do you have to control your emotions to be professional?

I’m taking today off, so this is a reprint of a post from April 2016.

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 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.

{ 197 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. TherapyIsAmazing

    OP, if you can afford it, I would 100% recommend finding a therapist to work on your emotional regulation. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with you, or that you’re “crazy” (or any other negative false stereotype about mental health), but a therapist would be a professional trained in helping you work on these issues and likely be immensely helpful.

    Reply
    1. EmployeeHotlineBling

      If your benefits are quite comprehensive, you may have access to a counselor through your Employee Assistance Program that is trained on assisting with work-related emotional challenges at no cost to yourself.

      Reply
    2. Canonical23

      There are a lot of therapists out there that do what’s referred to as “business consulting” which is, straight up, teaching you cognitive behavior therapy approaches to managing stress at work, etc. I did about 6 sessions a few years ago when I first started managing and it was superbly helpful.

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    3. Qosanchia

      I’ll second that, and actually add a different way to frame it. Rather than seeing it as “getting professional help with these issues,” consider framing it as “seeking professional advice on emotional management tools.” It’s not an issue that you need fixing, it’s more that keeping a “professional demeanor” is a skill that takes work, and if you haven’t had effective practice or role models, it can be especially beneficial to call in a professional who has some training in these techniques.

      Reply
  2. fposte

    This is one of my favorite kinds of posts here–it takes something that doesn’t get explicitly stated very often and explicitly states it. So much of the transition to the working world is understanding this and similar largely unstated expectations.

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    1. ThinMint

      I agree. I have been in some toxic work environments and it is very helpful to read that you aren’t just paid to do your job, but to contribute to a pleasant environment for others. Bingo!

      I’ve been guilty of ignoring behavior because the person ‘did their job.’ Now I know they weren’t doing their full job because they were not contributing to a positive work environment.

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      1. Busy

        That is, I think, the best way to look at it as a manager I think.

        Early in my career, I was being super negative. One day my boss was like “hey, that type of talk affects everyone.” If I saw her today, I would thank her to here and back for telling me that. It also taught me to stay away from people like that.

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        1. Wantonseedstitch

          Yeah, I think a lot of people who are very negative in the workplace don’t really get how much it can affect other people. Hearing day in and day out that a client office doesn’t appreciate the work our office does, doesn’t understand our work, doesn’t pay attention to it…it can make a person really disinclined to put much effort into working with that client office, or trying to improve the partnership. This is something I’m seeing in my office right now, as I work with a new-to-me report who used to report to someone extremely, toxically negative.

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          1. Megasaurusus

            Most of the negative people I meet in the workplace genuinely believe that they are being honest, authentic, and saying what no one else has the gall too – I don’t think that they realize that the rest of see problems too, we just have a radically different approach to solutions and/or how to live with problems that cannot be solved in the present moment. I think this is one of the hardest types of people to reach, unless, like the OP, they come to it of their own self-reflection.

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            1. AnnaBananna

              I hate to off topic this but it’s the same with social media. Folks think they’re engaging in ‘public discourse’ when they’re really just spewing negativity to unwilling readers. It’s a shame more folks don’t take responsibility and seek help like the OP is doing.

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        2. Emily K

          I had a similar experience early in my career – I was friends/friendly with a lot of my coworkers, we were all in our 20s, the situation was legitimately bad, and we had exhausted our viable options for trying to do anything about it. Some people were looking for other jobs but that takes time, and other people weren’t in a position to be able to quit, so we vented to each other. A lot. Even outside of work. For a lot of us it was our first office job, and in the service industry, constant griping about bad situations is kind of…more normal than not, I think?

          It felt therapeutic at the time, but a few years later from the vantage point of a better job in a healthier environment I was able to see in retrospect that I made a bad situation worse for myself by letting it occupy so much of my time and emotional capacity, and probably worse for others by contributing to a toxic environment. The one coworker from my peer group who didn’t move on within a year or two was the only one our age who didn’t really participate in the kvetching sessions with us. He was warm and friendly enough, he just stayed out of the fray when it came to the collective grumbling.

          The fact that he was able to stay there as long as he did was a testament to how much more bearable the job was if you didn’t dwell on all the parts that sucked. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay very long because the environment had a larger cultural toxicity problem, but my last ~year there probably would have been a lot less emotionally trying if I had stayed above the fray.

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        3. Djuna

          That was a great boss, and you’re lucky you had her!
          I had a “tough but fair” boss in my first proper job while I was in college, and am similarly grateful to her.
          I’m not a manager, and I don’t work in HR, but I sometimes get people asking me “What would I have to do to have a job like yours?” which gives me the opportunity to tell them how much relationships matter.
          I usually say something about us all being human and how it’s important to have people think well of you and not remember you as the “dude who took my head off for asking a simple question one time” or “that woman who always rolls her eyes in meetings” or whatever.
          We have a lot of new to the workforce peeps, so I get a lot of Toy Story alien “Ooooooooooohhhhhh”-ing when I explain that. Hopefully, some of it sticks!

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          1. Jadelyn

            Last week I related an irritating incident to my partner (a machinist) and my mother (a logistics supervisor) in our group text. My partner immediately suggested a response that, while technically acceptable, would functionally be hugely damaging to my relationship with the irritating person in question. My mom and I both immediately recoiled in horror and explained that in an office job, relationship building is CRITICAL to your capacity for success. If you don’t have strong relationships with your coworkers, you’ve got nothing and you’re never going to get anywhere. So unfortunately, sometimes you do have to keep your emotions on a tight leash in order to build and maintain those critical relationships.

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      2. your favorite person

        My husband is about to start a job where he is managing people for the first time (a couple of them haven’t worked in ‘white collar’/professional jobs before). I just sent him this article.

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  3. agnes

    I really appreciate this letter writer asking this question. I think Alison’s response is quite good. In my experience in HR, one reason people “act out” is because they don’t know how to “talk it out.” Many of us never learned that skill at home or in school. We have a fear of conflict that keeps us from engaging in constructive dialogues about areas where we see things differently.

    In fact the phrase, ” I see this differently and here’s why” is a really good way to start a tough conversation. give it a try! Best of luck to you. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help.

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    1. Busy

      OMG do you know how long it took me to realize how SCARED I was of people? Not just like a social anxiety (which exists as well), but an actual *fear* that their response would be hostile or violent.

      And that isn’t just because of parents, but because of how bad my first few jobs were!!!!

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      1. Copier Company Admin Girl

        What a good point. It’s a known fact around the office that my manager sometimes reacts badly to certain questions. It has made me more hesitant to speak up and I’d like to learn to have the courage to do it anyway.

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        1. TootsNYC

          So very many people really do not have a paradigm for disagreeing, or for losing a disagreement.

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          1. JSPA

            nor for distinguishing between “people appreciating me” vs “people agreeing with a particular thing that came out of my mouth.” Can’t hurt to let everybody on your team know, regularly, how good they are, and emphasize that they’re allowed & encouraged to throw out creative ideas (that may or may not fit).

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            1. Copier Company Admin Girl

              Love this. Thank you for sharing. I was thinking earlier today about telling some of my colleagues that they’re doing great and now I definitely will. :)

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    2. Copier Company Admin Girl

      Thanks for this. I’m hoping to move more toward HR as my career progresses so I appreciate your perspective. :)

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    3. Veryanon

      Yep – I also work in HR, and one of the things I find myself explaining over and over to managers is that “acting professionally” is a basic expectation of any job, so if someone isn’t doing that, they can be held to that standard just like any other performance expectation (such as being on time consistently). It’s not written into a job description because it’s just accepted that people will act professionally at work, but some people may not have ever learned what that actually means.

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      1. Jadelyn

        This. I’ve had the conversations with managers before as well, about playing nice as an expectation of the job that you can, in fact, hold someone to, despite it not being stated in so many words in the job description.

        I wish there was a good mechanism for teaching young people How To Behave In A Professional Environment aside from internships. You only get the internship opportunity if you’re a student, and not everyone gets that chance, so how else are people supposed to learn the expectations of professional behavior?

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        1. Anon-Today

          My boss believes in being “nice,” but in her case that means being deceptive and passive-aggressive. I don’t think she’s “nice” at all!

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          1. DerJungerLudendorff

            I don’t think that’s “nice” either. It’s just “polite”.
            So she’s politely mean. Verbally stabbing you with a smile as it were.

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        2. Michaela Westen

          IMHO there’s also an industry-specific aspect.
          Like in the comment yesterday about the interviewer who was quiet and blunt, and the candidate thought he didn’t like her – but he hired her and his manner was because of his different background.
          When I worked in a trade, blunt and quiet was common and conducive to the work. You can’t dance around an issue with a machine that could get someone killed. You have to be blunt and solve the problem now.

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    4. alphabet soup

      I think that’s definitely true that a lot of people have poor conflict resolution skills.

      But I think it’s also true that some dysfunctional workplaces encourage this kind of negative behavior through negative reinforcement, i.e. the squeakiest wheel gets the oil in these kinds of environments.

      I seem to constantly be working in environments like that, where I start out handling my emotions professionally and raising concerns in a productive way. But after months/years of having those concerns be ignored or dismissed, I start to get frustrated and those emotions start to spill out in weird ways.

      It doesn’t help that my current boss is very conflict avoidant, and I’ve seen him reward negative behavior in others– for instance, co-worker is being a jerk and refuses to schedule a meeting with me. This the 5487534th time I’ve had a conflict with co-worker, so I raise it to my boss. Instead of talking to co-worker about professional behavior in the workplace, my boss’ solution: “why don’t we ask co-worker to organize the meeting so they still feel in control?” Rewarding that person with more power is his solution. And yeah, it gets the job done, but it throws me under the bus.

      It’s hard to stay emotionally controlled in that kind of an environment. You see other folks acting like jerks with no repercussions and it’s not hard to start thinking that you can act like a jerk, too (or at least not do the emotional labor of acting professionally when others are not).

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      1. Vermonter

        Did we have the same boss?

        Seriously, though. Having to always be the “grown-up” while other supposedly grown-ups get away with throwing temper tantrums wears you out. At my last job, there were certain people (all straight white men) who could get away with murder, but if anyone else got impatient, annoyed, or upset – well, that was just beyond the pale and they needed to get their act together.

        When I cried after weeks of harassment (intimidation, gossiping about me, slander, the whole nine), I was given a talking-to about professionalism. My harasser was not reprimanded.

