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How taking a pause can curb the urge to lash out in frustration

Posted by Shivali Anand

January 13, 2022    |     5-minute read (812 words)

At work and in life, everyone gets frustrated or overwhelmed sometimes. But in those moments when things get tough, people sometimes leap to conclusions and make rash judgments. Taking a moment to think before acting in times of peak frustration can help preserve relationships and ensure good decisions.

An article in the Harvard Business Review says reactivity to frustration is an innate aspect of being human, but also that it can be mitigated so we can still make reasoned decisions. "Modern neuroscience teaches us that two hardwired processes in the brain — pattern recognition and emotional tagging — are critical to decision making. Both are normally reliable; indeed, they provide us with an evolutionary advantage. But in certain circumstances, either one can trip us up and skew our judgment," the authors write.

The role of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence, also known as the emotional quotient, is a person's capacity to control their emotions and perceive how others are feeling. People with a high EQ can recognize their own feelings and interpret others’ feelings, and then use that information in positive ways, such as to defuse conflict, communicate more effectively and release stress.

The notion of EQ was popularized in 1995 by author and science journalist Daniel Goleman. In his book titled “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” Goleman emphasizes the value of EQ over intelligence.

These are the five aspects of EQ, according to Goleman:

1. Self-awareness – Self-awareness is the capacity to detect and comprehend one's own feelings, as well as to be aware of the impact of those actions, emotions and moods on others. Self-aware individuals recognize their own talents and flaws, learn from others, and are open to new experiences and knowledge.

2. Self-regulation – It's not enough to recognize and understand one's emotions; one must also be able to control and manage them. Self-regulation requires correctly expressing emotions. Individuals with self-regulation abilities, according to Goleman, take responsibility for their behaviors and consider how they affect others.

3. Intrinsic motivation – Emotionally intelligent individuals are motivated by factors other than money, fame, praise and recognition. Instead, they are looking for internal incentives. Individuals with this personality type are usually action oriented. They have a strong desire to succeed and constantly seek methods to better themselves.

4. Empathy – An empathic person can comprehend the feelings and reactions of others. Being able to recognize another person's emotions or moods helps you build more meaningful connections.

5. Social skills – According to Goleman, social skills can be defined as being pleasant with a purpose. People with strong social skills enjoy a deeper knowledge of themselves and others and form long-lasting connections. Individuals with excellent interpersonal skills form noncompetitive relationships based on mutual respect and trust.

On the other hand, people with poor EQ have difficulty collaborating with others. They may struggle to accept criticism and own up to mistakes. Individuals with high EQ can work closely with team members to solve difficulties, maintain a cool head under pressure, and take responsibility for their mistakes.

How to harness the power of the pause to manage workplace stress

We all have varied reactions to certain social situations. In times of tension, taking a pause before immediately reacting can help generate positive energy and boost one's power as a leader by strengthening the ability to deal calmly with difficult situations.

There are various strategies to give oneself a break (physically, emotionally and intellectually) to better deal with workplace difficulties, such as taking a walk, exercising, meditating or simply taking a quick coffee break. The goal is to give yourself time and space to clear your thoughts and calmly focus on the issues bothering you.

Suggestions for dealing with working frustrations:

Center yourself. Being centered lets you think more clearly and connect more deeply with others. Try sitting or standing in a stable position, taking a deep breath and becoming aware of everything going through your mind and body to create centeredness.

Put feelings into words. When people are upset or frustrated, Yale professor Amy Arnsten says that thinking becomes more complex in a way that negatively affects their capacity to make sensible judgments. Putting sentiments into words before acting can help calm your mind and prevent you from acting rashly.

Reframe the problem. Reframing the experience, meaning looking at a situation from another angle, can help you get unstuck and see new possibilities.

Final takeaways

Though inevitable, workplace frustration and stress can impede our ability to think clearly and compel us to behave emotionally. Pausing before speaking, responding or acting allows the chance for the urge to simply react to dissipate and opens a window for rational thought and contemplation.

As remote work grows increasingly common, the ability to control our impulses is becoming more important. The rapid speed of internet communication can exacerbate miscommunication. Maintaining productive and pleasant relationships requires taking the time to understand people's intentions.

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