do you have to control your emotions to be professional?

A reader writes:

I recently got fired from a job of four years. They told me I could stay until the end of the fiscal year (several months from the time of firing), and that I’m going to be replaced by one of my colleagues. Despite the awkwardness, I plan to stick with it as long as possible; the pay and benefits may well be the best I’ll ever have.

I’ve been in this career for over a decade, and it’s never been a fit. So, I’m open to making a change of career and am volunteering and applying for jobs.

But first, I need to sort out the way I conduct myself. I’m intelligent, empathetic, and skilled, but I’ve left most of my jobs on bad terms because I can’t control my emotions. When I get stressed, frustrated, or bored, I lose my temper, cry, or just disengage. I’ve always worked in pretty informal environments, but I realize that doesn’t excuse my behavior. I have ruined many professional relationships.

My question is, how do you define “professional behavior”? I feel like I don’t even know where the boundaries are any more, and I’d like to make my remaining months in this (uncomfortable) situation as positive as possible.

It’s great that you’re asking this.

Professionalism can cover a whole host of things — from how you dress and groom yourself to how you conduct yourself in a meeting — but it sounds like you’ve put your finger on the part of it that’s in play for you: controlling your emotions. So let’s talk about that piece of it.

In general, part of being professional at work is maintaining a relatively even emotional keel. That’s not to say that you can’t have emotions at all, but they should be ones that don’t disrupt others or make others uncomfortable. In practice that means:

  • not taking things personally — so, for example, understanding that getting critical feedback on a project is part of the job and not a personal attack, and responding to it calmly and non-defensively
  • understanding that you’re being paid to do a job and that there may be parts that you don’t love or feel like doing, but that you’re being paid to do those things reasonably cheerfully anyway
  • being pleasant and polite to people, even if you don’t like them
  • not letting a bad day or a bad mood significantly impact how you interact with colleagues and clients
  • understanding that if you’re very frustrated at work, the appropriate response is to raise the issue with someone who can help solve it, not to complain to others, let it fester, and/or allow it it affect your work or how you interact with people

The idea, basically, is that you’re being paid not just to do your job but also to contribute to a reasonably pleasant environment — or at least not to make the environment less pleasant. Good employers don’t want to subject other employees to negative, unpleasant, volatile, or otherwise difficult coworkers, because that has a toxic impact on other people.

Think about it this way: Outside of work, people can end their interactions with you if they’re uncomfortable with how you’re behaving. But at work, your coworkers are stuck with you. They can’t walk away or hang up on you or you refuse to engage with you in the future. In many cases, like in shared office space, they may be physically unable to get away from you. So the standard of behavior is different than it might be in other contexts. You’re all trapped together, and the expectation is that you’ll minimize the impact of negative emotions on them.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t have emotions. But it’s important to understand that you don’t have to act on every emotion that you have. You can be upset that, say, a project you worked hard on was sent back with loads of red ink on it, but still behave professionally at a meeting later that day — which means not sulking or withdrawing, looking reasonably engaged, and contributing about the pieces that intersect with your work. You can be frustrated that your boss asked you to stay late without a lot of notice, without loudly ranting about it to your coworkers.

None of this means that you can’t have legitimate beefs with things that happen at work. Of course you can! What matters is how handle those beefs. Professional options include raising the issue and explaining your concerns, suggesting an alternative approach, deciding that something isn’t ideal but you can live with it, or deciding you can’t leave with it and so you’re going to look for another job.

In fact, I wonder if the reason that you’re defaulting to losing your temper, crying, or disengaging is because you don’t have a clear idea of what these alternatives look like — in other words, that you’re not sure how to calmly say “hey, X is a problem for me because of Y — could we try Z instead?” or that you don’t believe it would work. It’s certainly possible that it might not work in your particular workplace or in a particular situation. But since you’re seeing this pattern across multiple jobs and you don’t say anything about having tried these other approaches, that makes me think this is coming from a deep-rooted place in you, like possibly a family who didn’t teach you how to advocate for yourself in a healthy, functional way (either not modeling those behaviors themselves, or teaching you through their own behavior that it wouldn’t matter if you tried).

But if that’s the case, you can learn it now! You just need to believe that it matters and be willing to do the work of learning it. The fact that you’ve identified the issue and want to work on it is huge.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 308 comments… read them below }

  1. hayling*

    “important to understand that you don’t have to act on every emotion that you have.” Yes.

    1. AMT*

      My mom used to say, “Is this the hill you want to die on?” This phrase is relevant in so many work situations.

      Yes, you may be 100% right, and the emotions you’re feeling right now may be justified, but at a certain point in your career (ideally before leaving college), you have to develop the ability to decide whether acting on those feelings will help or hurt your work life. Doing things “on principle” works for characters in movies, not so much in real life.

      1. Bibliovore*

        Would you rather be right or happy?
        How important is it?

        and when “big feelings” are coming on…

        take your psychic temperature
        Ask yourself
        Are you hungry?- look at the clock – I need to eat every 4 hours to maintain an even keel. Did you skip breakfast? Do you need some protein?

        Are you angry? Take a break, a walk around the building, find a quiet place to write out the situation. I do a lot of HE SAID and I Feel and Then…. See if you have choices…what to do in the future…talk to a mentor…

        Lonely? I had a job that was very isolating. I worked alone. I didn’t have any “work friends” or colleagues on my level. AAM is a good check-in for balance.

        Tired? I used stay out late and then be exhausted by mid-afternoon. I learned that I do need a certain amount of sleep so I am not reactive.

        Oh and
        Feelings aren’t Facts.

  2. That IT Manager*

    If nobody has already suggested it, get “Working With Emotional Intelligence”. There is a wealth of information to be had and ways to change your own behavior. I recommend to nearly everyone.

  3. Roscoe*

    Yes, this is great. People really do need to be able to control their emotions at work, or you aren’t going to go far in most places. I don’t care if losing control looks like crying or slamming your fists against the desk. It isn’t good. Take a walk. Go to the bathroom. Do whatever you need to compose yourself, but please control your emotions in front of co-workers.

    1. The Other Dawn*


      At OldJob there was a lender who seemed pretty even keel, but I didn’t interact with him much, so all I knew is what I’d seen up until that point. One day I had to tell him that he needed to do X because the CEO needed it right away (he didn’t report to me and I was his peer; I was the messenger). He screwed up his face, made fists, yelled “Jesus Christ!” and then kicked–KICKED–my door! It didn’t make me scared of him or anything, but my respect for him dropped a notch or two that day.

      1. AMT*

        I work in an office with people who do stuff like this routinely. Unfortunately, it’s one of those workplaces where you “can’t” fire people, which must cost the organization a lot in turnover, because it’s an incredibly demoralizing place to work. Luckily, I’m getting out of here soon!

      2. Bend & Snap*

        My last boss got mad–not at me–and slammed his hands on my desk and screamed in my face. I didn’t feel safe at work after that.

        Raised voices and physical displays are never appropriate. Anywhere.

        1. Artemesia*

          I had one boss who behaved that way toward me over something that was a clear misunderstanding. I took initiative on something the way I and others had done countless times but he was the new boss and wanted control of that thing. When I informed him that I had done X, he exploded at me and threatened to get me fired (not likely I had more political capital in that organization than he did at the moment) and for the only time in the workplace I actually felt physically afraid. It was a physical sensation I can’t even put into words, but my whole body felt assaulted. He didn’t make a physical move towards me but it felt like it. I really feel for people who have to work around bosses who do this regularly or allow co-workers to do so. I lost all respect for this guy that day. And all he had to do was say ‘I know you have done X in the past but I plan to take control of that in the future, so please defer your choices to me on that’ and I would have done so.

          1. Writelhd*

            I am in a work situation right now where a co-worker exploded at another co-worker this way. The result is…co-worker 2 now quit. I was not there during explosion but I have to work closely with both, and hearing that this happened and that co-worker two described feeling not safe as part of why he quit is hugely upsetting to me, because it does not feel like management had done anything about the agressor. Our culture was good before this, now it feels toxic and it kind of floors me that it got this far. Yelling at someone at work should be a hugely disciplinable offense, shouldn’t it?

            1. Doriana Gray*

              Yelling at someone at work should be a hugely disciplinable offense, shouldn’t it?

              You would think so, but I had a manager who routinely yelled at direct reports with no repercussions until years later.

              1. SandrineSmiles (France)*

                Problem with me is that no matter how much someone might claim it’s not directed at me, I would have to be sent straight to my doctor for a panic attack if it happened at work.

                PTSD of sorts from my father who used to yell a lot. I’m now quite sensitive about sounds o_o .

            2. Roscoe*

              I’ll be honest, I think its highly situational. For example, I have a deeper voice that carries, so to some people I’m “yelling” at them, when in my mind I may have raised my voice a bit, but wouldn’t call it yelling. As a guy with a deeper voice, its just going to come across differently than a woman raising her voice by the same margin. So in that sense, its easier for someone to say the felt threatened or attacked than it would be if a woman “yelled” in the same way. Because of that, while I’m not saying its ok, I do think you need to look at why it happened, and what was said, instead of making a blanket statement that yelling at someone is grounds for punishment

              1. GirlBob*

                So maybe don’t… do that? If something you do makes a person feel physically unsafe, that is on you to attempt to limit it, not them. They can’t control the timbre of your potentially threatening voice, but you can. Does it suck to have to take a little more care to moderate something other people might not have to? Sure, but everyone’s got something they have to be aware of in their presentation or actions, often several somethings. This is on you, and if you choose to not attempt to modify something you know can be potentially problematic, then the potential consequences are your choice.

                1. Bibliovore*

                  Roscoe- if someone is brave enough to say…hey, do you know you are yelling, please believe them. Apologize and lower your voice. Please do not justify this behavior as this is just how I am and minimize it.

                  Raising your voice is yelling. Raising your voice – your deeper voice that carries is yelling.
                  Even if you don’t mean it….even if your intention is not to intimidate…even if you are just being passionate. Please do not minimize the effect this behavior has on your co-workers.

            3. HRChick*

              We just terminated someone who lost his temper and began yelling and gesturing at people. One thing I like about this job – they have zero tolerance for those kinds of shenanigans.

    2. CM*

      I’ll respectfully disagree about crying — for some people, this is a physical reaction that they can’t really control. For instance, there was a letter here recently about a woman who, when criticized, would have tears running down her face, but would be carrying on a totally reasonable conversation and explained that she was working on this reaction. I think it’s different than slamming your fists against the desk. I would put tears more in the category of your face turning red. It’s not ideal, but as long as you’re still sitting in your seat, breathing normally, and saying appropriate words in an appropriate tone, I think people should let it go.

      OP, I think the way you phrased your question is a great example of how to communicate professionally — you don’t express anger or blame about your job situation, you just lay it out there in a matter-of-fact way, state your question, and ask for advice.

      Also, if you Google “how to communicate professionally,” a lot of good resources come up.

      1. Roscoe*

        Well, we can agree to disagree. It may take work, just as people have to work on getting their anger management issues under control. But it can be done.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think crying every time you get even mild feedback is unprofessional — for a lot of the same reasons I talk about in this post. The OP in that letter was doing the right thing by trying to be understanding, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not unprofessional and something that the employee really needed to be working on (which she was).

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes. I am an easy crier, and even so, I’ve been able via long hard work to reduce the frequency with which I get weepy at work. It still sometimes happens in unusual circumstances (or when I have a cold, I tend to, ah, ‘leak’ more–although it’s easy enough then to say ‘I’m not upset, I just have a cold and it makes my eyes get teary!’), but where I used to think that it was just an unfixable physiological fact, I’ve found that I have way more control over it than I originally thought.

          1. lionelrichiesclayhead*

            Would you mind sharing some of the things you did to work on reducing the frequency of crying?

            1. The Other Alice*

              Simple tactics like taking a deep breath, pressing a thumbnail against my palm, blinking and looking upwards (particularly at a light) have done wonders for me. That and focusing my mind on the idea that getting negative feedback is not a bad thing: it tells me what I should work on next in just the same way that getting a list of tasks does. I can’t always keep that mindset, but I try and it does help.

            2. Turtle Candle*

              Sure! With the caveat that none of these work immediately all the time; they all take practice.

              There are a few simple physical things I can do. Deep steady breathing and focusing on the breath can interrupt the tight-throat/hitching-chest beginning of tears, for me. Sipping water (some people can just dry swallow, but for me it works best if I have some water) helps interrupt the weeping reflex for me as well–many small sips, and it helps if the water is either very hot or very cold, I think because I can focus on the temperature. Some small physical stimulus (again, like very hot or cold water, or like pressing finger and thumb together, or crossing my toes) that I can focus on helps me stop looping on ‘oh no I’m going to cry’ /’I’m so upset that I’m going to cry in public’/’now I’m MORE upset because I’m worried about it and I’ll DEFINITELY cry’–simply being able to focus on fingertips pressed together or whatever can help break the thought loop. As a last gasp tactic, pinching the tip or bridge of my nose or pressing my fingertips between my eyebrows can help–this is harder to do unobtrusively, but it tends to read more as ‘looking like you have a headache’ than ‘looking like you’re about to cry,’ and that tends to be more socially acceptable? But basically, I find that when I start to feel the tears coming on, being hyper-aware of it makes it worse; finding some other physical sensation to focus on (whether it’s my breathing, drinking some water, or crossing my toes) helps a ton.

              In the longer term, therapy helped a lot. A lot of my weeping fits were based on negative self-talk (it wasn’t so much my boss saying “hey, you goofed up the X report, keep an eye on that in the future” that made me cry, it was the fact that my brain went “she thinks you suck, she thinks you’re terrible, everyone is laughing at you and you’re going to be fired” in response to that mild criticism that tended to start the waterworks–therapy helped me stop jumping immediately to EVERYTHING IS RUINED FOREVERRRR in response to everything). Also, therapy helped me to realize that even if something did go really wrong, I was a strong person and could deal with it, which made even serious issues less of a “oh god my life is over, I cannot cope, must dissolve into tears” meltdown. So yeah, various coping mechanisms around negative self-talk/projection/catastrophizing made a huge difference. (And for people who absolutely cannot manage therapy, for financial or logistical reasons, while they’re not a replacement, there are various CBT-for-anxiety workbooks that I’ve used that can be self-guided as well, that will help you analyze and break down negative self-talk.)

              I still do cry sometimes, of course, and I still cry at like, sad songs on the radio. But I used to be That Person who wept when she was even mildly uncomfortable or embarrassed, and I’m not anymore.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Oh! And also! I used to focus heavily on not crying, to the point of mentally chanting ‘don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry’ to myself. This was actively counterproductive; I was far more likely to cry if I was focusing on Not Crying. Focusing on something else–whether it was my breathing or the feeling of sipping water or something external in the room–was far more effective.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I’ve tried “you’re fine, you’re fine, you’re fine,” and it seems to help me a little. It reminds me that I’m okay even if it doesn’t feel like it.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              Not a true cryer, but I would have a physical reaction to some things. I was not too proud of it. One of several things I did was to use an affirmation, “I will find out what is wrong here and I will fix it.” This was tricky because what if I could not figure out what was wrong, or what if I could not fix it? It took a while of working with this affirmation/commitment for things to change for me.
              As the years rolled by, I learned a bunch of stuff from fixing all these things (LOL) and I also learned that most of the time there IS a path through the problem. This is super important- there IS a path through most problems. Sometimes we don’t believe things can be fixed and this can draw up a bunch of emotions. Making that commitment to learning how to fix our own mistakes can be a great help.

              Currently, I have a boss that thinks I can fix almost anything. I say we dovetail well. I can fill in where she leaves off and she can cover the important stuff. And there are days where we both look at each other and say “I could just cry, right now.” Which brings me to one thing to understand, very few people have gone through their working careers with NO tears. Don’t force yourself to think that you should never, ever cry. If you are putting your all into your job there will probably be days where you want to cry. It’s called being human.

              Just my opinion, but some of the coolest, most capable people I have worked with have been the folks that have had to fix a TON of their own mistakes. They knew every pitfall and they knew how to get out of it. They had a quiet confidence about them, because they knew what ever happened they would some how fix it.

            4. HRChick*

              I cry when I get frustrated or mad. Then I’m mad that I’m crying. Which makes me want to cry more. It’s a horrible cycle.