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    5. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yes! It’s a hold over from childhood, people aren’t growing out of their fear of speaking up because they’ve been taught to just bottle it up and seethe over it.

      Then there are the ones who were raised to just run to someone else to have them “fix it”, which is where in HR we get the “He keeps putting his dirty boots next to MY locker EVERY day!” “Have you asked him to put them somewhere else?” “THATS NOT MY JOB! I CANNOT TELL HIM WHAT TO DO!!!” “You’re not telling him what to do, you’re asking him to move an item…you should try that.” And sometimes it works well because they try it out and other times I’m the big ol’ mean ineffective HR monster who “won’t do my job” because I’m not the ‘efing principal, I’m not going to call someone into my office and give them a lecture about how they’re doing something wrong when it’s so trivial and an issue with using your words.

      It’s your place in the world to be your own advocate and take care of yourself respectfully, you get so much further and are so much happier.

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      1. GelatoLaine

        > “Have you asked him to put them somewhere else?”

        I’m a big fan of this approach– reminding people that they can step up and take action. I’m not technically HR, but a big part of my job is conflict resolution– and I spend a lot of time asking, “When you talked with Person X about your concerns, what did they say?” Almost always, the answer is, “…I didn’t.” And we move on from there.

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  4. Jessen

    I might also add, look into how you can handle emotions that aren’t “professional.” If you’re really overwhelmed, can you take a quick walk? Can you message a friend who’s ok with you just sort of ranting, or even just type up a little note where no one else can see? (Don’t save it on your work computer.) Can you learn a few breathing exercises? In my own experience it’s not just knowing how to speak up – it’s being able to blow off stress in general in a way that doesn’t affect your colleagues.

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    1. Jadelyn

      I keep a tag on my personal (pseudonymous and kept strictly separate from my offline world) blog called “work fuckery”. When there’s Some Shit going on in my office, I will post small “vent posts” to that tag. It helps in two ways: first, just getting it out of my system in the immediate moment so I can set it aside and move forward; secondly, it helps me get perspective since I can go back and review the whole tag over time and see if there are patterns emerging.

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    2. Emily K

      A few of my close friends and I who aren’t even in the same line of work use each other for venting sometimes. It gives me an outlet to say RRRGGGH THIS COWORKER before I put on my professional hat to actually deal with the annoying coworker.

      Because we have a limited familiarity with each others’ workplaces and the way work gets done in our fields, it’s a totally different context than complaining to coworkers – it limits how much detail we’ll each go into when we’re venting, and instead of joining in because we share the same frustrations, or feeling obligated to “be on the same side” of a conflict the way we might in a shared workplace, we’re more likely to have helpful advice to offer each other – “oh, I also dealt with a coworker once who kept marking every email high priority regardless of content, here’s the language that finally worked for him to get the point and stop doing it.” Or, “Yeah, my boss kept stealing my lunch too, I finally just bought a mini-fridge for my office. Wish I could have spent that money on something other than a lunch fridge at work, but ultimately it was worth the cost…you might consider taking that route.”

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    3. Michaela Westen

      When I was working for the worst person I’ve ever known, every Friday after work I vented into a Word document on my home computer.

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  5. Kaitlyn

    Therapy! Even a short stint, where the goal of professionalizing your emotional life, can do wonders. Talk to your therapist – hell, bring them this letter – and get them to work with you on this. Because I bet that work is one area of your life where you have a hard time with this; other areas might be helped, as well.

    But even if it’s just work, remembering that you are not your job, our performance, your feedback. You can create a bit of space between yourself and your job, and that makes it a lot easier to have an unemotional or less-emotional response to work triggers.

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    1. Lauren

      Can you be more specific?
      And is neurodiversity a get-out-of-jail free card when it comes to professional behavior?

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      1. ND-anon

        IMO: nope! And I say that as someone who is neurodiverse, with a type that can manifest as intense emoting.

        What it sometimes is, is a useful thing for the person to realize, because there are techniques that will work decently for most people, and there are techniques that may not be as useful (or may be much MORE useful) to the neurodiverse. (In some cases, and if the person feels like it is severely impacting them, there are also medication options.)

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        1. L. S. Cooper

          Yep, this. I have ADHD, but it’s still on me to behave reasonably. Neurodiversity and mentall illness are reasons, not excuses, and it doesn’t normally matter why a person is engaging in a particular behavior– if the behavior is harmful and unprofessional, it’s a problem, plain and simple.
          Now, my ADHD makes it way harder to regulate emotions (among other things; self-regulation is…not my strong suit). But I still do it, and I try extra hard to be cheerful and enthusiastic and nice to coworkers, knowing that sometimes I’ll get frustrated and start to struggle.

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        2. TootsNYC

          the point of seeking a diagnosis of neurodiversity is to find the framework that will point you toward tactics, etc. (Just as the point of medical diagnosis is to point you to the right medication or treatment)

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        3. Luna

          I agree 100%!

          It’s certainly an *explanation* on why things are different, but it’s not an *excuse*. Difficulty is, how to bring this up without making it sound like an excuse. Even when trying to say, “Hang on, I have X/am [neurodiverse], so I don’t quite get what you are aiming for here…” and then asking for an explanation, it could sound like it’s just an excuse thrown out and, hey, don’t blame me for not getting this. It’s all on this aspect of me.

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      2. Lynca

        No it doesn’t excuse bad behavior.

        Knowing whether it’s neurodiversity or not will just give you more information on how to deal with it. I had the double whammy of having ADHD and a family that didn’t clearly spell out what acceptable emotional behavior looked like. I was lucky to have a lot of therapy early in life to help me with that. But it’s an on-going struggle of maintaining good coping skills and healthy emotional responses.

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      3. Lilysparrow

        Among other things, getting the right strategies or medications in place can bring your overall stress levels down. When you’re less “fried” or anxious about ordinary things, you have more resilience and breathing room to cope appropriately with big things.

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      4. Another ND Anon

        The issue for me, as an Autistic person, is that “professional behaviour” is a murky concept. Here’s a specific example – apologies in advance for the abundance of detail.

        I work in a place where people like to gossip, and the first time it happened I said the conversation was making me uncomfortable (I’m sure the anxiety was palpable but I didn’t say anything worse than that). This seemed to be appropriate based on me not having received any feedback to the contrary. A few months later I said the same thing in similar circumstances, however I was told that I had behaved inappropriately – there was a senior manager involved in the conversation this time. I confirmed that I would have been able to excuse myself from the situation, and the third time this happened a few months later I did exactly that. I asked for feedback proactively and I got a long-winded reply about how people were uncomfortable when I left, that I should be able to not need to leave.

        I get mixed messages because I seem to be expected to accept unprofessional behaviour, and while I am happy to recalibrate my behaviour I need to do so based on logic. I often feel the opposite way, that my neurodiversity turns into a get-out-of-jail free card for others (i.e. I’m perceived as too sensitive).

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        1. TheOtherLiz

          That sounds frustrating. It seems like you literally can’t win – there would be no “acceptable” response other than to join in on the gossiping or to stand silently by while it’s going on. Although people gossiping at work are themselves doing something inappropriate, and not worrying about the fact that THEY are making people uncomfortable. So many social rules are NOT logical, and also not rooted in what’s kind or right; I wouldn’t worry about conforming to professional behavior except when it hinders your ability to keep, and do, your job.

          In an ideal world, those of us who are neurodivergent would have people we trust in work and our social lives who we can set expectations and boundaries with. Giving people information about our needs, our boundaries, and what they might see us doing differently can really set relationships up for success. I’ll say for this example you’ve given, I think that those coworkers should have respected you for saying you were uncomfortable and changed the subject!

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          1. Another ND Anon

            Thank you, that is an accurate depiction of the situation! Unfortunately this stuff has hindered my ability to do my job, but I have supportive people around me otherwise and I’ll stick it out until I find something else. It’s kind of funny because this is a company that wants to tap into hiring neurodiverse people, and they value diversity in general, but they’ve really struggled with me (both the people I report to and HR) and I’m tired of being the guinea pig.

            I think that part of the issue is that I’ve had to become comfortable being vulnerable and articulating my boundaries – that makes people uncomfortable sometimes. My manager got so defensive after the second of those gossip sessions that I mostly stopped trying to explain myself after that.

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      5. Close Bracket

        “And is neurodiversity a get-out-of-jail free card when it comes to professional behavior?”

        No, but you do have to understand that somebody who is neurodivergent (the accepted term for non-neurotypical) will always be neurodivergent no matter how much therapy they get. Think of it this way: someone with cerebral palsy might be able to improve their muscle control with physical therapy, but they will still have cerebral palsy, and they will still have physical limitations. Someone who is neurodivergent can learn some emotional regulation strategies, but they will still be neurodivergent, and they will still act differently than someone who is neurotypical.

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      1. stampysmom

        My son is diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. He’s smart and capable but prone to this type of emotional response. Right now he’s only 14 but I see many of these behaviours in him. He’s also ADHD -impulsivity type. This might not be everyone’s kettle of fish but medication has helped “put the breaks on”. Its not perfect so we’ve also worked on breathing techniques, the emotional thermometer (how to know when you are in the red/yellow/green zones and calming techs).
        I think my little guy will be a great addition to any company but I have to help him work hard to be ready and I’m also hoping – given some of the articles I’ve been seeing – that more companies appreciate the diversity of ideas that come with ASD people and can assist them to a certain extent. Just like wheel chair ramps or standing desks, having reasonable accommodations can make all the difference. Areas that are quieter zones, less interruptions, headphones as acceptable office wear, even just knowing that you can have the most dedicated, reliable, focused employee if you’d only just give them space when they need it and manage their “quirks”.

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            1. stampysmom

              These little kindnesses make my whole day great! Its a haul but we’ll get there. Thank you!

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        1. Washi

          I think your last paragraph is really key – too often I think people end up careening between the extremes of not wanting to make even minor accommodations for neurodivergence, and the other end of “well we can’t talk to him about his yelling because he’s autistic so instead we’ll just all tiptoe around the issue and silently judge him.”

          I think that not crying or losing one’s temper or being rude is an appropriate standard to set for all employees, and at the same time, hopefully employers will become more willing to make adjustments in working conditions (like what you describe, but also including fair pay, fewer open plan offices, good health benefits, etc.) that help foster productive and pleasant work.

