In the field of human conflict

By Dr Peter Chew, Specialist in behaviour

This is the third article in a six-part series about understanding EQ and making it work for you

Redirecting emotions like anger towards constructive goals will improve things in the workplace

Sometimes when asked to explain our feelings, we don't do it very well. We simply reach for a common adjective and describe ourselves as angry, resentful or depressed, when in fact we may be experiencing a whole maelstrom of conflicting emotions. In doing this, we are also acknowledging the existence of what some authors call a secondary emotion, a catch-all of sorts, which is the result of intensely feeling any number of more specific primary emotions.

If we take a look at examples from the workplace, we can see that the root cause of anger or resentment can be a variety of things. Perhaps we are under too much pressure or feel our contribution is ignored. Maybe we have been passed over for promotion or been denied an expected bonus. Just as likely, it could be that our colleagues and superiors simply don't seem to understand the principles of teamwork or good time management.

In such circumstances, our primary emotions are those of feeling insulted, pressured, cheated or disrespected. If we allow them to intensify, however, we will end up being overtaken by anger or resentment, secondary emotions which can be far more destructive. It might seem logical at the time to surrender to these powerful secondary feelings, but that rarely achieves as much as taking an "emotionally intelligent" approach. Consider this for a second: how often does it happen that the person with a hair-trigger temper, or who has a habit of complaining about his colleagues, gets promoted before someone who acts calmly and has a generally more balanced view of life?

It is clear that, in order to succeed, we should be able to identify our emotions, analyse them and, when necessary, effect a change. Taking anger as an example, let's first examine how it is commonly misunderstood before looking at techniques that can be learned to overcome it. This will put us on the road to greater control of our own actions and reactions and, by extension, a much higher level of emotional intelligence.

Anger management
When it comes to dealing with anger, there are clearly differing schools of thought. Some advocate raw expression. They recommend not holding back, hitting the pillow, shouting and screaming until it is "out of the system". Respected research, however, now shows that this type of venting - immediately expressing the emotion - is at best gratuitous and most likely to lead to increased aggression. The presumed opposite course of shrinking from anger only leads to a position of powerlessness, fear and a host of problems of a different sort. The way forward, therefore, is to refine the energy which anger brings and direct it towards constructive action.

The process can be broken down into five simple steps: pause, analyse, choose, act, repeat. Following the process may not be easy, but it is effective. It can also be used when we are looking for ways to handle other secondary emotions like resentment and depression. Certain general guidelines can help us to develop the right techniques for managing these negative states of mind.

Firstly, identify the feeling and ask yourself if it is healthy. Next, list your options and choose the one which is most likely to lead to your long-term happiness. Try to remember to focus only on options which are under your control. It is an unhelpful distraction to think of things that others should do or ways they could change to make you feel better. Also, ask yourself how you want to feel. This will help to point your thoughts in a positive direction.

Be responsible
The final two steps in the process are often the most difficult. They involve accepting personal responsibility and accepting reality. It is important to think about ways in which you contributed to the development of an unwanted situation and see what you could have done to prevent it. This will avoid any unrealistic inclination to place all the "blame" on other people and will be helpful in focusing your attention on ways to improve and learn.

Lastly, remember the "reality principle". Events will not always go your way and there may be very little you can do about it. Remind yourself that life is a complex web of relationships and there is no reason to think that one individual should always get what he or she wants. Think positively, though, and things are sure to pick up again.

Next time you start to feel angry, take a break and deliberately listen to your other feelings. There will be a whole range of emotions under the surface. Write them down on a piece of paper or even consider doing a sketch to capture them. Do the same to clarify the things you would like to change, and give yourself time to focus on how those changes can be brought about.

If it is then necessary to reply to someone, here are a few suggestions for communicating your feelings without making them seem unduly negative: be brief, non-dramatic, clear, and allow for a face-saving way out. Many tense situations can be defused by a simple opening phrase like, "Perhaps I misunderstood", or "I know your intentions were good".

In the next article, we will look in more detail at how emotions can affect performance in business.

Founder of Best International Group of Companies, Dr Peter Chew is a psychotherapist, motivational specialist, author, lecturer, international keynote speaker, and consultant with over 20 years of vast experience. For information, please contact Peter Chew at

Taken from Career Times 02 October 2004
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