagement. I am sure you can think of more examples!

Imagine you are in a meeting; and another team member interrupts you, disagrees with you or - worst yet - challenges you. Do you a) shut down; b) feel the person is doing it deliberately and defend yourself by getting angry, loud or something akin to any of these responses; or c) take a breath and not respond?

If your answer is “c,” you may not need the QTIP; for everyone else, the QTIP serves as a reminder not to take it personally. Q: Quit. T: Taking. I: It. P: Personally. It's natural to feel a sting when someone interrupts you if they do it in a way that seems rude or disrespectful. What is not compassionate is reacting with your emotions.

The QTIP provides an immediate tool to remind you to Quit Taking It Personally. Yes, a Q-tip®: The everyday, ear-cleaning, wax-remover cotton swab also represents a tool of choice to prevent emotionally charged leadership or reactions.

Seriously! Go to the store and buy as many Q-tips® as you can fit in your closet and take out a few. Hold them in your hand and repeat after me: Quit Taking It Personally. Most leaders discover that the QTIP principle is an effective acronym to help remain emotionally disciplined in the workplace. The solution is to separate YOUR feelings from the issue and to recognize when you are leading with your emotions. Stop and ask yourself “am I taking this personally?” If yes, Quit Taking It Personally. Workplaces are filled with people who are holding grudges, carrying wounds and believing their negative thoughts which lead to a lack of compassion, and most importantly to a disengaged workforce. Emotional drama at work can be stopped. First, quit taking it personally.

Why Should You Care?

It makes business sense to focus on people! Managing people is personal. There is a saying in the coaching world “people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

The most recent U.S. results from the semi-annual Employment Engagement Index presented in the Gallup Management Journal indicates that “Only 29 percent of employees are actively engaged in their jobs. These employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their companies. Moreover, 54 percent of employees are not engaged. These employees have essentially “checked out,” sleepwalking through their workday and putting time - but not passion - into their work. In addition, it has been shown that 17 percent of employees are actively disengaged. These employees are busy acting out their unhappiness, undermining what their engaged co-workers are trying to accomplish.” (2)

When it comes to workplace engagement, and building a motivated, passionate, workforce, behavior matters. Engagement is personal. When you have a relationship one is much less likely to interpret words negatively. One is more likely to assume positive intent when you have a relationship. Get personal with your workforce, spend time getting to know your team, understand what matters to them.

I did a workshop with senior leaders in a government organization. When I arrived at the meeting room I found candy had been placed at every desk. It was Valentine's Day and I immediately thought I have a touchy/feely person in this workshop. It turned out the candy came from a senior technology leader who shared with the class that he knew the favorite candy bar of every member of his team. He spent time getting to know each of his people. Why? He said, “I have their heads why not have their hearts too!”

Below are four more tips for learning to manage your emotions at work and build a happier and more engaged workplace.

1. Pause

Take a pause and ask yourself “am I taking it personally?” The pause allows you to think before you react in an emotional way. Notice what behaviors show up when you are emotionally triggered. One client noticed that she would sigh. Until she took the pause she did not realize how often her sighs projected an emotional reaction to what she heard. Although you can bet that the people who worked with her knew!

The same is true for email. Never write an email when you are emotionally triggered. If you write it put the email in saved or draft but NEVER press send! Too often emails are misinterpreted and once the email is out you cannot take it back. Practice email restraint and remember it is always best to criticize in private and praise publicly.

2. Focus on the Positive

Every time you find yourself having a negative thought about someone at work stop! Yes, it's that simple. Nothing positive happens with negative thoughts. Imagine you are working at the front desk of a hotel. A customer walks up and asks for another key. You think I know they are doing this on purpose just to make me work more! OK, a slight exaggeration (I hope!) But the point is not exaggerated! Negative thoughts create negative behaviors. The more we can be positive the stronger are our relationships. If you want to build an engaged, positive workforce focus on being positive. Keep negative emotions out of the workplace. Trevor Noah recently said it best “you cannot control what happens to you; you can only control how you react.” When we focus on the negative, we move away from our compassionate, best self.

3. Build Accountability Strategies

All too often negative behaviors are reinforced by a lack of accountability. Address issues when they come up. Don't wait, don't let someone pass go! If someone, either a direct report, a colleague, or team member does not meet the expectations address it! Resentment creates workplace drama and often begins when expectations are not met and expectations are not communicated. Sounds counter intuitive right? The truth is most people want to get it right! When we assume negative intent, they are doing it on purpose, rather than assume lack of understanding, a training gap or a communication gap; we give ourselves permission not to address the negative behavior. “Why talk to them? They are only going to do it again”,” I tried so many times”, “it is wasted energy, I might as well do it myself” Those kinds of narratives allow us to avoid holding ourselves and others accountable for being the best they can be.