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          1. boop the first

            Good points… I’ve been struggling lately, but USUALLY I’m at a job where I can just do the work alone and not be noticed much if I’m in a mood. But right now I’m in a job with a micromanagy boss who is always up in my face, and I just CAN’T. I just can’t. We’re just lucky I’m able to come to work at all, and that my productivity is just fine. I just wish I could just work without being prodded constantly about nothing.

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            1. Michaela Westen

              “prodded constantly about nothing.”
              What is he wanting and not getting from you? If it’s attention, maybe spending a few minutes in the morning with him would reassure him? Or whatever it is, if you can figure it out and reassure him, maybe he’ll get out of your face.

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          2. Michaela Westen

            Not crying – I’ve cried at work many times. I’m lucky to have my own office with a door.
            I think the expectation of never crying at work is unrealistic. I hope everyone has someplace they can go to cry.

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      2. Luna

        Personally, I’d probably try to explain things in different words or even with hypothetical examples. But I am on the spectrum, and I go by how my own, personal though process works — having someone show me something, rather than just telling me, helps me a lot. And sometimes, this has to be shown a few times, but it’s better to be shown a few times ‘too much’ than to show it ‘too little’ and end up with mistakes. (though this piece of advice can work for most people. Better to question twice than to mess up because you didn’t ask enough.)

        Reply
      3. JSPA

        Seeing the same in others, from the outside, can be super-powerful. Even understanding that there are things that other people are processing, that you’re not (and that they’re not just being A-holes making random demands) can be powerful.

        People seem to imagine color blindness better than being on the spectrum, so…consider a guy who’s occasionally running red lights. He doesn’t know he’s color-blind. He figures that this must happen to everyone, because remembering top vs bottom light, or seeing “lit grey” vs “unlit grey” isn’t that easy.

        Once he understands that, for other people, it’s as different as yellow is from blue, or even more so, he can re-calibrate the level of care he takes, at stoplights, to approximate average performance.

        Same sort of thing with processing information or emotions. Having a diagnosis (or even an assessment that puts your various sorts of functions on a scale) takes away the feeling of being picked on personally by unreasonable people–or by the universe. It turns the situation into a challenge, instead of a sh*t-shower. It provides a way to find the community best equipped to share their guidelines and experiences.

        Reply
    2. pope suburban

      Which is an excellent reason to check in with your doctor and/or therapist, if you feel that controlling your emotions at work is more of a struggle for you than you’d like it to be. Although, frankly, this is a viable strategy for anyone, of any particular neuron/chemical makeup, who is struggling with emotions at work (or anywhere). I think that sometimes, we as humans think that we just need to try harder/buckle down/switch off certain parts at work, when really, it is perfectly okay to need some help.

      Reply
      1. Close Bracket

        “if you feel that controlling your emotions at work is more of a struggle for you than you’d like it to be”

        For some shades of neurodivergence, controlling emotions at work will *always* be more of a struggle than one would like it to be. You can’t therapy somebody into being neurotypical.

        Reply
    3. Engineer Girl

      That doesn’t mean that some modification of behavior or coping strategy isn’t needed to integrate into the NT world.

      Reply
      1. ArtsNerd

        For sure!

        It’s still a helpful thing to flag because maybe LW (or someone reading) is trying to figure out bigger picture stuff and this helps point them toward modifications that will work better for them.

        If I’d known back in the day that my intense feelings (and how hard it was to keep from acting on therm!) were a possible symptom of an actual issue beyond being ‘dramatic/too sensitive’, maybe I could have saved a few years before I got that bipolar diagnosis.

        Reply
        1. emiko

          This is a good point. Sometimes all we need in order to modify an unhelpful behavior in ourselves is to name the problem and implement a strategy. But if you are aware of the problem and you’ve tried a lot of strategies but you just can’t seem to effect the change you need to be making, maybe it’s time to use your EAP/find a counselor to talk to. A mental health professional may be able to offer different strategies than the ones that work for neurotypicals.

          I was diagnosed with ADHD late in life, and the really insidious thing about the symptoms of ADHD is from the outside they look a lot like you’re just not trying. I internalized the idea that it was my fault that I struggled so much with punctuality and attention to detail and staying on top of deadlines and projects, because I was lazy, disorganized, and had a bad work ethic – despite the fact that I really was actively trying to figure out how to stop showing up late to meetings or forgetting about deadlines. It was just that the strategies neurotypicals use to be punctual and stay organized, that I was trying to use, aren’t enough for me – I needed more. When I finally got referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me I actually cried in his office because I was so relieved to know that I wasn’t just a bad person. Now with the right medication and some next-level strategies my psychiatrist taught me, I’ve been able to get all my problems under control.

          Reply
          1. twog

            same!

            I flat-out bawled when I figured out that I had ADHD inattentive and am not just a lazy asshole.

            Reply
            1. Jadelyn

              The first day I took meds on a work day, I tore through a repetitive stack of paperwork I’d been allowing to build up for literally over a year, because my brain literally felt like it was melting every time I tried to force myself to handle it. The relief of having that stack of paper no longer looming menacingly at me from a corner of my desk was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt.

              Reply
          2. TheOtherLiz

            Yes, yes, yes. There’s a book on ADD called “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy???” because I think so many of us have that “Aha” moment at ADD/ADHD diagnosis. We’re not bad people. Our brains are different. And further, those of us who are not neurotypical are not LESS than other people because it’s hard for us to be as productive, to follow the societal rules as well as others. In the workplace, the dominant culture of showing that you can keep increasing your productivity, always excelling, never crying in front of coworkers, never being emotional, always doing great work even if we’re depressed or overstimulated or distracted……. it’s not the RIGHT culture. It’s just the dominant one.

            Reply
      2. JSPA

        Navigation metaphor: The end point is essentially identical. The route is occasionally modified, ditto the speed. The signposts and maps and GPS commands, and the display on the dashboard, however, may need to be dramatically different. And if upon arrival, you park on the street rather than in the assigned space in the parking lot, it should not be treated as a big deal. Which is to say, it’s OK for people to still be able to tell that you’re not navigating exactly the way other people are–and they can’t be jerks about “being able to notice.”

        Reply
    4. Luna

      I am on the spectrum, and I have (emotional) reactions like the LW mentions. It’s not just the neurodiversity, but also a way of having been raised (“use your words”… except words often helped in no way, so I acted out and punched people, which only got me in trouble) that has resulted in me not knowing how to control emotions ‘appropriately’. If I end up yelling, I cannot figure out how to control my volume decently; I don’t know how much anger is ‘enough’ to display; etc.

      I am trying very hard to work on being more open about how I feel, even if this mostly falls into the “mention when I am feeling physically in pain” type… which might end up making me sound and look like a big baby that can’t handle physical discomfort.
      But it’s better than what I had done in childhood: bottling everything up and pretending to be fine, until pain was so bad that it landed me in the hospital because bottling everything up had left me physically ill.
      Yes, I try to not mention it when I have a headache, but that’s because I sometimes have horrible migraines that are debilitating, so I don’t want people to mistake or assosciate headache = migraine. Don’t want the migraines to appear lesser than they are when it’s *really* bad.

      Reply
      1. JSPA

        One hard thing to navigate is how to use modifiers like “minor” or “major” or “average.” Because spectrum-processing can leave you completely overwhelmed by the sensations and the immediacy of the present experience…and because every headache is, well, a “full headache,” not “half a headache,” it can be hard to step back, think about the range of ways your head can feel.

        And then you still have to decide whether it’s something other people need to know about, or not.

        Going into a meeting? then yes: “I want to participate, but I have a minor heachache. Don’t take my expression personally.” Doing data entry, next to someone else doing data entry? Then, no: they don’t expect to interact, they don’t need to know why you’re not smiling and interacting.

        On the other hand, doing data entry, but about to have a migraine so bad you may puke in the trashcan, fall over, moan loudly, be unable to see, or be so clearly in distress that someone will feel freaked out or feel like they should help, but they don’t know what’s going on? Then yes! ” migraine starting! Don’t panic, it happens. But if it gets so bad I can’t talk, please call this number [give them number of someone who can get you home].”

        To generalize: people don’t need to know the details of your internal sensations, but they do need to know that there’s something going on, and the practical aspects of dealing with it.

        Reply
        1. Luna

          Yeah, that’s why one of the things I have along at work is some 200mg ibuprofen, so if I can feel a headache starting, I can take some and at least take some of the edge of preemptively. I have worked with headaches before. Unpleasant, but still managable. And fortunately, most customers don’t seem too upset if I am not cheek-to-cheek smiling. They care more about checking into their hotel room, and relaxing.

          Probably doesn’t work much if it’s a debilitating migraine — I have asked to leave work one day because it was a deblitating migraine. The kind where every step sends that stabbing pain shooting up your spine and throbbing. Because no medication really helps at that point. Just darkness, a cold pillow, and keeping as still as possible; usually end up napping.

          Reply
  6. EH

    OP, I feel you! This stuff is hard.

    One trick I’ve found helpful is pretending that I’m an actor playing a part. That part is Calm, Collected, Professional Person. CCPP is confident speaking up in meetings, reacts to coworker aggro with calm equanimity, and brings up issues promptly, among other things. I know friends who use this same mental workaround for things like cleaning, handling financial matters, making phone calls, etc.

    Also, my mantra for this stuff is “I don’t have to *want* to do it, I just have to do it.”

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Yes, it’s the upside of imposter syndrome, isn’t it? Fine, I’ll pretend to be the person who’s good at this.

      Reply
      1. Anita Brayke

        I Love This!!!!!!! As well as the actor comment above! I do not blow off at work, but I do bury all my stress from work, and I can sometimes get kinda snarky (not to people, but when I’m at my desk) by myself. I’m not blaming my parents, but I did not know how to successfully have conversations about things that bother me in my childhood. It wasn’t until I left my emotionally and verbally abusive spouse that I BEGAN to learn it. It is difficult, but these concepts, about being an actor and about the “upside of impostor syndrome” are going to be very helpful going forward, I think!

        Reply
    2. Jadelyn

      I’ve heard it described as “creating a worksona” for yourself. I’m here as Normal Karen, who loves expense reports, brainstorming meetings, and casual Fridays!

      Reply
      1. Moray

        The job where I felt most like I could “be myself” (didn’t have to hold back the dark humor, cussing, or surly laziness) actually turned out to be really unhealthy. Never being obligated to present as a more decent version of myself was really, really bad for me, no matter how freeing it felt at the time.

