How to Rebound From Difficult Emotions at Work

Daniel Goleman on how we can better move on from disappointments that crop up at work. Serapio

We all experience disappointments at work. Passed over for a promotion. Argument with a client or colleague. Office politics run amok. As a leader, your colleagues may see you as the cause of their frustrations—justified or not. Regardless of the source of grief, these distractions can impact performance on all levels. How can you help your team get past emotional roadblocks?

I spoke with my colleague, George Kohlrieser, a professor at IMD about high performance leadership in my master class series. During our discussion, he offered ways to rebound from difficult emotions.

Bonding is crucial for any conflict management and negotiation. And remember, you don’t have to like someone to form a bond. You only need a common goal. However, there will always be a separation or disruption with bonding when there’s frustration or disappointment. When this happens, try to step out of the bond partially or completely. This allows you to open up to the grief process.

It’s helpful for leaders to understand how to go through the grief process for themselves and with others. People can be disappointed by all kinds of things: a negative piece of feedback, a failed contract, a change in a job, a transition. We all have to process these feelings before we can rebound.

In behavioral economics, this has been demonstrated by winners of the Nobel Economics Prize. Loss is more powerful in motivating the majority of people than benefit. To get over something quickly, use your mind’s eye not to focus on the regret or the loss or the frustration; think of what’s coming after to re-bond—and rebound.

The secret of high performance leadership is to get over something quickly, and help others get over something quickly to build a high bonding and cohesive state. To reach that desired state again, it’s very critical to understand grief. Leaders do not pay enough attention to grief. Organizations deny the massive amount of disappointment, frustrations, and jealousies.

Grief follows a series of stages, not in sequence necessarily, but in a flow in which you go from denial to protest and anger, to sadness and missing, and to actual fear. That’s the emotional part of grief. When you find people are angry, upset, depressed or filled with fear, they are in some form of grief. What is it? It can be a little thing blown out of proportion to something very serious like harassment. Then you go through the acceptance phase, on through to rationalization and the new attachment, then finally through forgiveness and gratitude.

Forgiveness is something we don’t talk about very often as part of good leadership, but it’s another way to get over something. Quite often, a leader says, “Tell me what you think.” You say what you think, and he never forgives you. He’ll hold it against you. Or you make a mistake and he can’t get over something to be able to come back to the job.

Emotional intelligence involves empathy, but we cannot be empathetic if we can’t go through the grief process. This is what is often overlooked: the ability to feel compassion. Go through the process of whatever pain you have and then re-bond and reconnect.”

Adapted from Daniel Goleman’s Linkedin page.

This post was originally published on in October 2014.