Accountancy is a vibrant, dynamic profession that involves more than crunching numbers. And the people we work with are unique and complex. But in any workplace — whether it’s a CPA firm, Hollywood set or football practice field — people have been asked to put aside parts of themselves in order to perform better. “It’s not personal. It’s just business,” the old saying goes.
During busy times, there’s particularly strong pressure to compartmentalize ourselves and our work in order to get everything done. But suppressing emotions during your workday can create pent-up emotions. This affects the energy you generate in the workplace and triggers undue stress and tension in our bodies.
Here’s how you can manage your emotions, moods and personality to create a healthy and productive space within your busy workplace.
Defining our terms
Before we can begin, it’s important to draw distinctions among the concepts we’re discussing.
When I refer to emotions or feelings, I mean the temporary reactions we have in the moment. Anger, sadness, rage, embarrassment, pride, elation and many more fall under this umbrella.
Second, we have our moods, which are longer lasting than emotions and determine how we approach the day. Mood is not simply a matter of good and bad; our moods come in many forms.
Finally come our personalities, which are more static but need to be accounted for as well. Our communication styles, responses to different kinds of motivation and senses of humor are just some of the components of our personality.
The most important thing to understand about handling emotions in the workplace is that it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Allowing space for emotion in the workplace doesn’t mean creating an environment where all behavior is forgiven. Just the opposite. Recognizing that emotions are part of our professional lives is the first step in managing them appropriately.
“Modern work requires an ability to effectively harness emotion — but most of us have never learned how to do this in our professional lives,” write Liz Fosselien and Mollie West Duffy in No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work. They argue that many of us struggle to harness our emotions due to the fact that we’ve tried to minimize them for too long.
If you want to learn more about your emotional temperament, a great place to start is Fosselien and Duffy’s Emotional Tendencies Assessments.
You can also study strategies for creating an emotionally healthier office, from giving people the chance to leave meetings when they’re overwhelmed to simply making it acceptable to openly talk about emotions.
Busy season is a stressful time for all of us, so being actively aware of the emotions of others is just as important as taking stock of your own. Imagine you just finished a really demanding client workload and finally have a moment to catch up on other work. It’s totally okay for you to feel happy and proud, but you should also be cognizant of those around you who may be feeling depleted and burned out. Take a moment to step away and express your elation, maybe by calling a loved one, journaling or thanking other team members who helped you out. Expressing this emotion will allow you to interact with your teammates with grace and empathy.
When people talk about emotional intelligence, that’s exactly what they’re referring to: Assessing and accommodating everyone’s emotions, including your own, in a way that results in growth and progress for all parties.
If our emotions result from a response to certain stimuli, our moods are a little more mysterious. Some days, we wake up in a funk we can’t seem to shake. On others, we could drop our phone in a puddle and take it in stride. Moods are notoriously hard to predict and control, but they shouldn’t be ignored.
Our moods have been linked to everything from productivity to “your whole workday,” so it’s vital to take stock of them. Have you ever lashed out at somebody without reason, only to apologize because you realized you were upset about something else? That’s a negative outcome of trying to suppress your mood. It’s much better to acknowledge your mood — if only to yourself — than to let it subconsciously direct your actions.
The relationship between work and our moods can be a two-way street. As the novelist Henry James once wrote, “If you have work to do, don't wait to feel like it; set to work and you will feel like it.” Often, the best way to lift your mood is to get the little wins that the workday offers. That won’t happen, though, if you continue to labor under the false assumption that your mood has no bearing on your work and no place in your office.
Meditation allows us to gain awareness of our own moods. By taking a moment to observe our thoughts without passing judgment on them, we can better understand what is happening internally. Once we have that insight, we can intentionally make adjustments to create the energy we want.
It’s also worthwhile to recognize moods in others, but you probably want to stop short of commenting on another person’s emotional state. If you notice somebody in a bad mood, make a mental note of it and try to be supportive.
Unlike emotions or moods, our personalities are not temporal phenomena. Our personalities may evolve over time, but they aren’t there one moment and gone the next. As such, correctly navigating personality in the workplace isn’t a matter of making space or upending outdated ways of thinking. It’s much more about understanding how people operate on their own and how they interact with others.
If you’ve ever taken one of the many personality tests that are en vogue in offices today, you know there are many ways to describe a personality. These tests are the subject of much debate, especially when they create stigmas in the workplace or are used in the hiring process. It’s important to remember that learning about somebody’s personality is not a way to put them in a box; it’s simply a tool to better navigate interpersonal interaction.
The best way to use personal assessments, whether formal or informal, is to learn how to create an environment that works for everyone. When you know somebody is an introvert, you won’t force them to engage in after-work events that make them feel uncomfortable.
Gaining insights into your own personality is also helpful when communicating with coworkers, because it allows you to provide guidance on how to best work with you. The same goes for emotions and moods.
For far too long, we thought these traits stood in the way of getting the job done. Now we know that the opposite is true. The qualities that make us who we are can also make us better professionals, but only if we harness them correctly. If we can be who we really are at work, we can start to create happier, less stressful work environments not just during busy times but throughout the year.