        Reply
        1. Rachel

          I feel this so much. When complaining, yelling, crying, cussing, and saying edgy things were the norm and expected, I had no reason to try to be better. I reverted to a more immature, stressed, and unhappier version of myself. So thankful to be out of that job and somewhere where I’m motivated to be better.

          Reply
    3. Aeryn Sun

      I definitely do this too. I also feel a weird sense of pride about it, too, like yes I have depression, yes I am often sad on the inside and might not be feeling happy for a while, but I can make people believe I am this calm person and that’s something I feel weirdly good about.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        That’s not weird at all. You’re doing something that’s not easy, and it makes a difference to your effectiveness, and the quality of life of the people around you.

        You SHOULD be proud.

        Reply
    4. TootsNYC

      ooh, I do this all the time, but more with Focus and Which Task Now?

      In his “Make Great Art” commencement speech Neil Gaiman says essentially this: Pretend you are a person who can do the thing you want to do. He doesn’t say it quite like this, but I do: Almost like playing “Astronaut” or “Cowgirl” as a kid. Fake the dialogue the best way you can.

      Reply
    5. TootsNYC

      Also, my mantra for this stuff is “I don’t have to *want* to do it, I just have to do it.”

      I used to tell my picky-eater daughter: Not every meal can be your favorite. As long as it isn’t making you gag, just eat it. Grownups often find themselves eating something they don’t much care for, just because they need the food, or to be polite. (Of course, grownups often have a lot more control over what they eat than kids do.)

      And grownups don’t clean the bathroom or cook the dinner because it’s fun. Sometimes it just is.

      Reply
    6. Blarg

      My psychiatrist actually had me identify my favorite actress/characters for when I’m feeling defeated. So when I’m upset, I’m Natalie Portman. And it’s gonna all come together. Cause it does at the end of the movie.

      Reply
    7. iglwif

      Yes! I joke about “cosplaying a professional grown-up” at conferences but it’s not entirely a joke. I can’t make myself feel competent, but I can pretend to be someone who feels competent!

      The real me is shy, introverted, socially anxious, scared of forgetting people’s names or saying something stupid, and dressed in sweats; the version of me that goes to conferences dresses professionally, wears lipstick, and, by a sort of sympathetic magic, is able to project a certain level of competence and industry knowledge rather than just literally hiding under the booth table all day. (Of course, it’s also gotten easier to go to conferences as I’ve gotten to know more people, albeit in a superficial way. Even just knowing where someone works or that they have a new job gives you at least a few minutes of stuff to talk about!)

      The costume is *key* for me. I can do 90% of my job perfectly well while sitting in my apartment wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, but that 10% that involves interacting with people-who-are-not-my-coworkers? I have to spend a ton of time considering and planning costumes for these occasions–I make lists and everything!–because I do not feel confident in my ability to dress myself without extensive prior planning. I worked on the costume crew in high school, and I approach work travel the same way.

      Reply
    8. wittyrepartee

      Lol, at one particularly toxic job I used to pretend to be a queen among squabbling courtiers.

      Reply
    9. PlainJane

      This is how I got over my fear of public speaking – I pretended I was an actor playing a role. Did that a few times and didn’t have to do it anymore. Mental role-playing can be a wonderful thing.

      Reply
  7. Copier Company Admin Girl

    Thanks, OP and Alison, for speaking on this. I’ve recently found myself getting sucked into many thought spirals regarding this. Am I controlling my emotions properly? Am I even able to master that part of myself? Am I acting like the type of professional I want to be? Am I growing as a person? A bit of a mid-20s-life crisis, so to speak. I’m just glad to know I’m not the only person asking these questions.

    Reply
  8. Washi

    I’m always so grateful to my first ever boss for teaching me about this. I was working as a volunteer coordinator and the behavior of a small minority of the volunteers could be…frustrating, to put it mildly. Whenever I was about to dash off a grumpy email or go into a difficult conversation, she would always ask me, Socratic-style, “what is your goal? What do you think is the best framing to get to that outcome?” I eventually was more and more able to focus on outcomes rather than my emotions.

    My current strategy is that I ask myself “what if this didn’t annoy me? what actions would I be taking right now?” I don’t know why it works so well, but it totally flips a switch in my brain and lets me think a different way!

    Reply
    1. Red5

      I love this! “What if this didn’t annoy me?” I’m definitely going to try this out. Thank you!

      Reply
    2. Emily K

      I eventually was more and more able to focus on outcomes rather than my emotions.

      I’ve observed this seems to be an unfortunate flip side of the way our culture has gradually become more emotionally intelligent and aware of social injustice. There are a lot of great things happening with more importance being place on recognizing people as whole persons who deserve respect, being more aware of microaggressions or how something might be interpreted differently by someone who doesn’t share your demographic background, and people feeling more empowered to speak up when things are having an unfairly disproportionate/discriminatory effect on some individuals compared to the dominant group or majority.

      But of course, cultural shifts aren’t often very nuanced, and I’ve seen some people take it too far and get bogged down in “I shouldn’t have to”s to the point they resist the solution that will get the best outcomes because it requires them to take the high road and let someone who’s being petty or annoying “win” or “get away with” something. They just can’t stomach or aren’t willing to accept that there sometimes has to be a difference between “how things should work in an ideal world” and “what is the best outcome I can reasonably expect to get out of this imperfect, real-life situation.”

      Working in the nonprofit world I’ve often thought it may be more prevalent because people who go into this line of work are the sort of people who are trying to make the world a better place, and are so used to fighting huge, unwinnable-seeming fights that they develop an ethos around not backing down and not accepting a bad situation, even when the fight might seem unwinnable, because ultimately all social progress depends on people who are willing to fight unwinnable fights, and telling people they’re being impractical or unrealistic is how the powers that be keep the people under their thumb and prevent social change – and that admirable “I shouldn’t have to” attitude that drives them to be a force for change in the world can also end up making them really stubborn in the workplace.

      Reply
      1. Dust Bunny

        Dear god, this. I belong to a church that’s big into social justice, etc., and some of those people do great work but also, wow, some of them can be jerks. Like, they cannot turn off the AT ALL COSTS part of their personality even when they really need to. I’ve seen some of them basically bully people who are not ready/able/in a good place to Fight Hard For The Thing.

        Reply
  9. Have you tried rebooting?

    I have a real problem with controlling my emotions, especially crying. I would highly suggest checking out Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. It really made a huge difference in my ability to self regulate my emotions.

    There are some good books out there, but it really works best in a group setting.

    Reply
  10. Bend & Snap

    A mental health checkup could be helpful. If this is something more than general trouble managing feelings and reactions, meds and/or therapy may be a good idea.

    Reply
    1. Mixed Up Shook Up Girl

      Absolutely. I’ve been on meds for years, and they have helped me control both my thoughts and emotions.

      I’ve been diagnosed with depression, but I think it’s more than that. My father was an alcoholic and my mother had issues, too. She was very possibly narcissistic. Our household was chaotic. My father was reasonable when sober, but my mother was very concerned with how things looked. She flew into rages regularly.

      I never knew how to respond to anything.

      Meds gave me the peace to seek additional help.

      Reply
  11. Green Goose

    Great question! Does anyone have advice for when you get really upset in the moment? 97% of the time I feel like I’m a level-headed, calm employee but there have been a few times when I’m been ambushed by something really unfair (examples: my raise would be half of what I expected, my higher-ups offered my amazing PT staffer at FT position and then rescinded it without talking to me) I get so overwhelmed that I am unable to advocate for myself and just sit quietly trying to control my emotions. These conversations are usually in person and its hard to know what to do in the moment.

    Reply
    1. Miles

      Sometimes you can ask to take a moment, particularly if it’s a big thing. “I’m sorry, but that really wasn’t what I was expecting to hear and I’m feeling a little blindsided. Can I take a day to process this and we can continue discussing it tomorrow?”

      Reply
    2. Mary

      I think it’s often ok to say that: “I’m going to need some time to think about this— I will get back to you later today.” What can help is having a go-to phrase that you’ve practised, so you’re not having to think up what you’re trying to say, but can just metaphorically press auto-play on your “brain busy, brb” response.

      Reply
    3. Lora

      Here’s what I do:

      1. If you remember Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda (adapted from La Femme Nikita), there was a scene where Bridget Fonda is being trained as an assassin and Anne Bancroft is trying to explain how to do a poker face response to shocking things: “Just smile a little smile and say something, it doesn’t matter what…say, ‘I never did mind about the little things’.” I don’t say “I never did mind about the little things,” but I do a sort of quick customer service smile and count to a not-too-high number, by prime numbers or by Fibonacci sequence if necessary. I don’t say anything right away.

      2. If the number I have to count to is unreasonably high in order to regain some calm, I say, “this is definitely something to think about. Let me (look into it? run some numbers? talk to a specific person? sleep on it? whatever) and get back to you.”

      3. Expressions of surprise are OK as long as they are quiet expressions. This will help the person talking to register exactly how displeased you are. “I am feeling blindsided here,” “I’m sorry, can you explain that in more detail?” “…I think I misheard you or misunderstood, can you repeat that?” “I really wasn’t expecting to hear that, wow” etc. will all convey that this is not welcome news.

      4. Expressions of intention to follow up later also help convey that you intend to marshal your arguments and Deal With Them later: “I will send you a meeting invite to talk about this further,” “What is your availability to discuss this tomorrow / next week?” “I think this needs a more in depth conversation than I have time for right now, I will set up a time for us to talk more later.”

      I practiced until I could do it on autopilot.
      (smile through gritted teeth, pause, count to 100, visualize Anne Bancroft)
      “This is definitely something I need to think about. I really wasn’t anticipating hearing that. Let’s talk more about it tomorrow, I’ll send you a meeting invite.” It doesn’t matter if you sound like a robot or reading a script, because eventually people around you will understand that this is exactly what YOU say when you are murderously angry. Basically, I don’t say anything in the moment at all. Chances are if the person I’m talking to is announcing that they’ve screwed me over, I’m done talking to them anyway and now I want to talk to their boss and whomever else can override their crappy decision.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        eventually people around you will understand that this is exactly what YOU say when you are murderously angry.

        One point encapsulated in this:

        it is not actually necessary to hide the fact that you’re angry. It is necessary to express that anger in a way that doesn’t blow things up.

        So I think even saying, “I’m pretty upset by this, and I’m not in a position to respond clearly and productively. I’d like to break here and come back in an hour to discuss.” Then go for a walk and yell “Fuck!” at a tree.