              One thing I’ve learned, along with other tricks listed here (look at a light, taking deep breaths, focusing on what you can do, etc) is to not be afraid to excuse yourself. Saying “I know we need to address this, but can I have a moment to step out and compose myself?” or, “Do you mind if I have a day to think over/look over your feedback and then we can meet again tomorrow?”

              It is MUCH better to step out, go to the bathroom, and have a private cry than to try to power through it if you haven’t managed that control yet.

              1. B*

                Me too! I definitely angry cry. It’s so hard to fight when it’s coming on! I feel horrified but I can’t stop it, so I remove myself from the situation ASAP.

                1. JulieBulie*

                  I am an angry crier too. I haven’t done it in a long time, fortunately, but I do think it helps to explain “I’m not crying because I’m sad; I just frustrated.”

                  I realize that it is not ideal to tell people that I’m frustrated. But when I’m making an obtrusive display of emotion, I want to make sure the emotion is interpreted correctly. I have found that people often jump to conclusions based on misunderstanding body language.

        2. TootsNYC*

          also, there was a lot of sympathy for that crying employee, but EVERYone said it was unprofessional and that the employee really needed to get it under control. And the employee herself was working with a therapist to get it under control.
          So knowing that it happens and having sympathy for it doesn’t change the concept that it’s not professional, and is not acceptable.

      3. blackcat*

        I do think that many (if not most) people can get a crying response under control with the help of a therapist, even if the crying is a physical response to emotional distress. It’s different than, say, an allergic reaction that causes tears, at least in terms of how other people view it.

        1. Roscoe*

          Excatly. It amazes me how many people say crying is uncontrollable but anger is completely controllable. They are basically 2 different responses to what is often the same stimulus.

          1. Jane*

            You cry on yourself. You take anger out on people. You yell at other people. Your anger is threatens violence (or may include it?). Tears threaten a guilt trip. If you cannot control your anger, you better take it to the bathroom or take a walk outside.

        2. HRChick*

          Well, I can se the difference. Lashing out in anger and hitting things is an action. Tears are a physiological response to stress. It’s much, much harder for some people to stop because it’s their body doing it despite themselves. It’s like turning red – it happens to some people more than others.

          THAT BEING SAID – it takes practice to get control over this physiological response and you absolutely should try in a work environment. It is just as unprofessional as someone hitting their desk in anger. It’s likely to cause others discomfort.

          1. Amy UK*

            I disagree. Tears aren’t a physiological reaction to words, they’re a physiological reaction to the emotions you feel about those words.

            For various reasons, society has decided that hitting things is less acceptable than crying. But in both cases they’re an action (hitting something, actively crying rather than simply welling up) as a response to a physiological reaction (rising temper, tears sprouting) to an emotion (anger, sadness/offence/embarrassment).
            Anger —> Rage —> Hitting things
            Sadness —> Tears well up —> Actively crying/sobbing/weeping

            It’s not that some people out there are inherently programmed to cry at feedback and others aren’t. It’s that some people have made strong associations between feedback and the kind of emotions that make them cry (hurt, offence, embarrassment), while others have overcome that (or never developed the response in the first place). If you cry at feedback or criticism, it shows you have inappropriate and unprofessional emotional issues related to receiving criticism. And that’s why you talk to a therapist or someone else- to work through why you feel that way, and work towards feeling the appropriate emotions. Moving from being hurt/embarrassed/offended by criticism and towards seeing it as an opportunity to make plans to move forward.

            Of course, if the feedback or criticism is abusive or designed to hurt, that’s not the case. Almost anyone will cry if someone is actively trying to make them feel bad. But the focus here was on people who cry at inappropriate/unprofessional times when given perfectly reasonable feedback or even ‘unfair’ feedback in a well-intended manner.

      4. MissCharlene*

        I want to thank you, CM, for acknowledging the uncontrollable crying issue. I have struggled with this for years, and it is quite frustrating, not only for the work environment but for ME. While I can maintain a level of calm, my face shows extreme emotion and tears can fall without my consent. I usually am very easy going and kind and when finally pushed to my limits and react, I get criticized for my “anger”. Working on coping skills and is ongoing and the Original Poster is to be commended for acknowledging and wanting to change for the better!

    3. Wendy Darling*

      At my previous job I had a sympathetic work friend who was my Coffee Walk Buddy. If either of us was particularly frustrated we’d ask the other if they wanted a walk, and we’d walk the four blocks to a cafe and vent ferociously. By the time we got back into the building we had inevitably blown off enough steam to behave like the rational, professional individuals we for the most part are.

      Now I’m working from home and if I get frustrated I change venues or take the dog for a short walk. Heck, I do it if I can’t concentrate, or I’m bored, or I’ve been working on the same problem for a good bit and have made actually zero progress. I find that physically going someplace different and moving my body gets me into a different headspace, and that’s useful for a huge variety of things.

      1. Kat*

        I need to find me one of those! I like stretching my legs, and I’ve just come back from a frustratingly unproductive department meeting (do I really have to listen to the same person rant about the same thing — a thing outside of our control anyway — for 15 minutes out of yet another meeting?). My romantic partner will listen to me vent via text, or after I get home from work, but I’d love to walk and rant! Sigh.

            1. Punkin*

              I think Observer was referencing the person who “rant(s) about the same thing — a thing outside of our control anyway — for 15 minutes out of yet another meeting” .

      2. So Very Anonymous*

        I have two Coffee Walk Buddies for this reason. One is my most chill colleague, one is more a venter like me. The chill one is super-good at distracting me, so coffee walks with her are the best.

  4. Sara M*

    I just want to commend the OP on recognizing the issue and realizing it can be improved.

    We all have issues which make work hard for us, and many of them stem from past problems. You can improve!

    Be patient with yourself and remember that as you progress, you might have a bad day. That doesn’t mean you’ve lost all your progress! Try to avoid thinking in extremes. (Like “I’ve fixed it forever!” Or “I’ll never win, ever!”)

    Slow, steady progress. Good luck!

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Try to avoid thinking in extremes. (Like “I’ve fixed it forever!” Or “I’ll never win, ever!”)

      Wow — not to derail, but this just gave me a lightbulb moment about my weight loss history and the reason I haven’t kept my past weight losses off permanently. The times when I’ve reached my goal weight, I’ve thought, “I’ve fixed this forever!” And then the times when I’ve been overweight and unable to get back on track, the reason I couldn’t get on track was because I was thinking , “I’ll never, ever win!”

      So thanks for saying this. It definitely applies with managing your emotions, too. It reminds me of what Gold Digger said in a recent post, about losing 25 pounds years ago and it taking constant vigilance to keep it off. Self-management of any kind requires constant vigilance. *mind blown*

      1. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

        Read about cognitive distortions! (Not just regarding weight loss, but about so many things in life, including professional reactions at work.) When I first read about them, it was mind-blowing that these were relatively common ways of distorted thinking.

      2. Sarahnova*

        Cognitive behavioural therapy is a lot of looking at these patterns, like tending to think in absolutes: they call it ‘crooked thinking’. There are some great apps and online workbooks you may find helpful which look at helping you spot these crooked thinking patterns and replacing them with more realistic/helpful thoughts. Good luck with your weight management journey.

        1. Hopalong*

          I’ve been trying to work on this. Like, logically I know I’m thinking in absolutes and I need to stop it, but I can’t. I can tell myself, “Hey, stop saying, ‘You’ll never win’. This was a temporary set-back and all you have to do is get back on track and keep going!'”, but that doesn’t seem as “true” as feeling that I’ll never win. I don’t know how to combat this. It’s like I have two brains – the first is logical and knows the truth, and the second absolutely does not believe the first. Wondering if this is something medication could help with.

          1. Jacket*

            I find it really helpful rather than telling myself to stop thinking a certain way to try and have a conversation with the part of myself that is having the thoughts I don’t want. Try talking to the feelings themselves. That part of you that feels you’ll never win, check in with it. What’s going on? Why does it believe that? Is it trying to protect you from something? If you dig around and inquire about the different patterns of feelings inside you may find there’s a much longer trail of emotional logic going back to older beliefs and feelings that are producing the result you see. You may have to ask the parts of you that are scared and frustrated to trust you to handle the situation–you could even frame it like letting them know you appreciate they are trying to help and that they don’t have to be responsible for handling it. “I’ll never win” is a sort of protective statement, because it means you shouldn’t try — i.e. it’s a calculation that the risk of failure is worse than benefits of making an attempt. Some part of you is trying to protect you from something — what is it? disappointment when you ultimately don’t win? disapproval or disconnection from other people? Asking questions like this can help you understand where that thought pattern is emerging from and help you develop a conversational relationship with the pattern where you can have compassion for the part of yourself that is scared/protective and even appreciate the work it’s trying to do for you (and it’s probably a coping strategy you came up with when you were pretty young and it’s probably a really creative solution, it’s just not maybe the most effective solution… or it’s not useful anymore). It allows you to have the feelings and handle the situation. Internal Family Systems Therapy combines really well with CBT to work on this stuff. :)

          2. Batman's a Scientist*

            @Hopalong: Have you been to therapy or are you challenging the distorted thoughts on your own? Because even when I’m working on challenging my own thoughts I always have distortions that I miss and then I go to my therapist and she says “hey, that’s a distorted thought.” It helps to have an outside observer.

            Another thing to work on is core beliefs. Sometimes the negative thoughts are related to a core belief that isn’t being challenged.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I’ve been meaning to look into cognitive or dialectical behavioral therapy. I do pretty well at work; my coworkers actually comment on how calmly and in stride I take things, and my big secret is that I am constantly swirling with emotions on the inside. My main struggle is that I am more relationship oriented and idealistic, and for the job I’m in, I need to make myself behave the way that people who are naturally more task oriented and pragmatic do. I can make myself do it, but it seems like I have to work harder at it than some of the people around me do.

      3. Sara M*

        You’re welcome! Guess how I know about these extremes of thinking.

        Luckily, I’ve fixed this problem forever and it’ll never happen to me again! ;)

      4. Not So NewReader*

        Watching that self-talk is soooo important. And sadly, there is no one inside our heads with us to help guard us from the nasty things we say to ourselves. We can say what we want inside our heads and no one stops us. But the surprise is, we defeat our own selves when we load up on negative thoughts.

        1. AlyInSebby*

          Self talk is so important!

          I’ve taken to thanking myself-for completing a task, making a healthy dinner, changing my reaction to something.

          “Thank you for having a coke right now, might not be the best choice but I feel really good in this moment.”

          “Thank you for making that choice around $ budget. I know it’s a compromise and I appreciate that you made a short term decision that supports that bigger goal.”

          I also refute my inner critic. “I can’t believe I made that mistake again!” “Well, there’s something here you haven’t fine tuned yet. Let’s see if I can fix/change it.”

          “I failed at X AGAIN!” “No, I didn’t, I changed this part of that loop. I’m still struggling but I can see the change when I look at B.”

          I’ve created a kind of bio-feedback exercise when I play an online game on my phone – if I miss a big bonus play and I think, “You’re so stupid how did you miss that!?” I can now observe myself in real time-ish and respond “Well there’s a lot going on, sometimes it’s hard to see the bonus when you are in the midst of the action. How can you slow this down for better response?”

          Once upon a time I had a really good mindfulness practice and due to LIFE I lost it. This is now as close as I get. Try the thanking yourself part, it seems silly but I feel SO good when I do it. Any good emotional points you can give yourself start to build up to longer term positive thinking.

          Remember that anger, stress, anxiety, depression and PTSD lie to us, our inner critic is not our friend-it lies too as others have noted here.

          It can sometimes feels so silly and I still find myself/critic trying to diminish my thanks a small positive gains, but I’m getting there too.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. Kudos to you, OP, for recognizing and working to fix this!

      The current book I’m waving in everybody’s face is “Presence” by Amy Cuddy – which I was suspicious of because I hate the kind of buzz-word-y business book that tends to get pushed on you at a certain career level – but it’s really fantastic for talking about ways you can use your physical posture and well-being to help manage your emotions.

  5. Rowan*

    This is an ideal situation where seeing a therapist can be useful. They can help you figure out where those reactions are coming from and work out alternative behaviours of the sort that Alison suggested.

    1. LiptonTeaForMe*

      I was going to suggest that as well. It makes a huge difference when you do not know how to react or what is acceptable to mirror someone else. And it also helps to role play through difference scenarios so that the reaction becomes ingrained so you don’t go off the deep end as an automatic response. It is like when I was a kid, mom used to say God Damn It…thankfully I got in the habit of saying God Bless It…now that pops out of my mouth before I even think about it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Thank you for this. I have a friend who says GDI every ten minutes all day long. I am going to tell him this one.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Agreed. Seeing a therapist doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re “badly wired” or whatever — they can function as a sort of “professional friend” who gives you space to vent without worrying about messing up your personal or work relationships, and then gives you feedback on handling them going forward.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I have many times referred to therapy as Coping Skills School. Even if you don’t have any kind of significant mental health issue, if you have a set of behaviors that is serving you poorly in your life a therapist can probably help you come up with some alternative ways to behave and put those into action.

        1. Jacket*

          THIS THIS THIS Therapy can be helpful in a crisis, but you can also go to therapy when there isn’t an immediate crisis and gain a bunch of emotional tools so you don’t need therapy to handle the crisis. A therapist can be sort of like a lifeguard, someone who swims out to you when you’re flailing around in the ocean and gives you an inflatable rafty thing to cling to so you can swim back into shallower water (although unlike a lifeguard, a therapist can’t actually haul you out of the water and put you in a boat and take you back to land, you have to swim home yourself, all they can do is coach you.) But you can also go to a a therapist for swimming lessons so you know what to do when you end up in the water, and you can swim around the rocky bits and maybe recognize the dangerous currents and avoid them.

    3. KG*

      Agreed! I was experiencing a ton of frustration with a couple coworkers who, in my opinion, were incompetent, required a lot of hand holding, couldn’t make decisions, were disruptive, wasted company time, etc. I didn’t manage them or even work directly with them for the most part but it bothered me profoundly. I had a lot of anger over higher ups and the company not dealing with these people. Through therapy I found that as someone who grew up in a hyper-critical house where I was held to a high standard anything you did ‘wrong/sub-standard’ was a big deal and dealt with immediately. I realized I was playing the role of critical parent and it was triggering something in me to be around people who behaved inappropriately without consequences. I wasn’t acting on it, but it was making me unhappy and I now try to recognize it and let it go.

      1. Hamster*

        Omg this is me. I ve come
        To let it go but it left a bitter taste. Why all the hypercritical childhood? I m trying to be more relaxed with me to compensate…

      2. Cristina in England*

        I am having my own light bulb moment, thanks! Is this why I get obsessively annoyed by people who litter and leave their trash bins out when they’re not supposed to?

        1. AlyInSebby*

          I’m going to post this multiple places:

          Self talk is so important!

          I’ve taken to thanking myself-for completing a task, making a healthy dinner, changing my reaction, thinking any better thought.

          “Thank you for having a coke right now, might not be the best choice but I feel really good in this moment.”

          “Thank you for making that choice around $ budget. I know it’s a compromise and I appreciate that you made a short term decision that supports that bigger goal.”

          I also refute my inner critic. “I can’t believe I made that mistake again!” “Well, there’s something here you haven’t fine tuned yet. Let’s see if I can fix/change it.”

          “I failed at X AGAIN!” “No, I didn’t, I changed this part of that loop. I’m still struggling but I can see the change when I look at B.”

          I’ve created a kind of bio-feedback exercise when I play an online game on my phone – if I miss a big bonus play and I think, “You’re so stupid how did you miss that!?” I can now observe myself in real time-ish and respond “Well there’s a lot going on, sometimes it’s hard to see the bonus when you are in the midst of the action. How can you slow this down for better response?”

          Once upon a time I had a really good mindfulness practice and due to LIFE I lost it. This is now as close as I get. Try the thanking yourself part, it seems silly but I feel SO good when I do it. Any good emotional points you can give yourself start to build up to longer term positive thinking.

          So important for those of us from hyper critical families/work places and for trying to tune down and out the negative and let the positive in.

      3. BeenThere*

        Oh crap, this is my whole year in new job.

        I scored a job in an industry I’ve been dying to bust into which has a reputation for being difficult to crack and filled with smart high performing people. I then have been super annoyed that very few of my coworkers are high performing and that no one is addressing it.

