Emotional agility at work: Strategies for balanced professional life

November 23, 2023
Niam Sinno, Head of People and Change Advisory at KPMG Professional Services.
Niam Sinno, Head of People and Change Advisory at KPMG Professional Services.

By Niam Sinno, Head of People and Change Advisory at KPMG Professional Services

In the professional realm, employment often provides more than a mere salary; it furnishes a sense of purpose, personal growth, and community.

However, as time elapses, our professional roles can intricately entwine with our sense of self, particularly for individuals recognized as "diligent perfectionists."

These individuals, propelled to excel and profoundly influenced by their thoughts and emotions, frequently discover that work interactions, decisions, or feedback disproportionately affect their emotional well-being and sense of identity.

Take the example of one of my clients, Tarek, who holds the position of CHRO at a distinguished law firm. Despite consistently surpassing expectations, Tarek perceived the emotional weight of each situation as a reflection of his capabilities.

Resolving conflicts became a personal mission, often to the detriment of his own well-being. Constructive criticism and minor setbacks evoked overwhelming emotions.

When confronted with discussions about budget cuts affecting the entire firm, Tarek’s efforts were met with his boss’s apparent indifference, it caused heightened anxiety and a feeling of personal rejection.

If Tarek’s experience resonates with you, you're not alone. Given the substantial time we dedicate to work, it's understandable why it becomes a defining aspect of our identities. Although it is commonplace to associate personal value with work performance, breaking free from this pattern is attainable. Here's a guide on how to detach oneself from work and gain a broader perspective:

Navigate Emotions without Reacting

In instances of feeling personally attacked, it is imperative to navigate the wave of emotions without allowing them to define or dictate actions. By practicing detachment from emotions, acknowledging them without internalizing, individuals engage the rational part of the brain, creating a mental space between the triggering event and their response.

Challenge Internalization

Counteract negative spirals by questioning the personal implications of a person's reaction or a situation. Challenge assumptions and consider alternative explanations for behavior, fostering a broader perspective that prevents hasty conclusions about personal capabilities.

Cultivate Resistance to Fears

Instead of avoiding discomfort, progressively build resistance through desensitization – exposing oneself to measured doses of stressful situations. Choosing challenging situations empowers individuals, transforming their self-perception from fragility to a belief in their ability to meet challenges head-on.

Extract Wisdom from Failure

Rather than interpreting setbacks as personal failures, shift the focus to constructive inquiries. Explore actionable steps, identify lessons, and recognize how a situation contributes to adaptability and resilience.

Employ Humor or Empathy in the Face of Others' Actions

The tendency to personalize others' negative behavior is a common pitfall. Viewing such actions with humor or empathy, imagining the person as a scared child, helps shift perspective from personalization to understanding.

Taking things personally at work does not signify weakness but underscores passion, commitment, and a profound sense of responsibility. Approaching situations with objectivity empowers individuals to navigate their professional journey with heightened clarity, balance, and effectiveness. Remember, your intrinsic worth extends beyond your job performance.

November 23, 2023
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