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          This is a great point. Both this and the comment above are excellent. You don’t have to always pretend to be happy about everything. You can express frustration and displeasure, IF you do it the right way. It’s possible to be calmly upset.

          My method is to be High Lord of the Understatement: someone says something outrageously upsetting or frustrating, I raise an eyebrow and quietly respond “Hm. I’ll admit, that’s not what I was hoping to hear. Can you help me understand the reasoning behind this?” Tone and delivery are key with this. As long as you keep your voice very, very quiet, you can have a slightly sharp tone and get away with it; the impression you want to give off is someone keeping a very tight rein on themselves, because that conveys “I’m pissed” while still remaining nonthreatening, which is critical.

          I’m a big fan of “can you help me understand?” in general, because it presupposes that the person has a reason for saying or doing whatever thing you’re upset about, thus pushing them to justify said reason, and yet is nonconfrontational and even comes off as “collaborative”-ish, giving you further plausible deniability against anyone getting on your case about being upset. “I’m not arguing, I’m just trying to understand” is a hard statement for people to take issue with.

          Reply
    4. Moray

      If you can’t avoid having the conversation right then, try to extract yourself for just a minute or two. I’m not great at thinking on my feet at the best of times and I also get very emotional, so when something unexpectedly goes badly, I try to escape briefly to grab my notebook, or my water bottle, or my phone. Or, if I’m already holding one of those things, I need to pop out and put it back on my desk. Or I realized that I forgot to put my phone on silent. That’s at least a chance to take a few deep breaths and attempt a not-the-end-of-the-world mantra before I go back.

      Reply
    5. PersephoneUnderground

      I think a big part is also that in the business world it’s pretty normal to not deal with everything on the spot. So if you don’t know how to react or can’t do more than not cry until the end of the meeting, that’s ok. Don’t agree to anything unchangeable like signing a legal document while you’re upset (Though signing a review as Alison has said doesn’t actually mean you agree or can’t discuss it further later. I’m thinking more along the lines of agreeing to a certain raise or signing a severance agreement or something.), but generally with business conversations *even if you didn’t say you need time to think about it in the moment, it’s fine to take that time anyway and raise the issue yourself later* once you know what you want to do.

      I used to often default to “oh no I can’t do that” with things I was unsure of when asked to do something new in a talk with my boss. Then after thinking about it at my desk for a few minutes I’d come back and say “actually, I can do it if I do it this way”. I think I frustrated my boss a bit doing that so I learned to say “let me see what I can do” instead of feeling I needed an immediate answer. And this wasn’t stuff that upset me, but it applies because (1) it shows you can change your mind and that’s totally normal and (2) often not trying to decide everything in the moment is much better. So if you agree to something you shouldn’t have or just can’t even for the rest of a stressful meeting, you’re not forever bound by what you said or didn’t say on the spot! I think going back and revisiting things is considered much more normal in business than in everyday social life (and maybe is underused in everyday life too).

      Reply
    6. wittyrepartee

      Recognize the signs as early as possible. Heat coming up from your neck, racing heart, racing thoughts? Time to back out of the conversation and pick it up later.

      Reply
  12. Anna

    I had a co-worker once who was smart and generally great at her job (we are in finance). However, there was a certain time of the year every year (when a close family member had passed) that she would be an emotional wreck. She would lash out at people for the smallest issue, or bust into tears if given the slightest amount of negative feedback or pushback on anything. She would always explain up front that she was going to be this way for a while and why. People that were just getting to know her would be very sympathetic thinking she would just be sad and a bit withdrawn, but they would be totally floored when they saw how bad it actually was. She left the company years ago so I am not sure if she was ever able to get some help for her issues and get her emotions under control, but it most certainly held her back at our organization and I am almost positive she would have been more closely looked at for several promotions if it wasn’t for her not being able to keep her emptions in check. It was certainly a horrifying time for her every year and everyone felt bad for her, but there are plenty of people at work who have lost someone important to them, myself included, and you just can’t take a month out of every year where you scream at your co-workers.

    Reply
    1. WellRed

      It’s too bad that no mgr ever told her ( I assume) that this was holding her back. Sometimes a reality check forces you to reconsider your behavior and get help if needed.

      Reply
  13. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana

    In case anyone is wondering what not controlling your emotions look like, allow me to tell you about when it bit me (rightly) in the butt: I work in events and each year, the staff hauls itself to said event and hunkers down for about a week which means we need computer access and at the time, VPN access so I could work on my actual PC/files at home. I was told by the IT guy he’d get to it when he could b/c he was busy setting up something else to whence I made some comment like I”M IMPORTANT TOO and slammed the door to my office. A coworker (in my department) told our boss because she thought I was actually getting short-shrifted – nope. I got called up for being unprofessional and had to fix it. That person who told me he’d get to it still works here and still irks the bejesus out of me. But you have to learn how to be outwardly cool and go to the person who CAN fix it. Because they will either tell you to get over it, or help you fix it. Both good lessons. Or just move onto something. Constant negativity will never serve you at work.

    Reply
  14. Engineer Girl

    I’d suggest OP invest in the book “Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Kerry Patterson.

    It basically tells you the most effective techniques for resolving conflict. It also lets you have the discussion earlier, before the emotions get large.

    Reply
    1. LaDeeDa

      Every single person in the world should read that book! You can also find training/learning videos on you tube around this book.
      I have a mandatory class that all leaders must take, and is available to any employee who wants to take it. that is based on this book and requires them to read it. I teach it every quarter at my company. In 5 years over 700 people have taken it.

      Reply
  15. Mary

    I’ve realised recently that whilst I’m fine at controlling my own emotional reactions, I probably internally over-react to other people Having Emotions, especially of they are senior to me. A month or so ago, my great-grand-manager rolled her eyes at something I said in a meeting, and repeated it back kind of snarkily as a, “that was a stupid thing to say” thing. (It wasn’t that stupid! It was a “here a a minor reason why that might not work” comment, and she seized on it as if I was always super-negative, which I’m not!)

    Looking back, it was pretty unprofessional of her, and I’m sure it was just her having something else on her mind and being a bit snappy and impatient. But it totally coloured everything about my job for about a week: I felt completely demotivated and as if my contributions to everything were just stupid and unhelpful and I should just go away and get another job. I eventually felt better about it after another meeting with this boss when she was warm and positive towards me, which helped me put it into perspective as just a blip.

    Looking at it, I realised I’d done the same thing at a previous job: my manager was a bit snappy and impatient to me in a meeting, and I spent the following week feeling crappy about it. It was only later I found out that she was waiting to find out about a bereavement and like, it was absolutely not about me!

    I am pretty people-focussed and that kind of snappiness from a manager really gets to me and makes me feel like I’m failing st my job and just bring generally annoying. Does anyone have any advice on how to take that less personally? I’m hoping it might be easier now I’ve noticed and named it as a pattern, but I guess I won’t know til it happens again!

    Reply
    1. CommanderBanana

      I do the same thing, and it really sucks because I have a manager that can be really hot and cold on people and also lets personal things happening to her affect how she acts at work – so if she’s had a fight with her SO she’ll be a beast the next day and we don’t always know why.

      I really struggle with it and I’m also hoping other people have some ideas, but one thing that has helped me is to imagine all the other things OTHER than me that could be causing it.

      It’s hard for me because I’m a pretty even-keeled person and am really good at compartmentalizing personal things whilst at work, but some people just…aren’t.

      Reply
      1. Forrest

        Yes to your last paragraph — I have had times when I’ve been a bit checked out or disengaged at work (early pregnancy sickness, bereavement) but it tends to manifest in me as being a bit vague, slow, and extremely apologetic. It just never occurs to me to be snarky or cross or impatient with people at work, so if someone else does it I assume it MUST be me and it’s only ages later that I realise it might have been something else!

        Reply
        1. CommanderBanana

          Right? It’s weird because for me it only goes one way – stuff at work bleeds over into my home life, but not the other way around. Don’t know why.

          Reply
    2. Vax is my disaster bicon

      Noticing and naming it is a good start—from there you can try to identify exactly what is going on and whether it makes sense to draw the conclusions you’ve come to. My therapist refers to this particular cognitive distortion as “mind-reading.” (Basically, assuming you know exactly what others are thinking and assigning a lot of weight to that.) I still struggle with it at times, but CBT has been helpful! It might be useful for you to look up a list of cognitive distortions and how to respond to them to add some tools to your mental kit.

      Reply
    3. Jasnah

      I’m not sure if this is super helpful to you, but this is a great example of why it’s important to be professional at work, especially if you’re senior to people. It can demoralize them and color their impression of you and the whole company. I know I definitely notice how higher-ups react and if they seem stressed, angry, resigned, or disappointed, it affects how I feel as well. So it’s really important to model the attitude you want others to have.

      Reply
      1. CommanderBanana

        Yup. Unfortunately our grandboss doesn’t see her behavior (she’s really good at kissing up and punching down) and if he did, he’s ‘non-confrontational’ to a fault.

        She’s toned it down somewhat because she realized it wasn’t working in our small department, which is all people who predated her hire and does not have the type of culture where snapping/yelling is okay, but it’s still not great to the point that if I were her superior, I’d talk to her about it.

        She actually mentioned a few times how “great” it was at her last job that she could yell at her coworkers and everyone was okay with it, and I’m like…..mmmmm. Kay.

        AFAIC, raised voices in the office are NEVER okay, unless someone is actually in danger of being injured and you’re warning them. I doubt I’ll ever be a director or CEO, which is fine with me, but if I was, I would be very clear about that.