    4. RVA Cat*

      This. You may benefit greatly from therapy, and possibly from medication such as an anti-depressant. I’ve had some similar struggles in the past, and going on an SSRI was life-changing. In my experience, it’s helped the emotions stop being so overwhelming (so I have just enough time to think before acting on them) and getting rid of the baseline churn of anxiety (think of an engine idling too fast; it’s also lowered my blood pressure).

      1. blackcat*

        For me, the baseline churn of anxiety went away when I stopped taking birth control pills (I am now an IUD evangelist). I just thought that what I was experiencing was normal, even though it caused overreactions of the type the OP described.
        Biology is weird. OP, you may find some weird, biological quirk, too. Don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor.

        1. Black tail*

          Second this! I had a mild tooth infection that went undetected and untreated for a couple years. I was absolutely amazed at how my emotions were not on a trigger when I finally got the right antibiotics.

          1. Julia*

            Now you’ve got me scared that my dentist is missing something important. How was your infection found in the end?

        2. fposte*

          Ha. In a similar vein, I found menopause quite calming. Not everybody’s experience, but it was mine.

        3. PoorDecisions101*

          One week before my period that goes away once it starts, I get the same way with the overreactions and becoming a crazy person.

          I find taking triple the general daily magnesium dosage ~300mg relieves my symptoms completely. Just last week, the day after I took the magnesium, what frustrated me the day before, just became amusing instead. It’s taking me over 30 years before deciding to mark when I have my period, but I’ve decided even 1 day a month of being a crazy person is unacceptable and now I have a way to deal with it.

          1. Bibliovore*

            Yup- knowing where you are on your cycle can do wonders for the emotional reactions. I was a big work cryer before I figured this out. Don’t schedule any important deadlines that week (or get the work done the week before even if you have to do overtime) Count to ten before speaking in a meeting. Use the words, “I’ll have to get back to you on that” When someone is pressing for agreement and you need more time- ” I see your point” and ” let me check the schedule”

            And the good news- menopause fixed all of it for me. (perimenopause however was hell)

    5. SH*

      Yoga/meditation has helped me learn how to control my emotions and when I feel criticized (or whatever emotion the situation is triggering) I take a few breaths, accept how I feel and let it go. The holistic approach doesn’t work for everyone but I thought I’d throw it out there with the excellent therapy suggestion.

    6. my two cents*

      I’ve had issues with emotional outbursts or reactions for years, and seeing a therapist 6-7yrs ago helped quite a bit. They equipped me with some good scripts and skills that helped quite a bit. And honestly, it’s really great to have an unbiased 3rd party validate your emotions.

      A year ago, I felt like I had most of that under control but it still bothered me that my knee-jerk response was still something I had to ‘manage’. I finally went to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with mild add, which also can come with deep empathy, issues w/impulse control, and emotional responses. Straterra seriously changed my life at 31 years old – I had managed around most of the other quirks for so long, the meds just handle that last 20%. This is the healthiest I’ve ever felt.

  6. Anonymous Poster*

    Good luck OP!

    I struggle with taking feedback personally. I know that this is something that’s very Not Good and A Thing. Recognizing it really is huge! I’m working through it and though it’s a struggle, it’s really, really helpful in my career. Now that you’ve recognized it, I hope that you can work through it too and also see success.

    1. Mirilla*

      I struggle with this too, mainly because for most of my career I have been able to work pretty much independently. It’s hard for me to not take things personally.

  7. Panama*

    This is something I’m struggling with right now, and I would love to hear suggestions from anyone on HOW to manage your emotions and avoid taking things personally.

    I do think I’m pretty good at addressing things in the moment (that are appropriate to address), as well as keeping a calm, professional tone throughout the day. But inside I’m feeling extremely frustrated and have caught myself fantasizing about doing all of these things (disengaging, crying, throwing a temper tantrum), and after a certain point I’m really worried one of them is actually going to happen. Plus it’s costing way more emotional expenditure keeping my emotions in check than it should, and I’m exhausted, burnt out, and feeling massively undervalued.

    Does anyone have any tips on how to actually let it go?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I try to tell myself that most hostility comes from a place of misunderstanding, not ill intent. MOST people aren’t attacking you just because they hate you. They’re probably attacking you because they don’t understand some fundamental thing. If you can clear that up, you can move forward. Or maybe they’re being hateful because they’re having a terrible day or week. The point is that it’s probably much more about them than it is about you. So try having a little compassion for them even if you want to strangle them. It will probably help make things feel less personal.

      1. OhNo*

        Agree with this. Whenever I get really frustrated with people, and start feeling like they’re “out to get me” or whatever ill intent I’m imagining, I just repeat Hanlon’s razor in my head: “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.

        I’ll admit, the other person’s response is usually a reasonable reaction based off of incomplete information, not actual stupidity. But sometimes thinking that they’re just being stupid helps me get over the hump of “I’m being attacked!” and into a mindset where I can actually appraise and address their response appropriately.

      2. MC*

        For me, one of the angriest days of my career was when someone did personally attack me in a performance review. Issues that had never been brought to my attention and were, in my opinion, written using very inflammatory language. Rather than confront the bastard (and he was) I just very simply replied that I would review and provide feedback as I did not feel that what he wrote adequately described the circumstances. He started to get angry and say that we had to do the review right then and I had to accept it and I very sternly and calmly said “No, I do not accept what you have written. We will not be discussing this now. I will provide my feedback and we can discuss this when you return from your three week vacation.” Oh, did I mention that he threw this review at me 1/2 hour before our discussion and on the last day he was in the office before going out for three weeks? And that I was leaving the project so wouldn’t be on the project when he returned? Yeah. Bastard.

        Then I walked out of his office and went to my desk and just continued on as if nothing had happened. I am good at compartmentalizing I guess.

        Later I spoke to his manager and explained that while he made valid points the issues had never been discussed with me and that he was using extremely vicious language that without context would give me a rating well in the bottom of the pool which was not warranted. Later, his manager came back to me and agreed with my assessment and said that my professionalism was very appreciated. Ultimately, by keeping my cool (at least on the outside) I came across as competent and professional while bastard appeared vindictive and cowardly (for the sending to me right before walking out the door). As it turned out the client asked me to stay on so his manager became my manager because I refused to report to him further. My new manager and I rewrote the performance appraisal so that it was accurate but much more balanced in the issues and actions to improve.

    2. CaliCali*

      I have been working on this a lot myself, in part because I was dealing with a toxic boss who delighted in tearing people down and building them back up (well, she THOUGHT she was doing the last part, but did not do so well). A lot of it comes down to: quit intertwining your personal worth with your work.

      I think especially in our work-as-identity society, we can get very wrapped up in the idea that our performance at work is a referendum on who we are as people. While our work might reflect certain attributes of our nature, we’re have inherent worth far beyond what we contribute at the office. But when you intertwine those concepts, you can’t help but take things personally, because you’re tying your work performance into part of your ego and personal identity. So if you get criticism of your work, it feels like criticism of you. If a coworker is brusque re: a work issue, you read it as brusque because they don’t like you. And so on.

      I had a mantra when dealing with the toxic boss: “I am good at my job. I am more than my job.” It got me through a lot, and allowed me to deal with incredibly frustrating and terrible situations with the necessary calm. It’s not perfect — I had a few rounds of crying myself, albeit in private — but it also serves the purpose of allowing me to BE better at work because less of my personal idea of worth was at stake.

      1. Chrissie*

        I completely agree with separating your self-value from what goes on at work!

        The next step for me was to assume good intent from boss and coworkers. If I felt myself getting defensive, my internal dialogue was something like “why does she criticize my work so? Since she has the best intention, it must be a genuine desire to improve the work product. But I don’t see what flaws she finds with it!” And suddenly, I spoke stuff like “Help me to understand what exactly you dislike about the phrasing here, maybe I can come up with an alternative”. After you repeat this a bunch of times, you start actually believing that there are good intentions!

      2. Eugenie*

        This is so, so true! At my last job I live, slept, and breathed my work. We were doing Important Things! We were Helping People! We were Making the World a Better Place! We had an International Reputation!

        That all meant that I had NO life outside of work and any criticism was impossible not to take personally. Now I’m at a new job with a different organization that’s still doing important work, but it’s not nearly so full of itself and I’m not as passionate about the cause. That’s really helped me separate my work from my personal life and really think about work objectively. I honestly don’t care about the petty drama because this job doesn’t define me. I take the constructive criticism to do things better and let the rest just roll right off me.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          This. I was too passionate about the work I was doing in my last position, so when my boss started criticizing my work, it felt like an attack (and it turned out to be one, but that’s another story). If I had found a way to care less about the job, I think I could have rolled with some of the crazy that was sent my way. I’m in a job now that I really like, but don’t love, and I can already tell the difference in how I respond to feedback.

      3. Panama*

        All of this advice has been so helpful – especially yours about being more than your job, CaliCali. I work in a highly-competitive and freelance “dream industry”, so my self-identity is especially wrapped up in my work, because by its nature you tend to have to put a lot of yourself into it, and also partially because I’ve sacrificed a lot over the years to continue to work in the industry, and finally because there is no job security so you always want to make sure that you are doing as good of a job as possible across all fronts, because you never know where your next job is coming from (or if it’s coming at all!)

        It’s also interesting thinking of it as being associated with being an overachiever – which I totally am, probably to my detriment. But I thought of overachiever-ness as a separate trait from my emotions, not associated with them. I also think it’s interesting because as I’m thinking about my interactions with people at work, I think maybe I work with a lot of people who are exactly like me – so we set ourselves off in a never-ending loop of defensiveness. For instance, my job right now deals with a lot of logistics, so I’m often asking questions/catching things/pointing out things that higher-ups haven’t thought of yet. When I do this, I except the reaction that they will be grateful and recognize what a good job I’m doing – but I’m just realizing that they’re likely feeling criticized for not doing *their* job properly (like I likely would if the roles were reversed). So then they get defensive, and then I get defensive because I feel like they hate me and I can’t understand why they hate me so much when all I’m trying to do is do a good job. Ugh what a vicious cycle. But I never really recognized it for what it was before, so thank you so much everyone!

        (There’s a separate issue where I also feel like my direct boss is a chronic *under*achiever but he gets all the credit for the work I do, but that’s a separate issue and I’m going to take my aha moments where I can get them!)

      4. Bibliovore*

        My Job Is Not My Life

        and I can do anything for 12 hours that would appall me if I had to do it for a lifetime

        and This too shall pass.

    3. smallness*

      Fantasizing really doesn’t hurt you (as long as you can keep a relatively even keel while doing it.) If you’re worried one is going to happen, but it doesn’t, then it shows that you really do have more self-control than you might feel like you do. Emotions end; they don’t last forever, even though it happens in the moment. Professional therapy as well as mindfulness meditation have been really useful for me in growing that skill. I was definitely the OP in my 20s, and had a come to Jesus moment with a performance review that really changed my approach to work overall (to the better.) I remain thankful to this day that I had a manager that was actually willing to talk to me about emotions — none of them had been to that point.

      Having said that, the burnout could be a signal that maybe it’s just not the right fit, and it might be time to start looking for another job.

    4. Isben Takes Tea*

      I’ve worked on this the last year with DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), and the crux of it is that there are three parts to any reaction: the facts, your interpretations of those facts, and your actions. Usually what happens when I have problems with my reactions (at work and other places), is that you are basing your actions based on your interpretation of the facts, without checking the facts themselves.

      For example, if I get an email from my boss saying she’d prefer it if I no longer loop Wakeen in on emails relating to Teapot Backorders, I can immediately spiral into “AAAH I HAVE BEEN DOING THINGS WRONG” and get either defensive or overly apologetic, because my interpretation of her actions is that she’s disappointed in my past actions. If I actually stop to check the facts and physically ask myself, “What has just happened?” The answer is that “My boss has asked me to change a procedure moving forward.” I can even ask myself, “Has my boss expressed disappointment in my behavior?” so I can answer, “NO.” The simple reaction to that is to . . . change the procedure moving forward.

      Some cognitive behavioral or dialectical behavioral therapy workshops can be very useful in giving you some frameworks for identifying behavior patterns or skills to interrupt harmful behavioral patterns, but it’s just a matter of mindfulness and practice.

      Good luck!

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        This is GREAT information. Thanks so much! I’ll definitely pass it on to my husband. He is SUPER emotional and takes things personally on a regular basis. This is a great way to step back and assess most, if not every, situation.

      2. That IT Manager*

        This is just brilliant. What a very concrete way of stepping back and reviewing a situation intellectually rather than emotionally.

      3. Hopalong*

        I appreciate this, but what happens when part of you just can’t agree with this logical presentation of facts? I could say to myself, “Has my boss expressed disappointment in my behavior?” and logically be able to answer that with a no, but somewhere else inside of me says, “Hey, logical brain, I don’t believe you. I’m gonna just go ahead and proceed as if you have no idea what you’re talking about because you don’t.” And then, even though logically I know my boss just asked me to make this little change, another part of me is absolutely devastated that I messed up and my boss hates me. How do you accept logical brain’s truth when another part of you is fighting so hard against it?

        1. Amber T*

          Ditto to this! This is so hard for me, both in the work place and in my personal life. I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, and it’s such a sucky feeling when you’re going through an attack to have part of your brain going “why are you freaking out, there’s literally nothing wrong, stop it” and the rest of you is going “I knooowww but whyyyy aaahhhh.”

          When it’s a full on panic attack (which I luckily have not had in a while and thankfully never at work) there’s nothing I can do except ride it out. But when it’s a regular thing where I logically know the answer but I want to get emotional over it, I pretend I’m Spock. I kid you not, my thought process is “how would Spock handle this?” And I do that. I don’t even like Star Trek that much, but Spock has always interested me.

        2. smallness*

          Mindfulness meditation can really help with that. Just because logical brain is saying something doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but you also don’t have to deny its existence either. The more you deny it, the stronger it gets.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Yes! I honestly made very little progress in therapy until he tried having me explore mindfulness. And it was incredible.

            1. Hopalong*

              I’ve been taking a stab at this, but it sort of works out like this:

              Silently, in my head: “Hey, remember that time you fell down the stairs in seventh grade?”
              Okay, let’s accept that thought. Yes, I remember. It was sad. Okay, now, thought, be gone! Go. Go on. Why aren’t you leaving? Whoosh, be gone! Why am I so bad at this? I’m so bad at everything. Ack! That’s another bad thought. Okay, accept the thought. Now, let it go! Go! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!


              1. Katie the Fed*

                So when you’re telling the thought to be gone, that’s where things go wrong. Just hold onto that thought. Like – I hate giving presentations. When I’m really worried about one, I’ll sit and focus on that feeling of worry. I feel it right in the bottom of my gut. And I focus on it, and focus on the feeling in my gut, and just kind of hold on to that, and then it just kind of melts away. I can’t quite explain how it works, but it really does for me. I’m not telling myself not to feel it. I’m actually embracing it. I’m feeling the crap out of that emotion. And then it just dissipates.

              2. JB (not in Houston)*

                I agree with what Katie the Fed said. I found this book to be helpful:
                “The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert. I didn’t agree with all of it, but it had some useful tools.

              3. Not So NewReader*

                You can’t demand the thought to be gone. See, there are emotions attached to the thought and they don’t just pack their bags and leave on demand. Emotions move in and take up residence. Kind of like mice.

                Using your stair example, I’d delve a little deeper if it did not shake off for me.
                That would look like this:
                “I fell down the stairs in 7th grade. Bump, bump, bump. My elbow hurts, my head hurts. Bump, bump, crap. now my spine hurts. oh no, when is the pain going to stop, why did I hit the wall with my toe? Now my toe hurts. shit. I have to stop falling at some point.
                OH! I think I have stopped falling…good. OH NO! They are all staring at me and LAUGHING. My body hurts every where and now I am embarrassed and my feelings are hurt. Why aren’t they helping me?!”

                “Yes, I fell down the stairs and it hurt my body, my feelings and I felt really powerless.”[Acknowledge these feelings, but stop there. Just acknowledge the feelings over and over, no editorial comments.]

                The next thing you tell yourself is “That is in the past. It is not happening any more. It is over.” [Again, don’t put in subjective comments. Just tell yourself it is over now, which is true. You are not falling down the stairs at the moment.]

                Take one stair type story at a time. Don’t just make lists of all the times you were embarrassed/in pain/etc in life. Just take one story at a time and acknowledge, “yeah. That hurt.” Feel the moment. Picture it in your head. Then move on to another moment if you wish.

