Many years ago (think decades) when I was working on my Ph.D., I held a variety of interesting jobs to help supplement the meager pay I was receiving as a teaching fellow and adjunct faculty. During the summer sessions, when teaching opportunities were scarce, I always signed up with a local “temp agency” and went out on various jobs, most of the administrative assistant/receptionist variety. I found the receptionist work fascinating because I was by then a trained social scientist fascinated with human behavior. And, since no one really paid much attention to the temporary receptionist, I found myself with an amazing opportunity to observe human dynamics.

I spent several weeks with one very interesting organization. And, what made it so interesting to me was that it gave me a chance to watch people during emotionally challenging situations. The driver of these situations was an incredibility volatile and demanding CEO who did very little to regulate his own emotions. So, it was not unusual to see someone scurry past his office if the door was open to avoid unwanted attention. On a daily basis, someone left his office (or sometimes a hallway) holding back tears or outrage. And, you could literally feel the air and energy change in the building anytime he entered or left.

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever found yourself holding back tears or trying not to have a meltdown in the face of a difficult person? Or, perhaps you’ve struggled to keep from yelling in frustration when someone or something goes dreadfully wrong? If so, here are 2 strategies to help you manage those emotionally challenging situations at work.

Attune to Your Physical Self
In the heat of the moment, tuning into your body is a powerful practice. First, it can help create a brief moment where you will not yell back or say something you regret. Secondly, it can help you calm down so you can stay (or become) calm.

Some powerful ways to attune to your physical self include checking in on your breathing. Ask yourself “am I breathing?” Choose to take deep, measured breaths. You can even choose to count to 4 as you inhale and 4 as you exhale. This makes sure your brain gets the oxygen that you need to think and function clearly.

You can also ask yourself, where is this emotion housed in my body? Depending on the emotion you might discover it is in your gut, your heart, or even your head. For me, emotions like fear or anxiety show up in my gut. Sadness and joy often show up in my heart. The follow-on question of what is the size and shape of this emotion can also be helpful.

Just like intentionally breathing, this helps to create a moment where you can make better choices regarding how you will respond. It also gives you a chance to acknowledge your emotions, which makes them easier to manage. We can’t manage what we don’t acknowledge or recognize. Ignoring your emotions is a sure-fire way for them to grow stronger, not weaker.

Identify Your “Real” Emotion
Another way to acknowledge and/or recognize your emotions is to make sure you are identifying them accurately. A trend I’ve noticed with my coaching clients and large audiences alike is that we as humans tend to have a very limited emotional vocabulary.

I’ve long believed that if you can name it, you can tame it. Sadly, many professionals seem to struggle with differentiating between emotions such as hurt and anger, sadness and disappointment, and even fear and excitement. Taking a moment to ask yourself what is my real emotion and then taking a moment to attune to the answer increases the likelihood you will be able to manage it more effectively.

For example, I find it much easier to behave calmly if I am confused as opposed to angry. However, sometimes in the initial moments, my confusion will register as anger, which is more difficult for me to manage.

An added bonus to accurately identifying emotions is that it increases the likelihood that the root of the emotion can be addressed. For example, if I know I am confused I am able to ask clarifying questions and address the confusion.

The next time you feel yourself on the precipice of an emotional outburst, take a moment to intentionally breathe, discover where the emotion is showing up in your body, and take a moment to identify your “real” emotion so you can better manage those emotional situations, especially in the workplace.