        Reply
    4. Michaela Westen

      Being discouraged and unmotivated for a week because someone snapped at you seems a little disproportionate.
      I used to have big/long reactions like that and the reason was my PTS from childhood. My parents had made me feel profoundly discouraged, rejected, sad, etc. and those feelings came again in response to behavior from other people.
      Is there something in your background that’s contributing to this? If so, just identifying it helps a lot because then you understand your reactions and know it’s not just the boss being snippy, there’s more to it.
      Also when you identify it you can address working through it, either on your own or with a therapist.
      I hope this helps! :)

      Reply
  16. LaDeeDa

    Oh this is a good one, I haven’t seen it before. When I am coaching people one of the things I focus on is self-awareness. We need to be able to identify how our behaviors are perceived on a “good day” as well as how we behave on a “bad day” and how those behaviors are perceived by others. For example; I am very detailed orientated, I like plans, schedules, and I like to be prepared, and I expect others to be prepared as well, I want all the facts and details before making a decision, and I am focused on all the tasks that will make something successful. When I am having a “bad day” (I use this broadly to mean when stressed, overwhelmed, feeling undervalued, etc) the same behaviors that make me good at making plans, schedules, and help me to be prepared can become more pronounced- leading people to perceive me as being rigid, cold, reserved, stuffy… and in fact when I am stressed and overwhelmed I do become rigid and demand that other people prepare the way I want them to prepare.
    By being aware that this is how I respond to “bad days” has allowed me to step back and make sure that I deal with that stress, and come into a situation with my best face (behaviors) forward. It is up to me to manage myself and my stress and my behaviors, I can’t expect everyone to bend to my preferred way to behave.
    I strongly recommend everyone take DISC (because you can find it online for free), or even better than DISC is Insights Discovery (if seeking a leadership coach find one who is certified in Insights) – which helps you identify your blind spots. We often don’t know how others perceive us. That kind of self-awareness can and will change all your relationships, not just working relationships.

    Reply
  17. Beth

    This is a hard one because people are allowed to have emotions at work–we’re human, we continue to not be robots, and I think it’s forgivable if even the inconvenient and uncomfortable emotions come out once in a blue moon. But it’s also true that part of working, especially in a shared environment, is making sure that the space and team is comfortable and functional for everyone–even when we get bad news or are upset about something.

    A lot depends on frequency and degree, I think. Someone tearing up a bit once when their manager gave them unexpected negative feedback? Not ideal, probably a little uncomfortable for the manager, but not a big deal. Someone crying giant crocodile tears and throwing a pity party every time a coworker fails to sufficiently praise them? Absolutely not ok. Same goes for pretty much all expressions of negative emotions. If it’s occasional, quiet, and you get yourself under control (or bow out for a bit to process it away from others) when it does happen, that’s human. If it’s frequent, loud/attention-drawing, frightening or disturbing to others, etc., though, it becomes a serious problem very quickly.

    (Worth noting: this is all about how to EXPRESS emotions, not whether it’s ok to HAVE them. Having them just happens, whether we like it or not. It’s how you act on them–or don’t–that matters.)

    Reply
  18. Tim C.

    I got a handle on professionalism by looking at things from the other way around. Say you hired someone to paint your home or fix the dishwasher. They did not clean up too well after it was done. When you asked for this to be corrected, they cried, lost their temper, and became disengaged. How likely would you be in hiring them again?

    Reply
    1. Glitsy Gus

      I think this is a great take, because it works the other way as well. If that same painter dropped a bucket on his foot and he let a swear slip out, you would probably understand because he’s a human being.

      If he started swearing every time you asked him to not track paint footprints around the house? Not acceptable.

      Reply
  19. Aeryn Sun

    While I agree with a lot of the feedback here, I wish that modern offices would account for emotion that is frankly impossible to hide or avoid. I get panic attacks, and while my antidepressants have been a lifesaver in helping me not get as many of them, it can often take people months if not longer to get diagnosed with mental illness, to find the right medication and to acclimate to that medication. I’m really lucky in that my first antidepressant has been amazing for my depression and anxiety, but it took a couple of months for that to kick in. If you need to try a few different ones to find the right fit, that’s a long long process that can make things a lot harder.

    I think people should definitely strive for professionalism and being calm if they can, but I just wish that modern offices would be a lot better in regards to mental health and how those things can affect how we present ourselves.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I agree with you, I’m pro-emotion in all areas of life. I don’t turn mine off either but I can turn the volume down a bit if necessary which is more what I think is the key here.

      However when it comes to some emotions, I never want to see them ever, which includes but isn’t limited to anger. I don’t do snapping unless it’s followed up with an immediate apology and very infrequent and I’ll quit over someone yelling.

      I don’t think it’s all about being calm and robot like, just bring it down to the “inside voice” level of emotions.

      Reply
    2. Emily K

      I’m not quite sure what this means in concrete terms?

      If someone has undiagnosed mental illness that even they don’t realize they have, I’m not sure how you can expect other people in the workplace to be more understanding if they don’t know that it’s mental health-related.

      For diagnosed issues, the only time I’ve witnessed people not be understanding when they *know* mental health is involved, is when the person whose behavior is disruptive is not seeking treatment, acts like their illness is a personality attribute that they can’t be expected to change, and has been acting that way without acknowledging how disruptive their behavior is for a very long time. “I’m so sorry, I know that reaction was inappropriate and it’s not how I strive to conduct myself at work,” after a one-off incident or “I’m doing my best to get this under control,” if it’s a situation where medication/treatment is underway but they haven’t figured out the right treatment or it hasn’t had time to take effect yet, seems to be the ticket in the (admittedly limited) cases I’ve had experience with. Maybe I’m being pollyanna-ish here, but I feel like anyone who wouldn’t accept one of those two statements is just a crappy jerk of a person, and it doesn’t represent a majority POV.

      Ultimately it’s up to ourselves to ask for accommodations and/or seek treatment if we have a mental health issues interfering with our ability to function non-disruptively in the workplace. That can be a real challenge for a lot of people to figure out what’s going on with themselves and seek help, but at the same time we don’t want employers to start getting into the business of diagnosing employees with mental illness or suggesting mental health treatment, nor can we assume that all disruptive behavior is potentially the result of mental illness and therefore must be put up with indefinitely – so how can a workplace be more understanding if they don’t know there’s more to the situation, and what kind of A-hole isn’t understanding when they do know there’s more?

      Reply
      1. fposte

        In addition to your good points, I’ll return to my favorite “no employee is an island” theme–if I have uncontrolled emotions in the workplace, that makes work a lot harder for my co-workers and my staff, who have their own disabilities and mental illnesses. It’s the emotional equivalent of “the right to swing your fist ends at somebody else’s nose.” I can’t remember if it was a post or a subthread, but there was a workplace where a colleague was dealing with their recovery from a suicide attempt by talking a lot about suicide–which was very hard on some other people in that workplace.

        Reply
        1. Jasnah

          Agreed to all the above. I would love to be understanding of someone struggling to keep it together with problems I don’t know. But I have moods and struggles too, and I don’t always have the bandwidth to cut someone else that much slack. Plus I don’t know if it’s helpful to think “wow Lucinda was really rude today, maybe it’s because she struggles with mental illness”.

          Reply
          1. That Girl From Quinn's House

            It’s more something you keep in your back pocket. I worked somewhere where we had kids, adults, and seniors who had special needs, mental health issues, postpartum mental health issues, traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s/dementia, etc. We also had a large pool of people who were neurotypical, who also covered the full range of human emotion and personality. Some were nice, some were harmless jerks, some were downright awful.

            Obviously, if someone is behaving objectively inappropriately, you don’t give them a complete pass on their behavior. But being mindful that the person might be acting this way not TO you but more NEAR you can help you deescalate the situation and find a better solution, instead of getting angry back at them.

            Reply
        2. PlainJane

          THIS. It’s fine to have emotions, but when you express them at work in ways that make your co-workers have to do significant emotional labor, that’s a problem. I have enough trouble managing my own emotions. I don’t have the bandwidth to manage other people’s too.

          Reply
      2. fposte

        Yes, I agree, and it’s important to remember that all of this affects your co-workers and your staff, too, who have their own challenges and quite possibly mental illnesses to deal with.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Whoops, sorry for the duplication–one post went to moderation and I figured it wouldn’t come out for quite a while today.

          Reply
    3. Observer

      The thing is that many aspects of professionalism in behavior are not about “the modern office.” Losing your temper at people is a problem, and has always been a problem, for instance. So have checking out, for any job that needs a level of engagement. It’s true in just about every field of endeavor.

      Same is true for pretty much any major emotional reaction within a workplace. It’s true that you may not yet have control of panic attacks, for instance. But that’s still going to be a legitimate problem in almost any type of workplace. Not because the panic attack is “different” behavior. But because it affects your ability to get work done, and may affect other people directly.

      Reply
      1. Lynn Whitehat

        I think open offices make the situation worse. There’s nowhere to go to get privacy, regroup, or get away from the overwhelm. You can’t close your door, you can’t even hunker down in your cube, you may not even be able to orient yourself so people can’t see your face.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          Open offices make EVERYTHING worse, in my opinion. But fortunately open offices are not universal, and open office with no place to duck out to are even less universal.

          Reply
  20. SerialCrier

    My biggest problem is that I cry for EVERYTHING. I don’t even have to be that upset (or upset at all, it’s just as likely to happen if I’m experiencing a pleasant emotion). I can be genuinely fine and able to carry on with the conversation no problem, except there are tears falling down my face. I really, really struggle to control it. It’s not like sobbing or anything like that, literally just the tears, and it’s often only two or three tears and then I’ll be fine. I’m usually able to get away with it by blowing my nose or ducking into the bathroom or claiming there’s an eyelash in my eye since it’s usually so short lived but I’m really afraid one of these days it’ll get me in trouble. I cry pretty much every single day (though thankfully, most of the stimuli aren’t at work). I think the craziest thing I’ve ever cried over was one day I cried when I got back to work after being out of the office for an appointment and my friend had saved me a sour cream donut (my favourite) from the tray a client had brought in that morning.

    Reply
    1. I heart Paul Buchman

      I always say ‘excuse me, I’m not crying – I have hayfever’. I don’t think it is necessarily untrue if you aren’t ‘crying’ in the crying sense but just leaking some tears. And I never wear Mascara.

      Reply
  21. Anony Mity

    “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”

    I think this is very good advice, except what do you do when it IS very much personal or part of the toxic or dysfunctional workplace politics or when you feel you really might be being gaslighted and it’s beyond genuine critical feedback.

    Because I work in a creative area, I’m used to receiving critical comments on design or writing work. That’s part & parcel of the workflow and sometimes it doesn’t make sense but is just someone’s own personal preference. But there are quite a few times I feel the “critical feedback” crosses the line or has a more ulterior motive–And that is what’s so hard to see!

    Reply
    1. fposte

      To be honest, you do the same thing. It doesn’t improve the situation if you respond emotionally instead, and it just teaches you bad habits that can hurt you when you move on.

      Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      I think that’s when it helps to realize that the job is not your life. And the people who are being mean to you are not your life.