                Remember, like in your stair example, there are things that happen that most people would feel physical pain and embarrassment. Reassure yourself of this…”hey, most people would feel x and y in situation A.”

        3. irritable vowel*

          I completely agree. A therapy that is basically telling people “just be rational!” completely ignores that generalized or situational anxiety is caused by an inability to be rational. It’s like saying to someone in a wheelchair, “just get up and walk!” (Which works fine if your problem is that you’re spending too much time worrying about if you have enough time to get there, but not if you’re actually, you know, paralyzed.)

        4. Katie the Fed*

          So, I’m not a therapist, but when I was in therapy we explored this very thing. I used to have big issues because I wanted everyone to like and approve of me. Without getting into all the family history behind that, he told me to do something that helped a lot – explore those fears to their conclusion.

          So – ok, what if your fear is true and your boss does hate you. So what? Work through that. What does it mean. Does it mean you’re going to get fired? OK, so you get fired, then what? You’ll survive, right? Your boss hating you actually isn’t the worse thing in the world.

          He actually made me do this with one. Katie, what if everyone in the world really hated you? Tell me what that would be like. OK – I’d have no friends. I wouldn’t have anyone to go do things with. I’d have to eat alone in restaurants. I’d have trouble at work. I’d have to pay people to help me because nobody would want to. But in the end – it turns out I’d be ok. I’d be able to eat and live and support myself and I’d have my dog and my house and I’d be just fine.

          1. Hopalong*

            Well, if *everyone* hated you actively, they would be apt to poison your food and then you’d die and that would actually be the worst thing.
            And no one would ever rent or sell a home to you because they hated you.
            Also your dog would hate you too.

            You can see how being in my head is problematic. :)

          2. Ihmmy*

            are you me? Because my therapist did a very similar thing.. had me play out the worst case scenario (grandma and everyone I love is super disappointed in me), how I would manage it. Then look at the odds of that even happening, think about what’s more realistic, how you’d handle that, etc.

            1. Jacket*

              There’s the added element too of “grandma being disappointed in you” isn’t about you, it’s about grandma and grandma’s expectations etc and you get to decide whether grandma’s expectations are ones you actually want/need to live up to or not.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            Going into worst case scenario is an excellent tool. And it’s a great short cut, also. Because usually something happens that is NOT worst case and it is much easier to plan what to do for this “smaller” problem. The way it was explained to me is that you take the hardest scenario you can think of and build a plan. Then you are done. Because after going through the exercise of how to solve the hardest problem you have also figured out how to solve the lesser problems that might occur.

            I use this technique with a friend and I really tick him off. I think I have to do a better job explaining the technique.

            I have used this technique many times. “Boss hates me and he is going to fire me.” Okay so what if I get fired. After a bit, I realized, “hey, I came here looking for a job so out I will go looking for a job. Nothing has changed. I will get through it.”

            1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

              This is precisely why I’m a worst case scenario person. If I’m prepared for months of unemployment, I’m prepared for a few weeks between graduation and a job. If I’ve thought about how to go about a bad diagnosis for my pregnancy, I’m ready for a few minor hiccups.

          4. Murphy*

            explore those fears to their conclusion.
            This is what I’ve done to deal with some of the trauma and anxiety I still suffer from with respect to my car accident. My therapist said, “ok, so let’s assume worst case… you’re husband is killed in a car accident. So now what? What do you do? Work the plan and then shelve it away.”

            It helped me to not stop worrying entirely, but to know that I have resources to deal with it and a plan and then I can put it on a shelf to not bother me again.

        5. AlyInSebby*

          Logical brain lies!

          Stress, anxiety, depression all make crazy lying critics of our emotional systems.

          Challenge ‘logical brain’. “Is that really true?” “why?” “why not?”

          Even if the logical thought makes sense you can dial it down – “Oh, well this part is good feedback, I can look at X and see I could improve that task. But I am not failing at everything, that’s not true or fair.”

          I defend myself to myself, most often the logical or critical thought is at least 50% not true.

          I’m from California so I guess I’m touchy feely and I live in an even more ‘Crunchy new age culture’ type place. There’s a bumper sticker I used to think was very silly and way to crunchy
          “Be Really Gentle with Yourself.”

          Now that’s a mantra or a question. “Are you being gentle with yourself on this?” “Could I be kinder? How?”

          We really can be our own therapists, but therapy can help one start on the mindfulness path. It is so HELPFUL to have a person whose profession is our minds and emotions tell you that you aren’t a horrible failure and build up from there.

      4. Wendy Darling*

        Can we just sit here for a moment and ponder how DBT is amazing? Because it is amazing.

      5. Chalupa Batman*

        Thanks for sharing this! I’d never heard of DBT, but it lines up well with what’s worked for me. Whenever my inner chronic overachiever that needs to be perfect all the time faces criticism, she turns into a hot mess. At work, hot mess is not an option. I’ve learned that when I get to breakdown point, I need to mentally separate my interpretation of what’s happening (“I’m going to get FIRED everyone HATES ME the SKY IS FALLING!”) from the facts of the situation (“I did X, I need to do Y”) and just address the facts. Once that’s done, I can deal with my feelings, whether that’s clarifying something once I’m calm, crying it out under my desk for a few minutes, whatever. It’s usually pretty easy to talk myself down once the situation’s resolved. The pressure of the problem is off, and it’s clear that no one is mad at me-it’s hard to see how low the stakes are when you’re in panic mode.

    5. TheAngryGuppy*

      A tactic I use in these cases (to much success) is to play the role of the alien anthropologist, observing the strange and nonsensical behaviors of this group of people (if they’re really awful you can imagine that you’re observing them just before their sun explodes and destroys their terrible planet). It helps to distance yourself from the impact of their behavior, so you can be coolly observant rather than embroiled in their drama.

      Alternatively, if you are feeling more compassionate, you can ask yourself: “In what universe does this behavior make sense?” As Katie the Fed pointed out, most crap comes from misunderstanding or just a different perspective rather than ill intent. Asking yourself this questions allows you to construct an alternative narrative for WHY they’re behaving the way that they do, which is almost undoubtedly not about you. You alternative narrative might be true which will make you more understanding and possibly better able to sort out your mutual problem that is causing this friction. Or, your alternative narrative might be complete fiction, but it still takes the sting out of the assumption that they’re doing whatever they annoying thing is AT you.

    6. AndersonDarling*

      I just remember that even though someone is talking to me, it isn’t about me. It’s about work.
      One of my first jobs was as a fit model (a human mannequin) and I would try on clothes and designers commented on them. They would say terrible things about some of the clothes and how they fit and the words were directed at me because they were looking in my direction, but it wasn’t about ME.
      Whenever something happens with my work and I get bad feedback, I just remember that they are talking about the report, about my work, and not ME personally.

    7. Rob Lowe can't read*

      I find that naming my emotions (usually to myself, but sometimes to others as appropriate) and the source of that emotion helps me to recenter and deal with my emotions professionally and productively. Saying it out loud is a way of releasing it, I guess. If I can go in my office, or into the bathroom (it’s a single), or to my mentor and say out loud, “I’m feeling frustrated because of X,” or “I’m disappointed by how situation Y played out,” I find that I’m better primed to think or talk about the next steps I need to take.

  8. The Other Dawn*

    I’d add, also, that if you’re a worrier, please don’t voice every worry you have about the work, the company, the people, etc. It just fires up the gossip mill and gets people worrying about things that may or may not come to fruition.

  9. chocolate lover*

    “that makes me think this is coming from a deep-rooted place in you, like possibly a family who didn’t teach you how to advocate for yourself in a healthy, functional way (either not modeling those behaviors themselves, or teaching you through their own behavior that it wouldn’t matter if you tried).”

    This totally resonates with me. I did not have positive role models of healthy, productive coping mechanisms.

    1. Chriama*

      This was my first assumption too, and I’m surprised I didn’t see therapy as one of Alison’s recommendations. Being unable to control emotional outbursts to the point of destroying several relationships sounds to me like something fundamental about your personality needs to be identified and addressed. Everyone gets upset sometimes, but most people manage to keep it in check enough to at least function in a typical workplace environment.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, I should have. That’s what I was getting at with “this might be coming from a deep-rooted place in you,” but I should have been clearer.

    2. Mimmy*

      Same here. To be sure, I had a wonderful upbringing, but my parents were strict with all of us and were overprotective of me.

    3. Lily Puddle*

      “…like possibly a family who didn’t teach you how to advocate for yourself in a healthy, functional way…”

      This is so very much me. I’ve had to work really hard on learning how to advocate for myself in a calm, professional manner, especially when faced with co-workers who clearly never learned that skill, either. If this is your issue, good luck, LW! It’s not easy to learn. But I second what others have said about therapy being a way to help. Start small and practice working up to big issues.

      1. AVP*

        Thanks to this thread I have literally just realized that the reason I don’t know how to do any of this stuff properly is because my parents don’t either and it seems like a foreign culture. I’ve been trying to copy my boss’s reaction to things because he is great at it, but you all are helping me to realize that there’s sort of a deeper framework for handling these things that would be really helpful to develop.

    4. sammithecat*

      Me too. My dad had to retire very early because he had caused so much trouble at his long-term job that they appeared to be looking for a way to fire him. I grew up with his stories of how work sucks, bosses suck, co-workers suck, and how he played tricks on people (which he retold with glee) or got into verbal fights at work. My mom told me a chilling story about how he caused a co-worker to have a nervous breakdown. (He anonymously harassed the man by sending him hand-drawn comics that made fun of him over a long period of time.) He was about to be fired at the end of his career because he harassed some fellow employees about their “dumb” vote in a contract negotiation.

      It was such a horrible model. It’s very damaging to kids who grow up with one or more parents who view work like this. For the most part, I’ve done ok in my career, with some bumps, but when I think about some of the times I’ve had conflict with co-workers, I see my dad’s “put up your dukes” influence. Luckily, my mom was the opposite–well-liked, competent, and professional.

      1. Artemesia*

        Wow. Your poor Mom. I come from Scotch Irish stock with an ingrained culture of dukes up chip on my shoulder behavior and responses to all criticism as if it were a major personal assault. It took me awhile to learn to become mature about such things and the instinct to personalize is still there. At least you have a good example as well as a bad one to learn from.

        1. sammithecat*

          >>the instinct to personalize

          That’s a great way to put it, as well as having a chip on your shoulder.

          Yes, I’m so thankful I had my mom. (She’s happily remarried. :) )

        2. I'm a Little Teapot*

          I’ve often said that there simply isn’t any way to take things other than personally, but my response to criticism is seldom anger – it’s anxiety, guilt, and self-hatred. I think it’s a me problem though, rather than anything to do with my family.

          1. Jacket*

            Maybe! Even the most well-adjusted, well-meaning, wonderful parents do things (or don’t do things) that impede their kids emotional growth. We can’t help but pass on our own patterns to our offspring. Then again plenty of people end up with very different temperaments from their families.

            Not taking things personally is not a magic talent, it’s a skill. It isn’t easy, and learning how may open a can of worms you don’t feel like looking at. But it’s worth trying, because anxiety, guilt, and self-hatred are no fun and hurt a lot and you aren’t actually stuck with them.

      2. Sammie*

        OMG are you my other life twin! My Dad bragged about fights, terrible pranks and plain-old racist meanness. He was eventually “laid-off” but even I knew he was fired.

        1. sammithecat*

          Ha, apparently! Yeah, my dad is pretty racist too. Ugh. I feel sorry for anyone who had to work with him, and ashamed. The one sad gift this has given me is seeing how not to treat people, and seeing the consequences for being the kind of employee he was.

    5. Ad Astra*

      Me too! My mom has struggled with mental illness and one of her issues is that she reacts to bad news/criticism/rejection/poor customer service with an emotional outburst. It took me a few years of adulthood to realize my methods of taking things personally, crying, and getting into a heated conversation (often via text or email) was not the way to manage my personal or professional relationships. Growing up, that was how you demonstrated that you cared about the person or issue at hand. (And, to a lesser extent, a lot of dramatic movies and TV shows tended to reinforce this as a viable approach.)

      Of course, I’ve also found it easier to control my emotions at work now that I’m at a job I actually like.

  10. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

    Good for you for recognizing this and hoping to change it – and good luck!

    While I don’t have temper tantrums or anything super dramatic, I can definitely have an attitude problem if I disagree with something or am annoyed – more along the lines of sulking or disengaging, which isn’t any less unprofessional. It’s something I definitely need to work on.

  11. Katie the Fed*

    OP – you describe yourself as empathetic – that’s great! I’m almost off the charts on the N and F on the Myers Briggs so I totally get you. I feel things REALLY strongly and and I care so much!

    I think if you focus on your empathy you can really use it to help you get your emotions in check. Instead of focusing how how frustrated you’re feeling – think about the other people involved and what they need in order to come to a resolution.

    So for example – I just got a super snarky, unprofessional email from someone about 5 minutes ago. My urge is to write back and tear them a new one and point out who totally WRONG they are and how dare they, and yadda yadda. But, if I do that, it’s just going to make them more upset and then the situation is going to spiral, and in the end nothing gets done. Whereas if I respond with a face-saving response for them like “Oh, I think there might have been a misunderstanding on the nature of this project – it’s actually yadda yadda ” – it depersonalizes the situation, gives them a chance to save face, and most importantly allows the project to move on. And sometimes I need a minute to calm down first – I’ll pop over to AAM to distract myself for a second before I respond.

    Does that make sense? It’s ok to care about your work – you should care! You put a lot of yourself in it. But that caring can be bad if you express it in the wrong way.

  12. CaliCali*

    I think it’s an artificial conflation that’s causing part of the problem – that controlling your emotions means you’re denying them, and you are likely an honest person who, at your core, believes things need to be felt and expressed (probably relating to your empathetic nature — you’re picking up on everyone else’s frustrations as well). Like Alison repeatedly mentioned, it’s more about channeling them in a way that’s considerate of other people. Everyone understands that work can be frustrating and that personalities you deal with can be tiring and aggravating. Every single person you work with has likely had the same emotions you’ve had, or varying degrees of the same sentiments. You’ve already realized it’s costing you relationships, something you’re obviously not happy about.

    I, too, struggle with the buttoned-up nature of most corporate environments, but I’ve also realized that in the looser ones I’ve been in, it means that when people cry or scream or throw fits, I’m forced to now deal with their emotions, which is definitely not part of anyone’s job in a typical corporate environment. It’s putting the emotional labor of your emotions from yourself to someone else, and that’s not entirely fair to them — so maybe think of it not as having to button down everything, but as choosing to handle your responses yourself, rather than outsourcing it to people who aren’t nearly as invested in your emotional well-being.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yes to this:

      “think of it not as having to button down everything, but as choosing to handle your responses yourself, rather than outsourcing it to people who aren’t nearly as invested in your emotional well-being.”

      I used to think that being in control meant denying my emotions, but that’s counterproductive. Then I had a therapist who taught some mindfulness techniques and they helped me so much – I can REALLY feel things but then move through them and get on with my day.

      1. Artemesia*

        Interesting. I have found that dwelling on the thing that has me upset and really wearing it out by obsessing about it for awhile and suffering the full range of misery helps me get past it and move on without letting it color subsequent interactions.

    2. PlainJane*

      “I’m forced to now deal with their emotions” – so much this. Overly emotional outbursts can derail a meeting or project and stress out co-workers. Plus, whether you’re a manager, co-worker, or subordinate, dealing with someone else’s emotions is exhausting. Kudos to the OP for asking for help and kudos to Alison for an excellent post in response.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        This is why I couldn’t work with my boss’s wife after I’d worked for him for six years. He was very direct and factual in his communication, blunt but not emotional at all. I liked that because it didn’t overload my emotions or give me anything emotionally heavy to deal with. I am INFP on the Meyers Briggs scale and I tend to be empathetic. If I see someone else crying, I will cry, too. If I see someone struggling with their emotions, I will want to go to them and connect with them and fix it. So when I went to work for my boss and his wife as a couple, and she displayed unregulated emotions all the time, I could not handle it. I felt like my own emotions were unregulated all the time, and it made me have to work so hard to keep them under control.

        1. Amber T*

          Hello, fellow sympathetic crier. It’s a terrible curse to have. I’ll see someone I don’t know across the room crying and my eyes will tear up. It’s ridiculous.

