• Danielle Fanfair

Mad at Work: Understanding Upsets Without Losing Yourself or Your Job

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

A conflict happens. You become angry, distressed or anxious about it. But you still have to get your work done. The typical corporate climate does not create space for emotional processing. Venting to a co-worker poses a certain risk; you could be confiding in a loyal work friend, no problem. Or your confidant could be a peer one week and become your manager the next. If that doesn’t happen, he or she could just repeat what you said in “emotion” when it serves them in the future.

You can’t talk to the boss about it; spending precious work hours on emotions is usually frowned upon. The boss could be immature and may retaliate, or be embroiled in the conflict and therefore can’t listen with compassion. And don’t even think about posting while in your feelings on any of the social medias. You do still want your job, don’t you?

While we wait on HR to move through the “proper (antiquated) channels” and address our situation, here is some insight and practices for being upset at work and navigating conflict with maturity. These practices are designed to create space for compassion and understanding for your own perspective and keeping the big picture in sight. Your focus, your feelings and your perspective are important assets. The way you naturally respond can be a powerful contribution when offered with clarity, honesty and appropriately. Too often, we are encouraged to model someone else’s approach and made to feel bad for being authentic. Image by Alexandru Acea

I teach a tool called The Enneagram of Personality that explores nine personality types and each type's strategy for coping with trauma and accomplishing what they desire most. When teaching the Enneagram, I teach the Harmonic Groups, or a sub-grouping within the types, that explains how different personalities approach conflict.

Let’s explore some common questions, insights and practices of different types of people. Now, these insights and practices are not in any particular sequence. Use them in the order of importance to you. It’s important to honor and understand what you feel and what you see, and do the same for those with whom we work.

What About My Feelings? INSIGHT: Did you know that after an event that triggers anger, fear or distress, it takes the human body anywhere from twenty minutes to a few hours to return to homeostasis? Some of us can’t do anything until our fight or flight neurochemicals like adrenaline and cortisol subside. This means that our emotions are an important part of our human experience. We can use our emotions as alarm clocks; befriending and listening to our own feelings for information. We can factor this information into our decisions. This is different from being controlled by emotions; understanding our feelings can help us to leverage what we sense to set us up for success. Photograph by Nathan Dumlao

PRACTICE: Validate your feelings. Take a few minutes to visit with yourself and vent about what happened. Excuse yourself to the restroom if you need to. Return to your memory of the event. Take a few breaths and affirm to yourself: “My feelings, needs and desires are important and not a problem.” Now answer the following questions: What happened? What did it mean to me? How do I feel about it? How did I/will I respond to make a positive change?

From here, you have some information that can serve you. The event that triggered you is either a deal-breaker, something that can be improved or not worth any more of your time. After affirming the value of your emotions and a self-inquiry practice, you have more perspective and more self-control. Helping someone who is experiencing strong emotions through this process can prove to illuminate opportunities to increase morale and honor the human dignity of the people working to move the organization forward.

What About The Future?

INSIGHT: For some of us, an upset triggers a sense of panic about what the future holds. Have I lost a friend/deal/client? Is a chance for a project/meeting/possible promotion ruined? Is my reputation at stake? Millions of Americans live with a type of fear called anxiety; an unspecific, pervasive worry about the future. You are not alone. Conflicts at work can fuel this condition. Our ancestors used fear as a survival tactic. Fear helped cavemen and hunter-gatherers remember the paths, caves, and territories that posed threats. While we don’t have the same dangers in this modern age, we can still feel like something is going to “get us.” Photography by Elena Koycheva

PRACTICE: Our panic can lead us to wisdom if we give ourselves space to explore. Affirm the bright side of the situation. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Say out loud, “I still have ____________.” Make as long a list as you need until you feel better. Now respond to the following questions: What happened? What did it mean to me? What was truly lost? What have I learned/gained? Dropped balls and mistakes can be wonderful gifts wrapped up in conflict. We will realize our superpowers when we allow ourselves to step into reality during conflict and out of our imaginations. Engaging in this practice with someone who is experiencing anxiety can be a gift to the relationship, the team and the organization. What About The Actual Problem? INSIGHT: There are those of us who are impatiently waiting on other folks to get out of their feelings and actually figure out the root issue of the problem. Our energy and focus is like a laser beam, getting directly to the exact moment of the breakdown. These people are going back through email threads and reviewing instructions, policies, etc., passionately comparing real facts and actual events to identify what went wrong. It may seem like these people lack empathy or emotion; this isn’t true. Their sensible, pragmatic approach is their contribution to everyone’s well-being. PRACTICE: Our focus on the details, reasoning and logic can lead to a better route to success, knowledge and becoming better at what we do. Take a few deep breaths and affirm: “No matter what happened, all will be well.” Now respond to the following questions:

What happened? Where did the breakdown occur? What truth or wisdom was needed at the time? What new understanding does this situation illuminate going forward? Facing the problem, identifying it and correcting it is different than issuing blame. Blame makes someone good and someone bad, pitting humans against one another. It is better to take an “us versus it” mentality. This stance can clear the air and make it safe for you and anyone else to take responsibility without being permanently judged. Engaging this practice with someone who likes to dig into the problem first can be helpful in innovating and streamlining organizational practices, services and products.

The moral of the story is this: how you feel and what is important to you is important, period. Guiding yourself and others through these practices, honor how our unique perspectives and illuminates powerful new opportunities to work together with more harmony, spending less time on breaches and more time creating, producing and serving our visions better.

Photograph by

Danielle Fanfair is a teacher, writer and speaker who helps high-impact professionals go from Confusion to Clarity about who they truly are, with a passion for well-being, diversity & inclusion, self-understanding and skills-building. Work with Danielle by clicking here.

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