      If you think that this assholery is going to affect your ability to get a different job, that they’re messing with your reputation outside the company, then you have a plan so you don’t get trapped.

      i think that feeling trapped, feeling that this horrible situation is the only thing there is, is a huge part of not being able to control your emotions.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I totally agree with that last paragraph especially. We’re at our worst when we feel trapped. Even doing the same thing but with a different framing–it’s a choice we’re making for the moment, I could walk out but I’m choosing to stay–can help remind you that you have some agency here.

        Reply
      2. Pescadero

        “I think that’s when it helps to realize that the job is not your life.”

        …but for a lot of folks, it really is. When someone is screwing with your livelihood – it can be really difficult to not be emotional.

        Reply
        1. Michaela Westen

          +1
          I’ve watched corporate play games with the pay of the highly trained and highly paid professionals I work with and it does upset them. It’s not that they need the 1k or so that’s in play – it’s the message that corporate doesn’t respect or value them. Being upset by that is absolutely normal and understandable.
          Also, for them the job is more their life than for me – they spent years in training, work long hours, have a lot of responsibility. That alone should be respected.

          Reply
          1. Close Bracket

            ” it’s the message that corporate doesn’t respect or value them. Being upset by that is absolutely normal and understandable.”

            But that’s exactly where “your job is not your life” comes in. People have value whether their employers recognize that or not. Your employer is not the determiner of your value. If you can’t get the basic feeling of being valued that everybody wants and, frankly, deserves at work, then get it from a different part of your life. Create a different part of your life to get it from if that’s what it takes.

            Reply
            1. Michaela Westen

              My colleagues are getting other jobs, which may or may not work for them. If not, the only thing to do is as you suggest, but it sucks because they are accomplished professionals who deserve respect and corporate shows their ignorance when they don’t.

              Reply
    3. Anony Mity

      I guess what I was trying to get at is at what point do you (or should you) call someone out on overly critical personal, politically motivated attacks or gaslighting? Because sometimes the gaslighting does come cloaked in the various corporatespeak just like this.

      Example 1: Crappy work?
      > Worker A turned in a project to another department and the project was publicly trashed under the guise of it being “critical feedback.” Worker A then went back to fix the work, even though this work had been previously reviewed & approved before being turned in to the other department. Somewhat unsure as to how he could have made such horrible errors along the way, Worker A checked with his manager to see how he could go about fixing said project and getting it back on track. But Worker A’s manager didn’t find any major problems with the project, and suggested Worker A ignore all the critical comments, and turn the project back in as-is. Worker A did so with very minor revisions, although still became the recipient of much questioning and several disparaging remarks for doing this. [It turned out that the party who “trashed” the project was freelance-per-project, and thus had a vested interest in claiming the project Worker A did was unacceptable and poorly done, thus hoping to gain more paid work. It remains unclear why the other department went along with this assessment however, and now Worker A now has something of a poor perception.]

      Example 2: Job title switcharoo
      Worker Bee’s job title was suddenly and abruptly switched. The job title reflected a change from say “Senior Teapot Director” to something like “Teapot Specialist.” Worker Bee was naturally quite distraught, as there was not a performance issue, nor was there any change in job duties. When Worker Bee questioned the change, they were told it was a “classification” issue, not anything to do with their actual job, yet the ACTUAL perception by all (and industry norms regarding titles) was that this read as a demotion for Worker Bee.

      Example 3: Clockwatcher
      Worker C was made out to be a horrible worker by their boss because Worker C didn’t care about the company and had “no commitment” because they “Only wanted to work M-F and 9-5.” However, Worker C actually worked hours of 8-5 daily and typically did not take lunch, so by 5pm they were on their ninth hour. Worker C also routinely stayed until 6 or 6:30pm several times a week to finish work, and had come in a few times on Saturdays if asked to do so (but not without being asked). So, this was a blatant lie by the boss of Worker C.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        “at what point do you (or should you) call someone out on overly critical personal, politically motivated attacks or gaslighting”

        Almost never, because calling someone out isn’t how a situation gets improved.

        Worker A went back to their manager, which was appropriate. Worker A could have arranged a meeting with a relevant point person in the other department after the project saying “Wow, it looks like we got pretty far apart on this, and I was surprised. Can we look at what happened to avoid it in future?” If they lose it and yell at the other department, all that will do is confirm whatever doubts the other department has about A.

        Worker B has a decision to make–stay and accept that this is their title, or go someplace else. If there are other people of the same job duration at Senior Teapot Director who didn’t get their job titles switched, that’s likely to be a performance or political issue that they’re cravenly not telling Worker B about. Either way, this is a clear statement about where they see Worker B in that company, and Worker B’s losing it on them is not going to make them regret their decision and re-promote B, whereas if B keeps it together they may be able to negotiate a decent transition or even severance.

        Assuming that Worker C is exempt, because if nonexempt that’s a different conversation about the illegality of unpaid hours. Worker C can say, when tempers have cooled, “It sounds like you’re concerned about my productivity. Can we go over the targets you’d like me to meet and then check back in a month to see where I am on those?” Worker C can (again when tempers have cooled) say “It startled me to hear you say that thing about 9-5, because I’ve clocked an average of 50 hours a week this calendar year–is there a reason why it feels to you like I’m not here enough?” Worker C can look at their field to see if their current employer’s expectations are industry standard and consider looking elsewhere for that reason, or because that comment by the manager is an indication of a larger lack of trust. But it’s highly unlikely that worker C will get their manager of their back by being unprofessional to them, and it’s highly likely to make things worse.

        Being professional isn’t a magic make-people-do-what-they-should tool. It can’t make a bad boss into a good boss or a bad employee into a good employee. But it can help preserve your options even when you’re in a bad place, while losing your cool is likely to limit them.

        Reply
        1. learnedthehardway

          Well put!!
          It’s not that one cannot respond to unfounded or undeserved criticism or mistreatment – it’s all about HOW one responds to it.

          Reply
  22. TypityTypeType

    I have ADHD combined with a natural tendency to be negative, but I can only blame that so much for my former tendency to let emotions, especially anger or frustration, slosh around the office. The thing I finally figured out — it took me an embarrassingly long time — was that if I am annoyed or unhappy, it’s *not even a little bit important* that other people know that.

    Last-minute work dump? A do-over because another department left out crucial information? After-the-last-second “emergency” changes from a higher-up we’d been begging for feedback for weeks? Sure, I’d get it done, but with complaints, crabbiness, or just general sighing and eye-rolling. I think I had some idea that if it was not made known that Typity Is Unhappy, I’d be taken for granted, or taken advantage of, or something.

    It finally dawned on me, far too late in life, that doing what was asked with a bad grace means that I still have to do the work — only now everybody’s annoyed with me, or upset that they’ve upset me. Instead of being pleased, relieved, or even occasionally grateful.

    I still don’t have a perfect track record for cheerful acceptance, but it’s much, much better than it used to be.

    Reply
    1. Anony Mity

      if I am annoyed or unhappy, it’s *not even a little bit important* that other people know that

      That is a really, really good point. I tend to “leak” my dissatisfaction to the world. I really just need to talk it out/shake it off, but it doesn’t come over that way unfortunately and just sounds like complaining.

      Reply
    2. L. S. Cooper

      Ugh, I struggle so hard with this. Part of it is my experiences growing up– where I’d get scolded by teachers for complaining about serious issues I needed help with, so I’d keep my dissatisfaction to myself, but then nobody was willing to believe that I was hurting, because I did such a bang-up job of keeping it all under wraps.

      Reply
    3. Snarktini

      “I think I had some idea that if it was not made known that Typity Is Unhappy, I’d be taken for granted, or taken advantage of, or something.” Ooh, that definitely gives me something to think about! I am mostly ok at regulating emotions — and have frankly come a long way towards learning to be cheerful instead of just compliant — but am still a little prone to wanting people to know when I’m annoyed. Your insight points me to why that might be.

      I’m super analytical/critical by nature, and while I’ve learned how to channel it constructively I’m always seen as more negative than others because of that. It’s in my best interest to try to rein in every other kind of (perceived) negativity to offset that one.

      Reply
    4. Luna

      I dunno, I don’t see a problem with having people realize that dropping a very last second, sudden change onto an employee has made the employee upset. I mean, the change and resulting work still gets done, so the employee making it visually clear that they aren’t happy with this or just shutting up and doing it makes little difference.
      It’s not like showing you are displeased means you aren’t gonna do the work at all.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        It’s okay to say “I’m not happy about the last-minute change. When we’re past this, can we talk about how to avoid it in future?”

        It’s important to tie it to an actionable proposal, though, and it’s important not to say it every single time. It’s also important to use your words and not just make it “visually clear”–the latter is basically sulking rather than directly communicating, and that will hurt you as an employee.

        More broadly, it’s important to be realistic: a lot of jobs involve getting last-minute stuff dumped on you, whether avoidably or not, and that if that’s an upset for an employee that they can’t get over fairly quickly, that’s going to be a challenge for them in this workplace and maybe a lot more. So they’ll benefit from thinking about what they want to do–find a workplace or field where this happens less, make peace with the limitations this means for their performance, or find a way to shrug it off better.

        Reply
  23. Beta

    I have a peer mentor at work from a totally different group and she’s also my friend outside work. Anytime I am really pissed off about anything or not know how to handle, I discuss with her and she gives me great suggestions. I do the same for her. It’s always a good idea to have a 3rd party’s perspective at any stressful situation.

    Now for me, this person happened to be at work, but could be from anywhere else too. I also have another friend (who’s out of country) that’s really smart and sensible and she gives me some ideas as well.

    All this to say – have your support network out of your work where you can vent, seek ideas and quickly move from victim mode to action mode.

    Besides these, 2 other things help me – 1.I workout or do yoga to get rid of the stress that’s building in me. 2. decoupling my self esteem completely dependent on work and started looking other sources for emotional fulfillment. The former helped in relieving stress, first one helped me reduce/prevent stress by not getting too attached to work – it really helped reduce the severity of emotions that I found hard to handle.

    Reply
    1. Luna

      What if your closest support network can only give the advice of “It’s your job, and it took you a long time to *get* a/this job; so at least keep your head down until you get enough money, and have something else lined up”? It’s not great advice, but it is certainly true.

      Reply
      1. Close Bracket

        Sometimes framing staying in a bad situation as a choice makes it easier to cope with. Remind yourself that you are choosing to stay there with a goal in mind (getting enough money and having something else lined up) and focus on how the job can achieve that goal rather than anything else you might have wished for from the job.