          In college, I was an RA and worked with a lot of students with a lot of different problems… home sickness, fights with roommates/boyfriends/girlfriends/friends, difficulties with a professor. I learned to hold it together when they were talking and we were working together, but sheesh did I need time to regroup after. I had dreams of becoming a therapist at one point because I do really love helping people, but I don’t think I could emotionally handle that every day, especially with the ones you can’t help.

    3. OriginalYup*

      Yes, controlling or showing emotions is very different than feeling them. At work, I might be absolutely furious about something but that doesn’t mean I have to *act* furious. I can choose to keep my emotions private and outwardly show annoyance or medium frustration. There is a mental framework in which people think that it’s being dishonest to appear one way while feeling another inside. And I agree that’s it not great (for anyone) if you’re constantly walking around cheery & smiley while roiling with festering rage on the inside. But maintaining a certain level of privacy about your emotions can be invaluable in professional situations — no one has to know that you feel less than cool and composed when the sh*t hits the fans. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that engaging with your own more destructive feelings — shouting when angry, punching a pillow when frustrated, crying when overwhelmed — can actually amp up the misery instead of bringing relief.

      OP — As a way to retrain your brain, what if you decide to experiment with a “mind over matter” approach? The next time someone does something that pisses you off in a big way, what if you just cognitively “decided” that it doesn’t bother you that much? You might be feeling all the emotions that go with being really pissed off, but what if you just mentally told yourself, “Huh. This is annoying, but I’m not that bothered by it today. I’m going to go do X instead and enjoy myself”? Try it and see. If you feel yourself starting to become calmer in the moment, that might be a way into building new ways of responding. It’s almost like the power of suggestion, but with an internal dialogue. If you’re used to being reactive as a way of being emotionally honest, you can reframe situations for yourself in order to gain control when your emotions start to jump the track.

      1. fposte*

        My variation on this isn’t to decide straight out but to ask: what if I weren’t bothered by this? What loss do I fear, and how would I negotiate it? Because there usually is something that feels like it would be a loss–I’d lose the security of feeling hard done by, or I wouldn’t be taking the situation seriously. But asking these questions can allow me to dig through the mud of high emotion to the rocks of what matters.

        1. Jacket*

          “the security of feeling hard done by”

          It really is emotionally safer if you’re the victim, isn’t it? Nicely put.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      “I’ve also realized that in the looser ones I’ve been in, it means that when people cry or scream or throw fits, I’m forced to now deal with their emotions, which is definitely not part of anyone’s job in a typical corporate environment. It’s putting the emotional labor of your emotions from yourself to someone else, and that’s not entirely fair to them”

      This really resonated for me. I had a roommate (which is a much more casual relationship than coworker!) who felt that being “honest” or “authentic” meant letting any emotion she felt show itself. That meant that any discussion of household things (like “if you eat my pint of Ben & Jerry’s, please replace it” or “we agreed that you’d take out the trash if I did the dishes, but I’ve had to take out the trash for the last two weeks, what’s up?”) would result in her either yelling or bursting into tears. When I’d try to get her to calm down so we could talk about it (and I was willing to trade dish washing for trash-taking-out or whatever, I just wanted to be able to have a discussion), she’d say that she was “just being herself” or “just being honest about how she felt” and “do you want me to lie????”

      Finally I said, “YES. If being told to stop eating the special ice cream that I told you I was saving for Friday night hurts your feelings, then I want you to lie about that! I do not want your emotional honesty about how you feel like you shouldn’t have to take out the trash! LIE MORE.”

      Obviously I didn’t handle it all that well myself, because I didn’t actually mean “I want you to lie.” What I meant was “I don’t want to have to manage your emotional responses to a reasonable request.” I meant, “I know you feel attacked by criticism, but I can’t live with someone who can’t handle even mild criticism of the ‘if you eat my Friday Night Phish Food, please replace it’ variety.”

      At the end of the day, really what I meant was, “I need you to manage your emotional response, rather than dumping it on me. I cannot be responsible for the work of handling your emotions.”

      In the end, I had to move out, and we were no longer friends.

      1. OhNo*

        Honestly, people who shove all of their emotional baggage onto you to deal with and then respond to your (perfectly reasonable) discomfort with “I’m just being honest about how I feel! Do you want me to lie?” are manipulative as all get out. Intentionally or not, they’re basically using emotional blackmail to make you do something that a. you don’t want to do, and b. isn’t actually your job.

        Sorry you had to deal with that. That kind of behavior is absolutely one of my biggest pet peeves. That’s why I really like CaliCali’s suggestion, because it sounds like a good way to keep myself from doing the same thing to other people.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah. In her case I don’t even think she was being deliberately or calculating-ly manipulative, but it doesn’t even matter. It was manipulative in its effects, and she kept doing it because she reaped benefits from it. (Both the pleasure of having an immediate emotional release, and the fact that many people would just let her eat the damn ice cream rather than deal with the waterworks/shouting, so she got her way.)

          It’s something that I’ve reminded myself of when I’ve had emotional reactions, which is that you don’t have to be deliberately manipulating someone with an outburst for that outburst to have the effect of manipulation. If yelling or sobbing will intimidate someone into backing off, that’s not a healthy dynamic even if you aren’t doing it with a conscious intention of manipulation.

        2. Lindsay J*

          Ugh, this reminds me of my abusive ex.

          It seems like the same type of thinking that people who use the phrase “I’m not being rude, just honest,” use. My ex was one of those people – he would say really hurtful things, and then when called out about it use the above phrase or “I’m just stating the facts,” or something similar.

          Nobody is saying you need to lie. But some things don’t need to be expressed. Being brutally honest or emotionally authentic or whatever isn’t a virtue if it’s at the expense of hurting other people.

          It’s also similar (I think) to the people who refuse to dress appropriately for weddings or funerals or other events because “wearing a suit would make me be someone I’m not.”

      2. Observer*

        Actually, I think you were not all that unreasonable in your actual response. Obviously, what you wanted was for her to stop trying to manipulate you into taking her nonsense* and / or to stop having over the top emotional responses to reasonable requests. But, did you really care HOW she managed it? And, should need to care? I’d bet you didn’t care, and I don’t think you needed to.

        In my head I’m responding to her by saying “Not especially. But, if that’s the only way you can manage to act like a reasonable adult, go right ahead.” Your description of your response and what you really wanted sounds fairly close to that, to me.

        *I actually suspect that she was not being “honest and authentic”. It sounds quite manipulative to me.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Hah, this is good to hear! (In the moment, it was quite satisfying to say, essentially, “Yes, please lie more,” because it was so obvious that she had a script in her head for how these encounters went, and I had gone so far off-script that she had no idea what to do with it.)

          I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I think she (and other people who pull the ‘I’m just being honest!’ line) are deliberately manipulative or not, and at this point I sort of feel like it doesn’t matter. If someone is responding in a way that makes it difficult for me to make a reasonable request, then that’s a problem regardless.

    5. Ad Astra*

      Really good point about conflation. I think Alison’s written before about the difference between changing your behavior and changing your personality, and this goes nicely with that.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      OP, this is something to consider, also.
      Decide not to wear other people’s emotions for them. When I started working I was vulnerable to collecting up everyone’s upsets. What happened next was they were FINE and I was beside myself.
      If an upset person is talking to you, it’s good to give them advice or support, but tell yourself that it is THEIR upset to carry around and NOT yours. Deliberately decide not to carry other people’s upset for them.

    7. Sigrid*

      Yes! One thing my therapist is always telling me is that “everyone is responsible for their own emotions”. That is, if you feel something, it’s your responsibility to process and regulate that emotion — and having outbursts means that you are forcing other people regulate your emotions for you. If having someone else do something would help you process your emotion, you have a right to ask for that (as long as it’s reasonable and appropriate — e.g. you can ask for a hug from your partner but probably not from your coworker), but you need to be able to put what you want into words, and you need to be accepting if they say no. Ultimately, it’s *you* who needs to figure out what needs to be done to regulate your emotions and *you* who needs to do that; you don’t have a right, as an adult, to expect other people to regulate your emotions for you.

    8. Jacket*

      “think of it not as having to button down everything, but as choosing to handle your responses yourself, rather than outsourcing it to people who aren’t nearly as invested in your emotional well-being.” +1 million

  13. LawBee*

    A good counselor can help with this as well – sometimes it’s just a matter of having alternate words to hand like Alison suggested. Having a mental mantra to help you talk yourself down can be really effective, and a counselor can help you learn how to identify when you’re getting to that point.

  14. Chriama*

    > I have ruined many professional relationships.

    It sounds like you need to talk to a therapist. I mean no disrespect by this, but if you frequently find yourself in situations where you’re having emotional outbursts that are detrimental to your relationships then you should talk to a professional and figure out how to get this under control. Most people learn professional norms from emulating others around them, so it’s possible you’ve just been in a series of unprofessional environments. But since you describe yourself as burning bridges and being fired all over the place then it sounds like the common factor is you.

    1. Amber T*

      To piggyback, there’s is NOTHING wrong with going to talk to someone. I was raised in a household where even the thought of talking to a therapist brought on the accusations of “what is wrong with you??” I eventually went to therapy my junior year of college and it was a life changer. Honestly, now that I’m an adult I’m considering starting to go again.

      Let me repeat, there is NOTHING WRONG with going to therapy. Therapy is also for those who need to learn how to cope – cope with stress, cope with people, cope with their emotions. It’s so different than just getting advice from friends or family (even strangers on the interwebs). This person has no personal agenda with you and has been trained to ask the right questions.

      Standing on my soapbox – if you’re stressed to the point where it’s negatively affecting you, overwhelmed, have no idea how to change things in your life, work with a therapist. There’s nothing wrong with it.

      1. Observer*

        And, if you STILL have an issue with going to a therapist, find a good coach. Good ones will figure out when they are out of their depth, and refer you on. But they can be very useful in teaching people useful coping skills and how to figure out appropriate behavior for many types of situations.

  15. Jamie*

    I think some great points have already been made, and I’d actually just like to commend OP for recognizing the issue and seeking help. I wish you the best for the future.

    1. JMegan*

      Agreed! I love the OP’s question, and Alison’s thoughtful answer. I’d love to hear an update when you have one, OP!

  16. Just Say No*

    Alison’s response includes the possibility that you may not have a clear idea of the alternatives to the emotions you’re expressing at work. In addition to some of the suggestions above, it could be beneficial to find a mentor. If there is someone at work or a friend that you admire for the way they handle situations calmly, see if they are willing to give you tips or guidance on how to react to different types of situations that you often respond to emotionally. It can be difficult in the moment to think about what to say. Having examples provided by others ahead of time might work, at least some of the time.

    1. Cassandra*

      It’s amazing to have someone you can buttonhole in the moment, too. The associate director where I work is always willing to look over an email and suggest how to improve it. I don’t need this service often, thank goodness, but when I do (I have a couple of hot buttons and I know exactly what they are) it is THE BEST THING EVER.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Oh my, yes!

      Sometimes loss of temper is simply the lack of knowing how to handle a situation. Matter of fact, I have said this to myself a few times while a boss screamed at me. “He has no tools in his tool box. He does not know how to handle this situation.”

      If our families do not show us how to keep a level head, we have to learn it on the job. There’s lots of cool people out there who are great role models for this type of thing. Decide to be a sponge who soaks up the best of THEIR best.

  17. Moss*

    OP, I know several colleagues of mine have found it helpful to have a hobby or outside activity that they are super passionate about. Not as a panacea or an alternative to therapy, but something fun to have going on in your personal life that can be a happy distraction when needed. It may help channel some of the negative emotional baggage into something constructive.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I completely, utterly, wholeheartedly agree with this in all cases. Again, not as a panacea, and certainly not as the only tool in the toolbox, but it’s a huge help. It makes work less of a focus in your life– which helps many of us avoid feeling like every single misstep at work is the end of the world. I have recommended this to more people than I can count, and it has helped me immensely. Sadly, I’ve recently let that slip a bit (I moved to a new city and haven’t put as much of an effort into “getting a life” as I should), and I feel the effects on a regular basis.

  18. KtG*

    OP, if you’re a nerd like me, I recommend checking out research on emotional labor, emotion regulation, and emotional boundary management in the workplace (typing these phrases in Google Scholar will pull up everything you need).

    You’ll gain better insight into what’s going on, will learn how to identify the situations and states that are risky for you, and will learn strategies for strengthening your control and managing those situations as they occur.

      1. super anon*

        i think if you post links in a comment it goes to moderation, so it won’t be posted until it’s approved by someone. :)

  19. De Minimis*

    I do pretty well other than the whole not letting stuff fester when I have a problem or am frustrated. I think I tend to assume there is nothing that can be done.

    Wanted to chime in, though…this is like any other skill that you can work to improve. Being aware of the need for improvement is a huge part of it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I usually figure that identifying the problem means 50% of the problem is solved.

  20. Mimmy*

    Alison’s post and all the comments are truly resonating with me. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d thought the OP was me! LOL. My problem is that, rationally, I know what constitutes “professional” behavior and that everything Alison outlines in her post is absolutely true. Yet, when I get frustrated or if I receive any critical feedback, the emotions come instantly. So I may get defensive or start to cry, even though I know rationally that it’s not appropriate. (It’s probably a brain wiring issue for me, so this may not be applicable to the OP).

    Alison did hit on one point that’s true for me – that one may not have a clear idea of more appropriate responses. Maybe it wouldn’t decrease the negative emotions, but having a set of scripted responses in your back pocket can be really helpful. I had a healthy upbringing, but I don’t think I ever really learned how to appropriately speak up for myself. Young kids really need to learn this early on.

    Regardless of anyone’s situation, this post should be read by every person who is just entering the workforce for the first time and even by those with work experience who just need a refresher, particularly if you’ve been out of the workforce for some time.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Yes! Me, too! There are so many things in the workplace that can trigger my emotional response. I have battled a quick temper all my life, and it has definitely affected my work relationships over the years.

      I’ve learned to implement the “24-hour” rule. I draft an email, plan a response, imagine comedy pratfalls where the object of my ire ends up in traction…

      And then I go home. And I try not to think about it.

      In the morning, often what seemed to be a crisis or a personal attack is really just something needing a quick clarification, a mild response, or no response at all.

      If, after 24 hours, it still seems like a big deal, then it probably is. Sometimes bringing in a third party (my manager or another) to provide a clear perspective helps. Of course, for time-sensitive issues, I don’t always have a full day to wait, but I try to take what time I can to cool down before responding.

      It took me most of my career to figure out how to respond less emotionally. I work on it every day.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        This was one of the most valuable pieces of advice my dad gave me when I was starting out in my career, and I suspect it has kept me from getting fired on several occasions.

        But it’s so true – of all the times I’ve drafted the response, I can only remember a handful of times where the response still seemed appropriate the next day.

        I know (seriously, I know!) how tempting it is to fire off the emotional response in the moment, but unless the matter is too time-sensitive, waiting until the next day or even for a few hours until you are more level-headed can only help. As a bonus, it’s easier for me now to put it aside in the moment because I can remember all the other times where my initial response was totally over the top, which also helps me stop myself from saying something I’ll probably regret.

  21. LQ*

    I really struggle with this both at work and personally (much more personally, but it slips into work). First none, now too much. One thing that has really helped me in the one area I’ve grown the most in is reframing. Especially for feedback. When someone critiques my work or me. They are trying to help, make it better, make the outcome better, bring me around so I can see what they are seeing. All those things are good. And yeah, sometimes people aren’t all that gentle when they do it but that is easier if you look at it and think that they are just eager to get to the good solution.

    Reframe the situation in your mind as more of a “how can we work together to make this better” or “they are trying to help this project succeed” or something along those lines.

    If you are highly empathetic can you search for the reasons that someone else is acting the way they are. Can you figure out why Wakeen is skirting the issue rather than getting frustrated with him for doing so? Can you try to understand what might be making Sally just give you the task rather than going through the proper steps and getting angry about it? Can you find a way to take advantage of your empathetic nature to use it to understand others and why they are doing the things that make you stressed or frustrated?

    (I also want to say that if you are ever in an environment where someone is yelling or screaming at you and then giving you feedback that you are too emotional, their judgement should be highly suspect. This doesn’t sound like the situation you are in, but I wanted to mention it.)

