Emotional Containment - Blog Top Image

Emotional Containment

A Few Tips for Better Work Days During Times of Change

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting our workplaces and our daily lives in many ways. In our continued commitment to help us all have better work days so that we can contribute to our communities in positive ways, we at Your Clear Next Step would like to offer some actionable ways we can make our human interactions even better with the practical application of emotional intelligence.

Emotions are running high right now.  People are upset about what they’re seeing and what they’re reading. Some are angry about how they believe people have behaved badly or let them down. Some are sad about personal and community impacts. Some are scared about what the future holds. Some are passionate about what actions should be taken. Some are tired of the conversation. Any and all of these emotions are valid. The question becomes what we do with these feelings?

When we let our emotions prevent us from having meaningful, productive, positive conversations, when we let the differences between our emotions prevent us from connecting as compassionate humans, when we forget that the words, once they’ve left our tongues or our keyboards, can never be taken back, damage is done.


I implore us all to deliberately and diligently practice good emotional intelligence right now. 

1 – Be aware of how you’re feeling. 


Start by taking a few moments to gather your thoughts. Write them down if that’s helpful. Pay attention to the words you’re using, to really understand your emotions – what are you feeling right now? While our emotions will change from situation to situation, it’s good to be aware if there’s an underlying, dominant emotion, especially if it is one of distress. 


2 – Manage your tone, your body language, and your actions. 

Even if you can’t get full mastery over your emotions, self-management offers ways to get control over how those emotions come out at or in the presence of others. The internal switches that allow us to stop yelling, bite our tongue, hold back the tears, soften our voice, focus on something else, etc. – these are all self-management techniques. Consider the tools you know to self-manage (counting to 10, thinking of things that lift you up, asking redirect-type questions, or connecting with touchstones, etc.) and apply the ones that work for you.


3 – Be aware of how others are feeling. 


Taking time to “read the room” or to evaluate the emotional state of the person you’re talking to is a great way to position a conversation for success. Check out their body language, their tone of voice, their facial expressions. Are they demonstrating an emotion that is similar to one you’re feeling? Is it something different? Taking a beat to understand where they’re coming from demonstrates emotional intelligence, and it’s also a useful way to distract yourself from your own emotions for a moment. Any time we can get our own focus off ourselves and onto others, we have a better chance of meeting their needs in the conversation.


4 – Actively, intentionally, and carefully move the conversation forward in the best possible way for everyone involved. 

Emotional intelligence is by definition an “other-focused,” positive, aspirational and inspirational skill. It means taking what I know about me, and what I know about how to manage me, and what I know about you, and moving us both forward in the most productive, most beneficial way possible. It’s not about me convincing you to believe what I believe – it’s about getting us both to move together forward in a way that is beneficial to both of us. 


So, what does this actually mean?

How could you really apply emotional intelligence in your day-to-day interactions right now?

  • Feeling optimistic? Great! Be aware that not everyone else is, so you may have to temper your optimism in some conversations in order to be sensitive to the person you’re talking to. If you’ve read their signals and can tell they’re not in the same place you are emotionally, invite them to share their perspective before you share yours.  your nonverbals and your words to listen to them in a way that demonstrates to them that you care about their feelings.
  • Feeling fearful?  Ok! Be aware that your fear may cause you to focus on those things you fear and miss things that are informing the perspectives of others, so you may have to ask more questions to broaden your picture. Look for legitimate sources of data, and work to gather the whole picture. If you can tell that the person you’re talking to doesn’t share your fears, ask them about what’s informing their perspective, and listen with a desire to understand. 
  • abstract-face-emotion-happiness-sadness-unique-think-different-individual-standing-out-from-crowd-spherical-with-icon-blue-backgroundFeeling sad?  Absolutely understandable! Be aware that your sadness may not be shared by others, so you may have to really listen to where they’re coming from and ask for what you need. If it’s clear that the other person doesn’t share your sadness, ask them if they’d be willing to help you by listening to your perspective. Then name what’s making you sad and identify what could help lift that cloud – being aware that it may be simply the passage of time that lessens the sorrow.
  • Feeling angry?  Good to know! Be aware that anger can incite positive, concrete action, but it can also trigger defensive responses and hostile rhetoric, so focus on putting that energy to productive use. In a situation where others share your anger, be extra cautious about not letting your conversation become like that of an angry mob. If you’re the only one angry in the conversation, make a direct statement like “I want to do XYZ to help” (making sure that XYZ is positive, safe, and actionable), and you may find others chiming in with ways to help you.
  • Feeling unemotional?  That’s fine!  Be aware that others who have heightened emotions may be hurt or offended by your nonchalance, so you may have to connect carefully with the person you’re talking to and respond in a way that matches what they need. If you’re in a situation with emotionally charged individuals, you may benefit from steering the conversation away from the charged topic with a phrase like “that feels like a hot topic, let’s redirect the conversation to something less charged, such as ABC” or by saying “just because I’m not worked up doesn’t mean I don’t care, tell me how you’re feeling right now and how I can help.”

Take the time, make the effort, practice emotional intelligence, and we can all end our conversations even better than we started them.  What else would you add? Join us on social media!


Topics: Sinikka Waugh, COVID-19, Change & Transition, Communication & Collaboration

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! contactus@yourclearnextstep.com


Receive a weekly dose of inspiration in your inbox by signing up for our weekly newsletter