Getting the better of emotions at workplace

Any perceived threat to our position can cause great insecurity

Most of us have experienced feelings of resentment, but nowhere is it often more difficult to deal with than in the workplace.

Jennifer works at a British pharmaceutical company. She is the supervisor in an IT department and has been in post for five years. When her boss decided to retire, she thought it would be a natural progression for her to be promoted.

Quite straightforward, but she was mistaken. Her CEO called her into the office and told her that although she was doing a great job, he thought it was time for some ‘new blood’ in the department. Jennifer felt diminished in stature for she knew she could do the job with her eyes closed. But she was informed that a new man, James, had been recruited and would join them in a week’s time.

In theory, of course, Jennifer would have liked to wish James well on his promotion and in many ways, she appreciated why the CEO didn’t promote from in-house. But that was using reason and logic, and Jennifer was not feeling either reasonable or logical. She could not help feeling angry and resentful at being overlooked.

No one likes to admit that they are jealous or resentful of a colleague and we like to think that we should have left those feelings in the school playground many years ago. Or at least to have left such feelings for those celebrities who always look so young, thin and immaculate, or holding beautifully dressed and well-behaved children.

The real problem is that whether we are male or female, our job of work and our position, are those which define our status and our identity and any perceived threat to our position can cause great insecurity. We become emotionally sensitive and often too quick to defend our decision-making from valid criticism.

When James came to the office for his first day, he was full of enthusiasm and with new ideas for fresh projects. However, Jennifer immediately disliked him. She knew it was ridiculous but it was how she felt. She smiled to welcome him but she didn’t really mean it.

She told him that she wished him every success. And she certainly didn’t mean that either. And then she ended up hating herself for hating him and for allowing her emotions to control her mindset and conduct.

How could Jennifer better handle her feelings of resentment at being overlooked for promotion?

Firstly, she needs to understand her feelings. Realistically, it is not James’ fault that he has been brought into the company. But she cannot help but feel a combination of fear and anger at this ‘knock’ to her self- esteem. Her feelings are destructive and hurtful and it is important for Jennifer to understand and recognise what is happening.

Secondly, she needs to think whether it reminded her of another time in her life when she experienced similar feelings and whether this setback has triggered a memory of that other time.

Thirdly, she needs to try to understand why these negative feelings have clouded her judgement about the real reason why someone else has received the promotion, not her. That analysis can help Jennifer to see that the decision not to promote her in this instance was, in fact, not a reflection on her professional ability but a change in company policy.

The chances are there could be some valuable learning on both sides if she could put her initial resentment to one side. And finally, she needs to make time to actually get to know James. This might not be easy but he is also probably feeling nervous and almost certainly senses Jennifer’s resentment. She needs to have an open conversation with him about her disappointment and for them to learn from one another.

This is certainly a case of being able to control one’s mindset to overcome the emotions and to grow personally through the experience. The alternative is to let resentment poison the mind to the extent that the individual leaves the job and that might not be right in the longer term. Better to learn to properly manage the emotions rather than to let them manage you.

About: The author is a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international Stress Management consultancy and her new book, ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available in all good bookshops.

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