    1. LQ*

      (Oh and practice totally helps. I joined a group where I send my writing which is way more personal than my work to a bunch of strangers and sometimes they say it was the best thing they ever read and somethings there is nothing worth saving. And I’ve gotten so much better at sorting through feedback and figuring out what makes sense, how to put things into effect, and how to respond. You can absolutely practice being more professional, and you don’t even have to do it at work.)

    2. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Soooo much yes to your last paragraph. If someone is screaming at you, 1) it’s a perfectly appropriate response to cry because it’s a scary, physically threatening situation and 2) they really aren’t one to talk about being “emotional.” I’d also concur with CM above that screaming at people is worse than tears – though for different reasons (as in, it actually scares people and is often followed by violence).

  22. Rusty Shackelford*

    When I get stressed, frustrated, or bored, I lose my temper, cry, or just disengage.

    I’m not saying you’re depressed, but depression can manifest as anger. If you have any other symptoms, it might be worth looking into that.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Ooh, yeah. We don’t have enough context to know if that’s what’s going on with OP, but my behavior was exactly like this when I was at the worst points of my depression.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The first thing I thought of is fatigue. When I am running on very little sleep, I don’t like me very much. I am cranky, weepy, etc.

      As I read OP’s letter the first thing I said was “dang, does OP get enough sleep? She sounds like an exhausted person.”

      I think most of us have seen kids’ behavior when they are low on sleep. I hope you laugh, OP, but even my dog can get out of hand if he is not sleeping right.

      I think that everyone has covered the psychological, emotional parts of this question quite well. So I would like to encourage you, OP, to look at what you can do to support the physical aspect of your life- hydration, nutrition, rest. If you are looking at all these other things you may find that doing some basics to support your body/mind functions might be very helpful.

      I will never forget what my friend said. “The people in the fire department who watch their sugar, caffeine,alcohol and nicotine intake are the people who stay the most put together in handling a fire-fighting crisis.” My friend has observed hundreds of people fighting fires. We don’t get to chose when to have a crisis occur, it just happens. The best we can do is take care of ourselves daily so we are ready should an upset happen.

  23. Joy de vie*

    Op, if you are having problems controlling your emotions, reading the book “calming the emotional storm” may help. It is about using dialectical behavior therapy skills to manage your emotions.

  24. the_scientist*

    In addition to the great advice here, I would recommend that the OP read the book “Crucial Conversations”. My employer just paid for our entire department (500 employees) to take a two-day course on the material in this book. It may seem a little bit sunshine and rainbows and handholding for your liking, but there are good lessons in there about not casting yourself as the victim or telling yourself a story based on your assumptions about how another person is acting. Also, there are good, PRACTICAL steps to resolve conflict in a productive way in this book, and sometimes, having a template or guideline on how to react can take some of the stress out of a heated situation.

    ALSO, echoing the advice of others to consider seeing a therapist. This is a longstanding issue that is affecting your professional (and perhaps personal?) life. Therapy can be expensive, but it is also a great investment.

    1. Liza*

      Therapy can be expensive, but it is also a great investment.

      And when one has insurance, therapy can be relatively inexpensive–when I see my therapist, the copay is the same as a regular visit to my doctor.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I just put the book on my wishlist, I think it will be great for a friend of mine. Thank you for the recomendation!

    3. Jillociraptor*

      “Crucial Conversations” has been so helpful. The most useful idea in the book for me was the challenge to ask yourself “What do I want for me? What do I want for the other person?” It has helped me get out of the space of what should be, and into the space of what actually is or actually will be. Emotional reactions are always trying to protect you. Sometimes that protection is useful and sometimes it’s maladaptive. It’s always real, but as lots of other comments have helpfully explored, it’s not always *true* and not always something that you should follow.

  25. JM in England*

    I’m a huge Star Trek fan and a great admirer of the Vulcans. Whenever I’m in a work situation that requires keeping my emotions in check (receiving critical feedback for example), I try to think how Mr Spock would react . :-)

        1. ResearchSnail*

          I sometimes pretend that I am CJ from The West Wing. “What would CJ do?” The answer is usually: she would go cry in the women’s room, then clean herself up, come out, and do what needs to be done.

      1. JM in England*

        Said grip was mentioned once in the original series episode “The Enterprise Incident”…….

  26. Ann Furthermore*

    OP, my advice to you is to use your remaining time in your position as a “boot camp” of sorts. If there’s someone there who you admire, or who you’d like to emulate, take the opportunity to learn as much as you can from them. I’ve worked with people like this before, and it’s such a great learning opportunity. You can ask yourself “How do I think [colleague] would handle this?” and emulate what you think that person would do. Once you fake it a few times, it will start to come more naturally.

    I used to use my boss as this kind of role model, but in the last year or 2 she has gone from being someone who stands up for her people while still acting professionally to someone whose default response is to keep quiet, bend over, and let herself and her team be walked all over. I can’t work like that, which is one of the reasons I’m looking for a new job.

  27. Bend & Snap*

    I was having some trouble connecting with people and not getting upset at work (although I kept it relatively buttoned up). I saw a therapist for something else (thanks divorce!) and at the recommendation of my sister (who also posts here), saw a psychiatrist for meds.

    I’m on a low dose of an anti anxiety med and the difference is staggering. Turns out this was all about anxiety and not an inability to control myself. Mental health may be something worth exploring with this particular issue.

    1. Mel*

      100% this. I struggled for a while with this sort of stuff too and meds set me straight. I was able to actually function.

  28. TotesMaGoats*

    I would say that another hallmark of professionalism is learning how to handle when things are personal attacks, whether the reason you were attacked had anything to do with you or not. Managing to hold it in and not react in kind on email or the phone or in person is an important skill to have.

    Recently, a colleague on the phone with me attacked my experience, credibility and professionalism. It was personal. The reason she did it had nothing to do with me. I understand that but when you call into question, to my face, my ability to do my job that’s personal. My boss told me not to take it personally. Well, it was personal. I understand the root cause wasn’t but it still hurts. It also DOES NOT HELP to be told to not take it personally and have the insult brushed off. Sure, that makes me feel so very valued. Although she did email me with a nice “I”m sorry you are dealing with this and it will be resolved soon.” when I sent her the written blow by blow. FWIW, I was very professional and calm on the phone. Short of the time when I was doing my grad work in counseling did I ever say “I hear what you are saying” so many times. I didn’t break down into tears until after the phone call was over and my door was shut. It was angry crying and I had to get it out since murder is still pretty illegal. Thankfully I had a coworker who has also been on the receiving end of the same kind of attacks from the same person to give me a hug.

    1. Jacket*

      Ugh. “Don’t take it personally” completely ignores the fact that you are having reasonable feelings and the FIRST thing is to validate them. The second thing is to reassure. “Don’t take it personally” may be intended as a “seriously, it’s not about you,” but it can feel like “don’t have emotions” which is utterly unhelpful.

      A better response would be: “How awful. It makes perfect sense you were upset by that. Just know that I know you are capable and I think you know this already, but all that nonsense coming out of her mouth was about her, not you.”

  29. Green*

    Non-verbal cues are also important here.

    Rolling of eyes. Heavy sighs. Exasperated body language.

    We had someone on our team who clearly let her annoyance show at every little thing; it put the rest of the team in a bad mood, made things unusually adversarial, people tensed up around her and felt very disrespected. People don’t have to like you, and you don’t have to like them, but it’s still important to be cognizant of how your nonverbal behavior impacts others and how you’re perceived.

    1. Development Professional*

      Yup, this is huge. This kind of non-verbal stuff isn’t just crappy, it’s contagious too. Once your whole team is acting like this, it becomes practically impossible to get other colleagues to do anything for you.

    2. Kiki*

      Or even negative verbal reactions — I used to work with someone who answered every “can you help/do this” question with a no. Or if you asked about something it was “obviously something you did wrong”. Really? It was just less exhausting to cut that staffer out of the picture and manage the task ourselves. Then we get the complaint that someone is being left out! I wonder why… I’m the polar opposite of the OP. I don’t take anything personally. My friends call me the Zen Master, lol. (cut me off on the freeway I don’t care, I will see you on the off ramp anyway and be laughing at you) I definitely prefer everything drama-free! I try to empathize with folks like you, OP. But it’s tough for me to understand.

    3. LifeOrDeath*

      You don’t have to be friends but you have to be friendly – this is one of the most helpful things I have learned! Too bad some people are oblivious

  30. AnotherHRPro*

    Everyone has shared some great advice. The only thing I would add is to really try to hone in on what your triggers are. Once you understand when you will get upset (and typically behave unprofessionally) you will be able to prepare for those moments. For example, if you get upset when when you receive critical feedback, you can mentally acknowledge that in the moment. During a performance conversation, actually say to yourself that this is a trigger and pay attention to your breathing and your facial expressions, purposefully talk calmer than normal, ask questions instead of responding. I have found these techniques helpful for me.

    1. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

      I agree with this so much! Back in the day, I used to be very volatile at work and trying to figure out exactly what my triggers were was so hard. I had to really start thinking about it RIGHT at the moment when the mood change started, otherwise I’d forget or blame it on something else. (For me, the trigger was actually people whispering or closed-door meetings – they both triggered my insecurity and fear of getting fired which would put me in an obvious awful mood).

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        My current direct report has anxiety around closed -door meetings and whispering. She came from a bank environment where people would just disappear, having been fired with no warning and no explanation to their peers. She became really attuned to watching out for whether she was next and now closed doors and whispered conversations are worrying to her. She usually just asks me if I know what’s going on, and if I know, I tell her.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Thank you from one of us who has been on the receiving end of that crap. I am sure you will end up with a gem of an employee.

    2. Daisy Steiner*

      Oh my goodness, yes! I got tearful once when talking to a colleague about whether something should be included in a newsletter. It wasn’t till later (talking with my therapist) that I realised that what pushed my crying button was the sharp intake of breath he did after I said something – as if to say “Oh, no, that’s not a good idea at all, and I’m a bit amused/surprised/disappointed you suggested it”. Guess who else used to make that noise? My dad. In an instant I was right back to 7 years old, feeling like I was being told off for something I didn’t know was wrong. Now I’m aware of that, it makes it easier to be on the lookout.

  31. NK*

    Strongly echoing the comments about seeing a therapist. I found therapy so, so helpful years ago; I really thought of it as helping with some life skills that anyone could benefit from. I only went weekly for a couple months, and I still use the skills I learned to this day. A therapist can also help you troubleshoot specific situations, while books (or awesome AAM commenters) can only provide general guidance.

    One tip on selecting a therapist: if you ‘re looking for skills you can implement right away, make sure you go to a therapist that specializes in CBT, some variant thereof or other type of short-term solutions-based therapy. I made the mistake of arbitrarily going to one who was close and accepted my insurance, only to realize after a couple sessions she does more of the long-term, dig into your childhood type therapy (the method is escaping me now). Which is fine for some people and some situations, but wasn’t helpful for my needs, so I switched.

  32. been there done that*

    Back in the day I used to be super emotional and took everything personally, including at work. I used to cry all the time. Sometimes in the bathroom, other times openly. I am sure it did me no favors. Therapy definitely helped as I thought everyone was out to get me. My therapist said, “no one thinks about you as much as YOU think they think about you.” (if that makes sense)

    Eventually, I became very good at perfecting the art of the poker face to ensure the majority of my reactions are neutral. Of course sometimes if I am frustrated, I take a firmer, more animated stance, but feel I still do it in a professional way. I agree finding a mentor is a good idea. It helped me to take cues from coworkers who remained calm in situations where I was ready to scratch someone’s eyes out (not literally, of course).

    1. Hopalong*

      I used to get a similar all the time when I was a kid from my parents: “Everyone is too busy thinking about themselves to think about you.” My response was, “I dunno, I’m in my own head A LOT but I still have time to be judgey about other people. I doubt I’ve got super powers; other people can do it too.”

      1. Jacket*

        Lol. We’re all so up in our own heads all the time that even when we’re judging other people we really don’t know enough to judge by so it’s ultimately still about us. I’ve noticed that the people who annoy me the most are usually the people I’m afraid of being — i.e. people who exhibit some tendency I work hard to avoid doing (like complaining constantly about being busy or always talking about themselves and never asking about me). I judge them harshly because I’m hoping I’m not them, and if *they’re* the ones who are self-centered or can’t keep their mouths shut then it’s not my problem and I don’t have to self-examine. Oops…

  33. Simplytea*

    I think this might be my favorite bit of advice ever. So much of this is key. Especially the cheerfulness part. Something I feel the younger generation (which I am a part of, but don’t do this) does is to say “well this isn’t in my job description” as if everything you do is listed there. It’s just not a reasonable approach to work! And you’re not going to love EVERY aspect of your job, unless you’re really lucky. So if that means schlepping something somewhere, or taking an order, or doing something you think is stupid, you have to regardless. If it’s always like that, you may want to choose a different career or switch jobs. But for the meanwhile, tough it up!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      No generation has a corner on the market on that one. Every generation has had those who have proclaimed, “not my job!”

      Which brings me to another helpful thought I have used. I use a little saying that goes like this, “If I wait until I am angry, I have waited too long to say I am having difficulty.”

      I have learned my patterns, I know what types of things tick me off or make me teary eyed. So that means that I can take preemptive steps to ward off the anger/tears. I don’t wait until it is in the moment or too late to speak up. I speak up as soon as I see a situation starting to build.

  34. Patsy*

    “understanding that if you’re very frustrated at work, the appropriate response is to raise the issue with someone who can help solve it, not to complain to others, let it fester, and/or allow it it affect your work or how you interact with people”

    What if you’re frustrated at work because one of your managers is passive-aggressive/burnt out/has a martyr’s complex, thinking that he has to do everything, doesn’t prioritize, gets sarcastic when I politely follow up with him on tasks left undone awaiting his decision, that sort of thing? I have another manager who is not this person boss, but who is my boss. Do I bring these behaviors up to him?

    1. animaniactoo*

      Have you tried addressing it directly with your boss? “George, I know you’re really frustrated by a lot of what’s going on and I do understand why*. Unfortunately, when I bring you stuff and you respond sarcastically I find it tends to increase my frustration and I’d like to avoid that. Is there a way we can work on/around this?”

      *(Even if you don’t totally understand why or think he’s reasonable. The goal here is to help get him on your team by convincing him that you are on his team (at least somewhat)).

    2. Simplytea*

      I really really like this article by Alison:

      …and this article:

      Both these are all about communication. First, bring it up with the person directly because he may not realize what he’s doing–though it sounds like you already have. If you make sure you’re doing these, then I would go ahead and bring it up to your supervisor in a very factual way, such as “Bob often leaves projects I need his feedback on until the last minute, and it’s affecting my capacity to complete tasks.” Hopefully your boss can move forward at his level or give you substantive advice to work around the problems and still get work done.

      Good luck!

    3. Observer*

      Depending on the situation there are four options, I think:

      1. Address it with the person
      2. Take it up the chain
      3. Decide that this is part of the package and learn to work around it where you can and deal with it where you can’t, because it’s the price you pay for an otherwise good job.
      4. Decide that this is part of the package and develop a plan to get out of there. Even a long term plan can really make day to day coping much easier. And of course, once you get out, your done.

      1. Jacket*

        I feel like a version of this should be made into a poster with the title: “What To Do When Something Isn’t Working” and posted everywhere and taught in every school.

  35. Laura Renee*

    This is such an excellent and compassionate answer, Alison, and really useful to so many people.

  36. Camellia*

    Very timely! I just came from a meeting which included a coworker who is easily frustrated. She wants to bark questions that require a yes/no response when the answer isn’t that simple. Then, when you try to explain, she interrupts and repeats her question with even more detail, ad infinitum. Each time her voice gets louder, sharper, and more shrill, her hands flail around, her eyebrows climb off the top of her head as she stares intently at you, and no amount of calm voice, etc. will cause her to deescalate. It is so tiring to be around her.

    1. Argh!*

      One way to respond to these people is to acknowledge their frustration & reword it to let them know they’ve been heard. Sometimes escalation is due to feeling that they’re not getting through when in fact they’ve been heard by people who disagree with them. (Or in your case, can’t come up with answers off the cuff)

      I would absolutely let their manager know about this behavior. It can derail a meeting and ruin a working group. Nobody wants to walk on eggshells.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I like Argh’s advice a lot.

      Sometimes, in extreme situations, I will take control over the conversation. I do this by saying things such as:

      “I am answering your question. You need to calm down and listen.”