When we hold ourselves and others accountable for expectations we are taking emotions out of the workforce, focusing on positive behavior and helping each other to be the best we can be.

4. Manage Behavior by Being DAPPER

DAPPER is a tool developed by Sherpa coaches, Brenda Corbett and Judith Coleman. Each letter in the DAPPER acronym represents an action to address conflict and hold each other accountable. (3)   DAPPER as defined by the dictionary means “neat and trim in dress, appearance, or bearing.” And that is exactly how you want to be when delivering feedback or addressing a conflict.

D Stands for Don't Fight it/Don't Deny it

If you find yourself upset about a behavior e.g. the report is late again, they promised to deliver the data today and they did not. Don't fight it/don't deny it! All too frequently we are upset but we do not communicate with the person who we are upset with. Don't fight it/don't deny it! Use this tool to address challenges or issues easily with DAPPER as your framework.

A Stands for Appointment

Always make an appointment, rather than grabbing someone in the hallway or catching them when it is convenient for you. This allows the receiver of the feedback the opportunity to be in the right mindset for a conversation and also allows you the feedback giver to prepare for a results-focused, positive, feedback conversation.

P Stands for Positive

Always begin a conversation with something positive. This is not disingenuous, as my clients sometimes fear, it is science. The brain immediately senses and reacts to conflict situations with a fight or flight response. This response is automatic and in dangerous situations can be life-saving. The challenge is when the automatic systems kick in, “the amygdala, the area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.” (4)   Initiating a conversation with a positive allows the brain to be calm and hear the feedback. No one likes to feel critized, if you want your feedback to be heard begin your conversation with positives. Try it; let me know if you have more positive outcomes when you begin your feedback with positive feedback and positive intentions.

P Stands for “Perhaps you did not know”

Always assume positive intent. The goal is to help others “be better” Has anyone ever done better after getting beaten up? “A difficult message becomes an opportunity to enrich someone's life.” (5)

E Stands for Example

Always provide examples from your experience, based on facts not hearsay.

R Stands for  Repeat

Always Repeat your feedback to be sure the feedback is heard, and understood. Ask the receiver to REPEAT what they heard to be sure everyone is on the same page.

Below is an example of a DAPPER conversation.

- Don't Fight it, Don't Deny it! When something comes up address it! Don't wait!
- Assume an appointment was scheduled.
- Positive, Ellen I appreciate that you have been a great example for your folks. Actively participating in team meetings and offering excellent suggestions.
-Perhaps you did not know in the last couple of weeks….
-you have been late for three meetings. Your team looks up to you and when you are late your team notices. Do you think you can be on time for future meetings?
-I know we covered a lot in this conversation can you recap what you heard?

DAPPER is your framework to address conflict or situations you fear may create more conflict in a positive fashion. Compassion without accountability is not compassion. It leads to disengagement, resentments (why do I have to do all the work, while they never get their jobs done?) and it leaves people feeling demotivated. Holding people accountable for what they are expected to do is leading with compassion.

If you practice these strategies you will be well on your way to building a more engaged, happy , and drama free workplace and workforce. Sounds easy right?


1.  No Ego, page 7, Cy Wakeman

2.  What Engages Employees the Most, or the Ten C's of Employee Engagement

3.  The Sherpa Guide Process-Driven Executive Coaching by Brenda Corbett and Judith Coleman Pages 167-170

4.  Understanding the Stress Response, Harvard Health Publishing

5.  Nonviolent Communication A language of Life, by Marshall B Rosenberg, Ph.D., Page100

Ms. Friedman Laurie Friedman is founder and CEO of Strategic Business Consulting, an independent consulting firm. SBC provides both strategic and tactical tools to enhance leadership development and improve organization, team, and individual performance. Ms. Friedman holds a Master's Degree in Human Resources and Organization Development from George Washington University and she is a certified Myers Briggs Type Indicator, DISC and Action Learning facilitator. Ms. Friedman is a certified executive coach, change strategist and business consultant with over a decade of experience working with organizations to design and develop results-focused strategies to improve business results. Her clients have included senior level executives to line managers from diverse organizations including numerous non-profits. Ms. Friedman can be contacted at 301-320-3960 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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