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The Smart Way to Respond to Negative Emotions at Work

It is impossible to block negative emotions from the workplace. Whether provoked by bad decisions, misfortune, or employees’ personal problems, no organization is immune from trouble, and trouble agitates bad feelings. In many organizations, negative emotions are brushed aside or are altogether taboo. However, discounting or brushing aside negative emotions can be costly to organizations — leading to lost productivity and employee disengagement.

For more than two decades, the author has studied workplace circumstances that evoke negative emotions, from exceptional organizational crises to everyday incivility. One fundamental finding is that few executives handle employees’ negative feelings well. Many managers report that they do not know how to deal with negative emotions in the workplace. To address this condition, the author details how to improve competence and confidence in responding to negative emotions. She recommends specific actions to prepare for and step up to negative emotions at work — including anger, fear, and sadness, in particular.

Promptly stepping up to negative emotions, the author points out, can stem interpersonal turbulence and keep satisfaction, engagement, and productivity intact. What’s more, when negative emotions are acknowledged openly, the author argues, employees can learn to anticipate and interpret their colleagues’ reactions to difficult circumstances more astutely. They grow to understand their own reactions better, too. With these improvements, appropriate responses to challenging situations can be made earlier, when adjustments are generally easier, more effective, and less expensive.

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