      “This question is more than a yes or no answer. I will help you with it. Do you want me to help you?” [Usually they say yes.] “Then you need to listen to the steps for how to do this.”

      “Okay. We talked about a similar situation yesterday. What did we say about how to handle it?” [I like this one when they want to talk. If they have to talk, this one steers them to solving the problem.]
      Sometimes with these high energy folks, you have to find ways to let them do the bulk of the talking and yet still steer them to their answer.

      1. Camellia*

        I love both these answers! Thanks, Argh and NNNR. I’m copying and saving your answers and will review them the next time I’m going to a meeting with this person.

        1. Argh!*

          Another way to deal with the demands in the context of the meeting is to make the questions agenda items for the *next* meeting, and when possible assign her to do the footwork to answer her own question & report on it. Good luck!

  37. animaniactoo*

    One of my sons had real issues with this kind of stuff. Some of the messages we worked hard to communicate with him was the idea of environment and who was responsible for providing what. Towards that, we had:

    1) It is not okay to inflict your emotions on people who have done nothing to deserve them.
    2) These are YOUR emotions, it is not okay to expect me to work harder to manage them then you will. That’s your job.
    3) How safe you feel in letting your emotions out all over the place…

    On this last one, we had to make it clear that at the level he was letting them out, he was making other people in the house feel *less safe* being there – and that was not okay. So we would actively remove him from the environment for a time – he had to at least go for a walk around the block or something to calm down, he could not even have the security of being in the house, he had to be out of it altogether (he was 15 by this point and all other methods of consequences for losing his temper at temper-tantrum levels had failed) and lose the feeling of being “home” in it.

    The other thing we worked on was *how* mad it was okay to be. Dad didn’t take care of something for him for 2 days? Yes, it was okay to be mad. This is an annoying thing. It was not okay to be THIS mad. THIS mad is an outsized proportion to level of the offense. A lot of that is based on expectation of what is reasonable, so need to reset expectation. This is to some extent where it sounds to me like you are, OP. Others here have suggested what sound like some really good resources.


    One thing I would suggest (based on my own retraining as a late teen on this kind of stuff) is figuring out coping skills by game planning stuff. You regularly have *this* kind of interaction? Okay. What can you say/do the next time you have that kind of interaction? This is definitely the kind of stuff where it’s useful to bounce ideas off someone else, but the basic concept is: If you’ve planned it in advance, you have the possibility of reaching for it. You might not manage it every time (and in the beginning you’ll miss often), but simply having planned it means that it’s available to you, vs having nothing but a big blank gap of nothing or familiar and bad responses.

    Some of the kind of thinking that you want to do in planning this is risk assessment. What are the *possibilities* of response if I say/do X? Why? What is most likely to happen? Is the risk a worthwhile one? When comparing likelihood of response and level of drawback for a negative response?

    When you change your response, you often push the other person into a different reaction, because they have something different to react to. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, go back, figure out why you think it didn’t work, and how you can adjust for next time. Reinforcement is the key – the more often you manage a new/different response and get a better reaction, the more you will automatically reach for the new response until it becomes your go-to natural thing to do.

    Fwiw, yes, what I am describing here is the basis of CBT and if you do look for a therapist to work with on this kind of stuff (can be a great place for feedback and check-in on progress, etc.), I would definitely suggest somebody who specializes in CBT.

  38. EmilyG*

    In my old workplace we talked a lot about “assuming positive intent” and I think that can be a shortcut to doing a lot of reframing and different reactions. Basically, assume that when someone does something annoying, they were trying to be helpful; if they do something selfish, maybe they just weren’t pay attention; when they do something incorrectly, maybe they hadn’t been trained–or in any of these cases, maybe they know something you don’t!

    I find this so useful because it allows you to approach pretty much any situation with a neutral, pragmatic, “how can we make this better” attitude, and also avoid unnecessarily carrying baggage from The Thing That Happened Last Week into this week.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      I can not agree more with assuming positive intent. It seems that so often people quickly jump to assuming the worst in people without taking a moment to try to see things from another perspective.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I have mastered this reframing in my marriage. I think I need to get this done in needlepoint and hang it up in my cube at work so I can master it there, too.

    3. PlainJane*

      I love the “assume positive intent” approach and have talked about it many times with the team I manage. And it’s so often true: the person really did mean well. And if it isn’t true, you’re still likely to respond more professionally when you frame interactions that way.

  39. Erin*

    There is definitely some good advice in this blog on how to not cry at work if you search through archives here.

    If I’m remembering correctly, one of them was to explain it away in the moment if you truly can’t stop from crying. I’d obviously go for not crying at all, but if you do, you could say something like, “I’m sorry, I always have a weird reaction to negative feedback, but I really do appreciate your thoughts on my project, and I am going to go ahead and implement these changes. Thank you, and please don’t hesitate to give me constructive feedback in the future.”

    You could also do some research on how to compartmentalize your feelings. Be able to tell yourself something like, “I am really upset about what Kathy said to me earlier, but right now I have to sit through a marketing meeting with her. It is Social Media Strategy Time, and I have great ideas to share with the team. I’m not going to let this get in my way. I am going to allow myself to be upset later, at home, during Crying Out My Frustrations Time.”

    1. Erin*

      Wrote my comment quickly earlier (cause I was at work!) but wanted to add:

      I think it’s REALLY admirable that you’re sticking out your time there. That is so badass of you. Seriously. That you’re going to go in there and hold your head up high and do the best job for them that you can. This will also ensure you have a great reference if a future potential employer calls them (or, you could even ask your boss upon your departure to be a reference if you think that’d be appropriate), and it gives you time to job search while still remaining employed.

      You could have (ha) let your emotions get the best of you and just left, hurt and unsure of yourself, but instead you’re sticking it out, and taking solid steps to ensure you get control of what you need to work on. Rock on.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      You know this is an amazing technique right here, where you more or less drag your monsters out from under the bed and force the monsters to see daylight. It makes the monsters get smaller and smaller. Why. Because you are taking away the monster’s power. It’s no longer a secret. And because you are making a public commitment to keeping those monsters out of your life. Yes, saying it to even just one person constitutes a public commitment.

  40. Argh!*

    Despite this seeming to be rather common within this blog’s commentariat, it’s not really that common in the workplace. Someone who loses their temper – what does that mean in the OP’s experience anyway – just doesn’t belong in most workplaces. Nobody is so good that an employer will put up with this, and it’s actually part of the definition of workplace violence: “Disorderly conduct, such as shouting, throwing or pushing objects, punching walls, and slamming doors”

    Use this between-jobs time to get some professional help, possibly through EAP. At the very least, talk therapy will help. Also, medication or group therapy. In group therapy the kinds of things that trigger out-sized emotions will come up and can be dealt with in real-time so that could really help.

    If you don’t get professional help, your “career” will be a series of low-paying short-lived jobs. In any job you’ll need to be able to keep your cool and deal with people.

    1. sammithecat*

      Hmm, I don’t think violence and disorderly conduct are the only definitions of losing control of one’s emotions. An angry face, eye rolling, saying or doing something passive aggressive, and on and on, are all examples of losing control, at least in my opinion. And I do think those things are not uncommon in the workplace. If these kinds of things are repeated and not corrected when pointed out, I think they can be grounds for termination.

      I would agree that the extremes you describe–shouting and getting physical–are rare.

      It’s true the OP didn’t define what “losing my temper” means, but I think that definition could be wider than what you’ve described.

      1. PlainJane*

        The less-extreme manifestations definitely don’t seem to be rare. Everywhere I’ve worked since grad school (and a couple places before that) have had at least one person who didn’t manage emotions appropriately: crying, passive aggressive behavior, eye rolling, getting overly upset about performance feedback or routine disagreements in meetings, dumping on co-workers constantly… and the list goes on. Alison’s response and all the comments are a wonderful primer on how to not be “that person.”

      2. Argh!*

        Well, “temper tantrum” or “losing one’s temper” usually means something physical is happening or the person is yelling. Eye-rolls aren’t a sign of a bad temper.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      “it’s not really that common in the workplace.”

      Oh I TOTALLY disagree! I mean, there might be a wide degree of variation in how it manifests, but I have definitely seen people throughout my 12-year career who just cannot handle their emotions and have really inappropriate outbursts. I’ve been in a variety of jobs in one federal agency, so I’ve seen a lot, but off the top of my head I can recall:

      – A woman going into her bosses office, slamming the door, and then having a loud crying/screaming session accusing him of various things because he didn’t promote her (we could all hear it)
      – A man throwing his phone across the office against the wall
      – A contractor escorted out by security after making generally threatening comments to his coworkers like “oh, you’re going to be sorry.”
      – Two men yelling at each other across an office – including “You haven’t heard the last of this, Frank! You don’t know who you’re messing with” and then security got called
      – I had to call an employee back in in the evening because he needed to fix something urgent and he hadn’t saved it in a shared file and I didn’t have access to his computer to find the file and fix it; he yelled at me that I was on a power trip and was out to ruin his life
      – a man and woman both screaming at each other in a hallway not realizing they were right around the corner from a cubicle bank and we could hear every word.

      and a few more. And I don’t think I work at an exceptionally dysfunctional place.

      1. Kat*

        Every time I hear someone complain about “kids these days” and how ill-behaved they are, I recall stories like these (I have plenty from various jobs) and want to just scream, “Adults are just as bad!” But then, that would make me also just as bad. :)

      2. Argh!*

        Wow that’s not my experience at all. I can go years without seeing an emotional outburst, but then when they happen it’s just one problem person in a workplace with dozens of coworkers. People who lose it have been the exception rather than the rule in my work life.

        1. Rebel Yellow*

          Then you’ve been either very lucky or very sheltered. It’s usually best not to try to generalise from your own limited experience to How Things Are, anyway.

          1. Argh!*

            People generalize from their own limited experience on this blog all the time! I’m not going to stop it until everybody else does. *hmph*

    3. J.B.*

      I have definitely seen bullying, eye rolling, and shouting. Tolerated and enabled by a hands off manager (who didn’t see the worst and who made excuses for the rest.) You are lucky if you have never seen it.

      1. Argh!*

        I’ve seen a small amount, but not commonly. Professionals in my profession tend to behave like adults, fortunately. People who don’t get the boot, like our OP writer.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Consider yourself lucky! you appear to have management that takes quick action to deal with problems. That’s pretty rare!

  41. JMegan*

    So much good advice here, and I am taking notes for myself as well!

    OP, another technique you might want to look into is mindfulness, which is often practiced through meditation or yoga. It’s the idea of living in the moment, controlling what you can (ie, your behaviour) and letting go of what you can’t (other people’s behaviour, various annoying things that happen at work.) Jon Kabat-Zinn is a big name in this area, and I also just got several promising hits from googling “mindfulness at work”.

  42. AndersonDarling*

    OP, if it helps, I’ve been working for 20 years and I only got the hang of “professional emotions” at my current job. All my jobs had a few whiners and complainers and I understood that it was normal to be like that. So I would sometimes complain at the wrong time or to the wrong people. I let my feelings fester. I was in some super toxic workplaces and I wasn’t able to learn how to interact professionally at any of them.
    When I started my current job, everyone was respectful and there was great dialog between co-workers. I was finally able to observe how to work through conflicts professionally. I look back and I’m embarrassed at some of the things I’ve said/done (some I’m still 100% proud of), but that is part of learning.
    I hope you will be able to find a new job at a great company that will support your growth! Good Luck!

  43. LCL*

    For me, I consider disengagement to be one of my strengths at work. I came from a background where we were expected to speak up/yell/argue/confront when someone was doing something we didn’t like. I wasn’t able to get control of my temper until I worked hard on disengaging. That doesn’t mean never speak up, it just means take time to think about things and don’t turn everything into a battle.

  44. Kyrian*

    Question for the folks here (and for Alison as well) – I am usually excellent at controlling my emotions, but recently have been dealing with feelings of burnout and complete and utter exhaustion. I have been working 90 hours a week for months on end (while also dealing with a lot of family drama). I will schedule days off and have them approved, only to have my boss tell me at the last minute (often the night before) that my day off is canceled. After the last time this happened he told me to stop asking for days off, indefinitely, because we are much too busy. I’ve always thought of myself as having excellent stamina for work, but I am having so much trouble continuing to be good-natured in the professional sense when I’m only getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night, with no personal downtime whatsoever. I’ve been snippy with my colleagues and have even cried in my office a few times (so far, not with anyone else around). So, how can I continue to behave professionally in this situation? (Yes, I have spoken with my boss about my feelings of exhaustion and burnout; he told me to get my head out of my [butt] and stop complaining.)

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      The emotions are a sign: you need to quit working so long. Cut your work back to something sustainable, and when your boss complains, let him. If the work doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. Are you in a job where if the work doesn’t get done someone will die? If not, it’s your boss’s problem if it doesn’t get done. You can only do what you can do. This is going to kill you, and your emotions are trying get through to you and tell you that.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Unfortunately, I don’t think there IS a solution in that kind of a situation, except to get a new job. Something’s gotta give, and 90 hours a week is untenable – those are the hours I worked on a deployment and you only usually do that for 6 months because it will destroy you if you do it too long. 4-5 hours a sleep a night is unsustainable. You know it is. And you can’t possible control yourself in those circumstances – you can try, but you’re really just slapping a band-aid over a sucking chest wound.

      And your boss is an ass. No boss can reasonably think it’s ok to expect people to live this way. For a week or two – fine. But if that’s the new normal AND he’s being unsympathetic to your requests for time to take care of yourself? No. Get out. I know it’s hard to see that things can be better because you’re so deep in this, but I think you’ll feel so much better when you start looking for new jobs and regaining control of your life.

      1. Writelhd*

        I wish bosses like this would watch their good people quit and see the feedback in it that they are creating a problem…but sadly many probably tell themselves that the people who quit were inferior and couldn’t handle what bosses needed to handle. Which…if so, is not your burden to bear if you do quit. That boss sounds like he’s the one who needs to get his head out of his butt. So sorry you are dealing with that. It’s really not healthy though. I have watched that kind of schedule and workplace mentality destroy my father.

    3. Observer*

      If you can, go above your boss’ head. If you can’t or it doesn’t work, start looking for another job. This is not sustainable. If you really have been working 90 hour weeks, then you really are on the verge of a breakdown.

      I’m not a fan of lying, but if you need to, just call in sick. It’s not as if your boss is all that honest. (Repeatedly approving time off and then rescinding it last minute isn’t an accident.)

      Are you exempt? If not, make sure every minute you spend is on the clock. Save every penny you can, so you can quit even without a new job lined up. This is insanity.

    4. Jillociraptor*

      I was in a similar situation about 2 years ago and my therapist’s professional opinion was that I would never get better until I left my job. He was right.

      One thing that really stuck with me about that time in my life is that we all only have so much brain space to use every day toward managing ourselves. For some people, that manifests as running out of emotional patience; for others it means they don’t have the energy to resist an entire bag of red hots. Of course there are things you can do to re-prioritize your emotional energy, and I’m sure there’s an element of resilience that can grow like any other skill, but that growth is finite. Eventually, something will break. And that’s not a reflection on YOU. It’s inevitable. There just aren’t enough resources to be infinitely resilient in the face of challenges.

      One thing you can think about as a very short-term solution, is taking stock of all of the things that you could automate or delegate in your personal life. That might be things like paying someone to do your laundry, having the same menu every single week, have a temporary “uniform” so you don’t spend time picking out your clothes, stuff like that. It adds up as a quick, temporary fix, but it’s not a long-term solution.

      Sidebar: my manager had the same reaction as yours did, and I realize looking back now that this was one way her burnout manifested. She didn’t have the bandwidth to make prioritization decisions that would have changed how I did my work. It sucked, but it also helped to realize that her reactions were similar to mine even if they manifested differently.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Please start looking for a job where you are treated with basic human decency. This boss has no clue what decency is. And he is a liar. You schedule days off and he cancels them at the last minute. This is what liars do.

      You could end up in the hospital if you keep going at this rate. Idiot, er, uh, the boss does not care.

    6. Alanna*

      I agree with everyone else. You can’t continue to behave professionally. Try cutting your hours down to something you can stand, and see if it all falls apart. Your job is working you double to solve their own staffing problems, and that’s not your responsibility to fix.