        Then follow point 2 and look for other ways to gain fulfillment and validation bc those are important to emotional well being.

        Reply
        1. PlainJane

          Yes. I find that keeping my longer-term goals in mind really helps. It gives me back my power. I’m not knuckling under, I’m doing what I need to do to achieve what I want to achieve.

          Reply
  24. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!

    I’m finding my emotions are much more difficult to manage these days, especially at work. I know it’s got a lot to do with personal pressures and issues, but darn they are good at pushing my buttons here. Too many years, decades, of little snippets of mistreatment, no respect and neglect… it all adds up. And grinds me down.

    Reply
    1. Anony Mity

      Oh I know what you mean. I feel like that at my current workplace and it’s often difficult to know if it’s me having too much of an emotional response or if it’s the other people being especially rude or difficult.

      I always thought I was calm and reasonable and give people very realistic deadlines and/or work that I would be able to accomplish in that timeframe if allowed to do so. But no! Apparently, I’m being a dick. Or something. And asking what they suggest brings a general “that’s how it’s done here” response.

      Reply
    2. That Girl From Quinn's House

      I think this is a valid point. I’ve worked in some workplaces where there was a horrible culture of people being expected to take all sorts of bullying and disrespect while working 14 hour days 7 days a week and having to come in while sick, etc. And then if they pushed back, or just lost it and snapped, it was more abuse as to how they were the problem.

      So while I take OP at her word that this is an issue, it’s always worth reevaluating the sort of workplace you’ve been working in, and get feedback from others. Because just like any other sort of abuse, you don’t realize how bad it is when you’re in it, and it throws off your ability to tell normal from not-normal so you’re more likely to end up in another abusive workplace.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        This is true. But, by an large, if this is a pattern that keeps on happening at every workplace, the likelyhood is that it’s you – or you are doing a very bad job of choosing jobs.

        To be clear – I am using the generic you, not @That Girl From Quinn’s House you.

        Reply
        1. Luna

          I have to disagree with the ‘you are doing a bad job of choosing jobs’ thing. Having spent a lot of time unemployed and applying to places, I feel like the final decision is the employer choosing to hire you for the job. You may choose the place, but it’s not up to you at the very end that you will be taken for the job.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            You have the choice to apply, continue with the process and to take the job. So, yes, the concept of making bad choices most definitely DOES apply.

            Reply
  25. Sharon

    You might not be able to control how you feel, but those feelings don’t have to dictate your actions. You can control how you express those emotions.

    Reply
    1. Anon-Today

      That’s something that has to be learned, and not all brains are equally up to the task, unfortunately.

      Reply
  26. Jennifer

    Sometimes even when you’re a professional person, you feel the tears welling in your eyes or some anger bubbling up. It’s okay to take a few minutes to cry in the bathroom or go walk off some anger if you need to. I also think therapy is a good idea.

    Reply
  27. Anon-Today

    I never used to have a problem with this, but I’ve become increasingly frustrated trying to work with my current boss. I am by nature a giving and optimistic and friendly person and none of that is welcome in this workplace. After many years I’m depressed and easily triggered. I am trying to get transferred to a different boss, even though the whole place is just toxic. At least it would be a fresh start.

    I have been going to therapy for about six months about my anger, and when I tell my therapists (one moved away 3 months ago) about something that triggered me, they get mad on my behalf! I went to them about my “anger issues” but their diagnosis was “you work for a horrible person.” I showed my current therapist an email exchange and after she read it she said “What is wrong with that woman?” Well, at least I got some validation, but since this loon has control over my future, (for now), I have to learn to deal with her.

    I’ve started doing these things:

    In meetings, I focus on my breathing, and just breathing deeply whenever she or ToxicGrandBoss are talking. Sometimes I take meeting notes in Spanish (I’m not bilingual but I took Spanish in school) just so I can focus my energy on something other than my emotional reactions. Sometimes I write notes as if I’m taking minutes, indicating who said what in great detail, just to keep me focused on the other people and not get triggered.

    When something triggering happens at my desk, I excuse myself and take a (very) brisk walk for 5 minutes. I’m still angry when I get back to my desk but I’ve given myself a moment to collect myself by then. If I’ve been triggered by an email I just don’t answer it right away … usually.

    I’ve started keeping a spreadsheet in my google drive of all the times I catch myself being angry or upset, and just sort of monitoring myself scientifically. I have columns for describing the triggering event, who I’m angry with, what the anger is really about (feeling insulted, isolated, dismissed, irrelevant, etc.), and how it’s affecting me in the moment. By the time I have thought through all of that I’ve settled back down and I’m ready to put my mind on my work again. With only tiny boxes to type in, I don’t give myself space to ruminate, which helps.

    I’ve stopped reading emails from my boss when I’m not at work. She’s a micromanager and not a good manager of her time, so she often stays late at work or sends emails at crazy times. I have sent some off-the-cuff responses that weren’t my best thinking, so no more of that.

    I have also sent some off-the-cuff responses during the day. Since my boss expects us to answer her emails right away, this is my toughest challenge I have decided to just turn off my email for most of the time and just check it on the hour. There has only been one time so far when she really did need an answer right away, and she called me and then I answered it.

    I wrote a script to read at my evaluation meeting, but my boss knows exactly what to say to set me off, so after I read it I got triggered again, but at least I got some control over that meeting. She has zero interest in listening to anything I have to say, but I needed to say a few things for my own sake.

    At one-on-ones, it’s almost impossible for me not to roll my eyes sometimes. My boss is such a nitpicky schoolmarm. I have a one-on-one tomorrow and I’m gearing up for it. I write affirmations on my notebook, and I put sticky notes over most of the page so I only see my current question when I’m talking to her. I usually have a long list of things I need her approval for because of her micromanaging. Just looking at the list makes me angry, so I do better when I hide it from myself!

    ToxicGrandBoss has no trouble reaming out people in anger, but if anyone else shows any emotion… *sigh*

    Reply
    1. wittyrepartee

      You are not your job. You are a whole person, and your boss’ opinion of you does not actually change your value as a human being.

      Reply
  28. Cows go moo

    Oh man. I really want to send this to my coworker who screamed at me yesterday because I wanted to clarify something she misunderstood. She took it as a personal insult that I disagreed with her. This is not the first time she has done this and she has this issue with many other people in the team. Is there a way to send this link to her as a helpful bit of advice? Or am I going to come across passive aggressive? Several people including our boss told her she is too emotionally aggressive and she has acknowledged this at times but doesn’t change.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      I supervise someone like this. I go right to what I believe is the true source of their reaction – their insecurity. I say “It’s nothing personal, and I’m not saying you’re stupid. Apparently the way I explained this left something out so I’m trying to make sure I say what I mean.”

      If you say “You don’t understand” to someone who is insecure, they hear it as “you’re stupid and you don’t belong in a grown-up’s job.”

      Reply
    2. Observer

      This is a perfect example of why people need to control their emotional reactions.

      Your boss needs to manage this better. But I don’t think you can send her this link, unfortunately.

      Reply
    3. Close Bracket

      Sharing just a link out of the blue would be passive aggressive. If you want to share the advice bc you think it would help her, first ask yourself whether coworker (CW) would be open to hearing this advice from you. If you think she would, then talk to her directly about her acknowledged emotional aggressiveness, how it played out in this most recent situation, and what you would like her to do differently. Then tell her about this great column you just read that has helpful advice that you would like to share with her, and hope she doesn’t read the comments bc she will definitely recognize the tactics.

      Reply
  29. Asenath

    I try pausing before I respond and carefully watching my tone of voice, which can slide into the sarcastic or angry. Something must be working, because although I do have a temper I need to control, one of my co-workers commented recently that I was always cheerful – I smiled and said something like “thank you” while thinking “it’s a good thing I don’t say all the things I think and feel, because I’m not really always cheerful.”

    And I recite mentally “more flies with honey than vinegar” when I’m trying pleasantly to make a point about procedures or something with someone I’m going to have to work with long term, so I don’t want bad feelings, but I do want things to change.

    Reply
    1. ShwaMan

      I have forced myself to remember to “go slow” the moment I realize I am annoyed or disappointed at work. The less I can get away with saying and doing in the moment, the better. I like to give myself time before figuring out what I need to say or do next.

      Reply
  30. Bookworm

    If you’re screaming, crying, etc. then there’s something wrong: either the job or something with you personally or both. Good for you for recognizing this, because I’ve had managers and co-workers who saw nothing wrong with screaming at the people they worked with.

    Good luck.

    Reply
  31. anxiousannie

    OP, have you ever been diagnosed with anxiety? Anxiety can manifest itself the way you are describing. I have moments of rage, crying etc when I am particularly anxious about something. I don’t always know until after I have gotten really upset. Meds and therapy have done wonders for me. Other things that help are exercising regularly and aromatherapy. I highly recommend you check in with a doc and therapist to help work through some of these things.

    Reply
  32. Michaela Westen

    I grew up with bad role models. I learned to rant, complain, lash out, etc. for every little thing. I thought this was normal.
    When I entered the work world it was a bumpy ride. Some moments that stand out:
    1. I was doing support in a bank sales office and waiting for one of the bankers to get off the phone. He hung up the phone and shook his head. Then he paused, and shook his head again. Then he asked what I needed.
    I realized he was shaking his head over something I originally would have ranted about for 30 minutes. The same thing, completely different response.
    2. I was working for a nice lady who told me I needed to be less irritable. She said it was important to be seen as approachable.
    Per her instructions, I stopped talking about things that irritated me. You know what? They went away! I would feel irritated for a few minutes, then it was gone. The irritations weren’t as important as I thought they were. That was a big life-changer.

    Reply
  33. OP

    OP here. Doing work I didn’t care about in a field where you need to care a lot was the root of the problem. A career change helped, but new field pays badly so even though I found a job I LOVED, I couldn’t afford to keep it. I am now part of the gig economy. It’s a pretty good fit for me in many ways– flexible, no watercooler chitchat, no boss, etc– but I really miss the job I loved.

    Reply
    1. Close Bracket

      Yes, a poor fit really messes with your ability to control your emotions. I’m sorry you miss your job, and I’m happy to hear that your current gig work is a good fit.

      Reply
    2. Michaela Westen

      I would keep trying to get a job you love, or at least find satisfying. Maybe a job that combines the things you like with things that pay better? Or a higher-level job in the field? For that you’d probably have to get some certifications or new skills or whatever applies to the field.

      Reply

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