    7. Kyrian*

      I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful and supportive responses here! I’ve been getting upset with myself because I know that, regardless of how tired and stressed I am, snapping at my colleagues or even having a sour attitude is unprofessional. At the same time, if such behavior is out of character for me (and it is – I am usually known for being energetic, cheerful, positive, and calm under pressure, that is a sign that my work situation has become unmanageable and either it needs to improve or I need to go elsewhere. I am not quite sure yet how I will proceed, but I am glad to know the consensus isn’t that I’m lazy/inept or just can’t take the (reasonable and usual) stress of a professional workplace.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        90 hours a week isn’t reasonable nor in a professional workplace. You’re on a death march. You’re not lazy or inept. You’re justifiably overwhelmed. Please find a way to cut back the hours so that you can find the emotional strength to find a better job. And then let us know.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Expecting yourself to function normally on 90 hours of work a week is like expecting my car to drive on an empty tank of gas. It just can’t. It might run on fumes for a while, and still roll down a hill, but it’s too empty to function. You can’t possibly go on like that.

  45. sammithecat*

    I feel like I want to print out this thread and bind it. Thanks, OP, for asking these questions.

  46. April*

    Great question and I love the response and all of the comments. I can’t say that I have struggled with keeping my emotions in check while at work, but I have certainly worked with people who struggled with it for one reason one another. It does make it difficult for coworkers when they don’t know what to expect and feel like they need to be extra careful to avoid triggering an emotional reaction out of someone. It can cause a lot of tension with work relationships so the fact that the OP realizes that this could potentially be an issue and is going to work on things, is really excellent. I have found that most of the folks I have worked with who had issues with controlling their emotions, didn’t realize that they had an issue.

  47. Umvue*

    This really resonates. I don’t usually have trouble keeping emotions in check, but I have tremendous trouble expressing my frustrations in a professionally suitable way. It is far easier for me to find a new job than it is to contemplate frankly addressing my needs with my superiors, because I fear losing my cool when told “no.” What tends to happen is I raise an issue timidly, once; it is blown off because my supervisor doesn’t realize its import to me; and then I’m on the job market and gone and the supervisor isn’t really clear on why, and by the time I’m leaving I have zero interest in candor because I just want to preserve a decent reference. I know for sure this is my issue and not my workplaces’ because it pops up in my personal life too. I’m stymied, frankly.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      One thing I had to do was get more picky about work places. Try to see if you can figure out the reputation of a company. Do you know someone who works there? Can you google and find out some scuttlebutt? Or can you see a nice department where you work now and shift over to that department?

    2. Argh!*

      One place to work on timidity would be group therapy. You could practice your assertiveness in a safe environment, and then you’ll feel more comfortable doing it at work. If you are timid, you are sending a message that you expect not to have your wishes respected. At some point it will become harder to find a new job than to speak up at work because employers will have a choice between you with your job-hopping history and someone with a solid work background. Over time, those “new” jobs will be lower & lower on the totem pole because you’ll be hired by less picky employers. You don’t want that!

  48. Observer*

    OP, I haven’t read the comments yet, so I apologize if I’m repeating what others have said.

    I think it’s important to look at this pattern of behavior and see if it mirrors your personal life.If it mirrors your personal life, then you have a broader problem that you need to address. If it doesn’t that’s a good starting place to figure out how to behavior. If you wouldn’t do it around your friends or family, then you REALLY shouldn’t do it at work. So, losing your temper when you are stressed is always a bad idea. And disengaging when you are stressed is a good way to destroy a relationship if you do this on a regular basis.

    Also think about whether you would try to avoid doing whatever in public. If the answer is “yes” then you probably should avoid doing that in the office – you pretty much always have to have your public / “company” manners on at work. Remember, these are not your close friends who are there for mutual emotional support. These are colleagues who are there to get a job accomplished and really don’t want to be dragged into your intimate and / or emotional “drama” (for lack of a better word.)

    Lastly, think about how you would feel on the other side. I’m betting that you would not want to be subject to someone’s outburst of temper, nor would you want to be stuck listening to someone go off on a rant, screaming at someone, bursting into tears and noisily sobbing, etc. Undoubtedly, your co-workers feel the same.

    I’ll admit that this is not the definition of professionalism. But, it’s a good starting place. And it makes for a solid basis on which to build once you figure out what professionalism looks like in your life and field.

  49. Student*

    Timely article for me. I just wrote a ranty email to a co-worker. I cannot figure out when it’s appropriate to reveal to co-workers that I’m angry with them and when I should just keep my mouth shut.

    He’s crossing some significant professional boundaries by dumping some of his problems on me. I don’t know when my duty to warn him that he’s crossing a line ends and I need to start complaining to management begins. I want him to know that I’m angry to show that he’s crossing pretty far over professional norms, and that I’m not going to put up with this any more. It seems right to tell him directly what the problem is before I just start complaining to management every time he does this. I don’t know how to do that effectively, though – how to send a message that something is not okay without getting obviously angry. I’ve given him a shot across the bow with my email rant, so I feel like I’ve now fulfilled my obligation to deal with him directly and I can start sending his messes to management to clean up.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The key is that you can deliver that message but do it without displaying emotion/anger. For example: “Fergus, X concerns me because of Y. Can you please stop doing that? If we can’t resolve this ourselves, I’d like to talk to Jane about it to see if she can help with a resolution, but I’m hoping that isn’t necessary and this email will take care of it. Thank you.”

      1. Erin*

        Not that I’m the one who asked the question, but thanks for this response – I’ve often wondered when something is appropriate to bring to a manager’s attention, especially if said manager is really great at not micromanaging, and doesn’t want to be brought in on stupid crap. But this wording is just perfect. Tactful and to the point, without dragging it out and making it seem like a big dramafest.

      2. Argh!*

        Totally! Our boundaries are our responsibility, not the responsibility of others. It’s up to us to let people know when they’ve crossed them. If you like your boundaries don’t expect mind-reading! That would be the ultimate in boundary-crossing!

    2. Katie the Fed*

      “I don’t know when my duty to warn him that he’s crossing a line ends and I need to start complaining to management begins.”

      That’s an ok thing to ask your manager! You can ask her what she expects you to handle and what she wants you to bring to her.

      I’ll usually trust my employees to handle a conflict, but if it gets out of hand I step in and shut it down.

      BTW, if you have someone who is really good at writing diplomatic emails, you can have her look them over before you send. I’m working with my deputy on her tone, and sometimes she asks me to take a look at her emails and I’m happy to point out snarky language. Sometimes I’ll have her look over mine for the same.

  50. Not So NewReader*

    Fortunately, OP, you have a lot of hope in your situation. There’s things that you have done right. And there’s lots of options here for you to consider.

    We seem to have skated by the idea that maybe the line of work you have is not for you. Please spend some pleasant time thinking about what you do well and what you enjoy. Think about your natural abilities. If I had to take a job repairing cars, I would probably run away from home so that no one could ever make me report to work at that job ever again. Part of your concern may be that you are too far off the track from who you are and where your natural abilities lie.

  51. McQ*

    I have been thinking about this recently as I am leaving my job next week due to bullying. I formally reported it a year ago which led to mobbing and since then have been under immense stress, suffering with anxiety and depression as a result. Whilst I was always able to control my emotions in my large open plan office, even when getting email threats from managers etc. I would always inevitably end up in floods of tears whenever I had to have a meeting with managers by myself (without my union rep).
    Most recently as last week I had a meeting with the department manager and his boss to explain why I have quit my job with nothing else lined up. Both sat there and boldly lied, rewriting history, said nothing when I explained how their actions had left me a stressed, anxious mess. It ended with me in floods of tears having an anxiety attack and they left me like that. I have found it so hard to control my emotions in front of managers when dealing with all of this and I really feel ashamed by it. It’s difficult when also dealing with anxiety but I’m embarrassed that I expected managers to still be capable of empathy or humanity. I don’t mean expecting hugs either just when you make clear how badly their actions have effected you, at least back off and apologise! I’ve worked in lots of places before but never experienced bullying. I feel so naive but lesson learned!

    1. moss*

      that sounds horrible!!! When you get a new job, it will be such a relief, because this is totally abnormal for a workplace. Don’t be hard on yourself for reacting. Your reactions are totally normal. Look into workplace PTSD resources, it’s totally a thing and maybe will help you feel less like the crazy one. Good luck!

    2. Argh!*

      Print out all those e-mails or forward them to a personal e-mail address. You may be eligible for workers’ comp for this!

    3. Rainy Day*

      So sorry to hear you are going through this and still have one more week, McQ. Is your union rep aware of the situation? Perhaps it might try to disassociate from the situation for the next week when you are at work? (i.e. put yourself in observer mode as if you are an anthropologist doing a study- I’m thinking of the dunce cap workplace letter) It’s ok to compartmentalize in the short term as a survival strategy. And, remember that you do not need to justify, argue, defend, or explain yourself to these managers anymore. It sounds like they would just use a meeting to attack you and you’re leaving anyway.

      Everyone else: If managers don’t remain professional in future interactions, can McQ just walk away?.

  52. Didididi*

    Does anyone have any tips on what to do when you feel ignored? I often feel like no one really listens to me, and then my response is to completely check out when talking to people. My logic is that I at least don’t end up crying in front of or yelling at someone, and I feel better because I can’t be hurt that I’m engaging and someone else isn’t. To me it’s protective. The only negative thing my boss brought up in my performance review was that he sometimes can’t read me, that my face has no expression. I told him it’s generally a reaction to feeling ignored, to which he said nothing. Has anyone else struggled with this? What has helped you?

    1. Alanna*

      Can you ask check in questions as you go? For example, if you’re telling your boss about a new contract, you could end with “Do you have any follow-up suggestions?”

    2. Argh!*

      They could be checking out because you’re not communicating non-verbally. Try to use more hand gestures if your face is impassive. Also, be sure to speak in sentences, not paragraphs. You can pause and check for facial reactions in the listener then respond to what you see if they don’t say anything, like “Did I leave something out? It doesn’t look like you’re with me.” Don’t let things go to the personal level of your feelings or your suspicious about their feelings. Try to keep it to “I want to be sure that we’re on the same page” and you should get some response. I hope this helps.

      If these things are really difficult for you, you may have a touch of Aspergers. People are more understanding about that nowadays, so if you get a diagnosis, you can just come out to trusted coworkers and they may make a point of letting you know that you’re getting across. Or you could shift to e-mail for more of your communication.

    3. NaoNao*

      A lot of times feeling ignored comes from your initial message not being received correctly or broadcast well.
      Next time you’re feeling ignored, make like a CSI and note everything about the scene.

      When and where is this happening? In person? On the phone? In meetings? Emails? on IM clients like Q or Slack? Who is ignoring you? What form does that take?

      And most importantly, what is your expectation for interactions that will show you you’re not being ignored. What does that look like? Do your emails get answered within x hours/days? Does your boss acknowledge your remarks and add to them while you’re talking? At the lunch table when you float a question “Anyone watching Better Call Saul?” people answer you and add to it “Oh, yeah! I love it!” What does engagement look like? Once you understand your expectations, you’ll be able to explain the incidents of being ignored, what you expected instead, and what the effect was of being ignored.

      How do you know you’re being ignored? Is it blatant: like “Wakeen, what do you think?” Wakeen: icy silence.

      Or is it more like “Wakeen, isn’t this new idea so cool?” Wakeen: “Yeah.”

      Or are you a manager asking for tasks to be complete and no one is doing them? I used to work in a call center where the floor manager stood at the front of a bull pen and shouted things like “Calls in queue! please finish up and get on them!” all day, every day. People totally tuned him out after the first hour or so. If you’re saying things like “Guys, please remember to fill out your PTO requests before Friday!” as people file out of a meeting, I think people are likely to just tune that out.

      Is it social, or work related? People ignoring work related conversations and requests is a serious worry. But if you just feel like socially you’re not clicking with people, I’d look for resources to help with that perhaps on advice sites like Captain Awkward.

      Are you using lots of acronyms and jargon with someone outside your business unit? Are you talking in a meeting that’s not ‘featuring’ you (you’re not a presenter or on the agenda, or the big bosses haven’t called for “thoughts or questions”)? Are your emails short and easy to read, and include a call to action? Do the email titles clearly indicate what you need and why you’re sending them? IE “Help needed: please complete the attached HR form by EOD Friday, June 10” or is it “HR FORMS”.

      If you can point to specific incidents *rather than a feeling*, half the battle is won. Next narrow down the outcome. To your boss: “I asked for a complete picnic preferences survey to be complete by Friday. It wasn’t, and I received 5 complaints about the lack of vegetarian options. I’d like to be able to anticipate these requests. How can I do this better next time?”

  53. Collingwood21*

    I am in a not disimilar poition. My current manager was the only person honest enough to tell me directly that I could be too reactive/brittle and that this caused problems for other people. I have been reading Ian Tuhovsky’s book on Emotional Intelligence, which is full of clear, practical advice – I have found that helpful in better understanding and controlling my emotions at work. Daily meditation also helps in my experience. I hope I will become a bit nicer to be around eventually!

  54. LAH*

    Thank you for this post!! It was so timely because I am currently in the middle of 25 emails with a director because I complained (again) about the actions of one of his managers (complaining loudly and in public to other employees about one of my staff). What started out as my pointing out the unprofessional behavior has deteriorated into everyone is unprofessional and should be written up every time. Unfortunately that is the corporate culture thanks to our president, but this was so validating because sometimes I question whether I am the one so far off base around here.

  55. AtomicCowgirl*

    I’m going to offer a suggestion that I hope you won’t take badly, OP. I recommend this because it has been extremely helpful for me in my own situation. I am a very strong personality, and very emotional. I always found it very difficult to control my emotions, and life/family stress often added a great deal to my work-related stress, and that stress found ways to release itself while I was at work, making it very difficult for me to advance. Nobody wants a supervisor or manager who can’t be counted on not to cry or raise her voice.

    When my ex and I split up about 8 years ago, I found a good therapist, who very quickly identified a lot of codependent behaviors in our relationship. She suggested I join a 12 step group for codependency. I did, and I also did a lot of reading on the subject – and figured out that my codependency was the source of a great deal of my behavior not only at home but at work too. I worked the steps hard, and continue to do so in both my personal and professional life. Since that time I have been promoted up the ladder and now manage a cross-functional team of over 30 people.

    If any of this resonates with you, I suggest seeking out a local codependency support group, and I recommend the following reading list:

    Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie
    The New Codependency, also by Beattie
    How to be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo

    Best wishes to you as you navigate the next months at your old job and search for a new one.

  56. Em*

    So, how would one go about sending this to a coworker who desperately needs to read it without offending?

    1. Ellenmopee*

      “Have you read this site? It’s awesome!” *link directly to this post instead of to the address of the whole site*

  57. Molly*

    Two words: Pro. Zac. This is very much how the depression in my family manifests.

  58. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Wondering if depression and anxiety fall into a similar category? My colleagues, including my line manager say that it is only obvious how I feel when I talk about it, and I try to frame informing my boss if my mental health has gone awry as seeking guidance for an issue that is impacting my work. It’s possible that I’m overthinking and am not as much of a burden as I think? My boss has also often told me that this doesn’t negatively impact my reputation.

    1. Collingwood21*

      Depression and anxiety certainly make controlling emotions harder. I also worry constantly about being a nuisance or burden (though never called either at work). But in my recent annual review the phrase “calm and measured” was used to describe my reaction to changes in structures so maybe the work I’ve done since my last comment in April has been working!

  59. kjs*

    I know this is an old thread and I may be way off base, but I had similar issues with being overly emotional and flying off the handle at work. My work involves customer service but only with internal clients (aka: other employees) and I also deal with vendors.
    Anyway, I was known as being temperamental and a hot head, and abrasive and confrontational and it was brought up during performance reviews. It did tarnish my reputation. (For the record, I was also considered a hot head with my friends and family.)
    During the end of my tenure with my former employer I was in counseling and the counselor suggested that I might be depressed. She referred me to a psychiatrist who after several visits and a lengthy medical/personal history he diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder 2. Turns out my emotional nature and extreme irritability was the way that hypomania manifested itself with me. I started medication soon after and it has been night and day. I don’t get as emotional any more and my fuse is A LOT longer. Even my friends and family have seen a marked difference. This was four years ago and unfortunately it came too late to salvage my reputation at my old company, but I have worked at two different companies since then and I do not have a reputation for being overly emotional or hot headed.
    Now, I am not trying to say that every person who behaves this way has a mental illness, but that’s what it was for me.

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