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Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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2.1 Negative emotions

In her study on emotions at work, Fisher (1997) asked 116 people to report on the frequency with which they had experienced 135 different emotions in the workplace.

Although many positive emotions, such as satisfaction, enjoyment, enthusiasm and optimism appeared at the top of her results table, some of the highest scoring negative emotions were frustration, worry and anger.

The MindTools content team (no date) recommend dealing with these emotions in a range of ways, including:


  • Stop and evaluate – think about what is frustrating you, and perhaps write it down. This will help you to understand and reflect on whether it is actually something important.
  • Find something positive about the situation – this will help you to think about it in a different way.
  • Think about why an individual may be causing you frustration. Could they be experiencing some personal problems? Do they lack confidence? Perhaps they need some training or mentoring.


  • Don’t surround yourself with worry, for example by regularly meeting with others who feel the same – this will not help to reduce your own feelings of anxiety.
  • Try the deep-breathing exercise you discovered in Activity 4 in Week 3 – to lower your heart rate and help calm your nerves.
  • Consider how you could change the situation – brainstorm some possible solutions.


  • Watch for early signs of anger – being self-aware is very important and stopping your anger early is key.
  • If you start to get angry, stop what you’re doing – practise the breathing exercise mentioned earlier.
  • Picture yourself when you’re angry – how are you behaving? Are you shouting or pointing your fingers at an individual? Consider how you might feel being on the receiving end of such behaviour – is that really the impression you want to give your team, your employer or co-workers?

For more hints and tips on dealing with the other negative emotions highlighted in Fisher’s study – check the MindTools article outlined in the references section (MindTools Content Team, no date).

Activity 2 Negative emotions case study

Timing: Allow 25 minutes for this activity

Maya is a junior HR administrator looking for promotion. She wants to develop and demonstrate some of the skills she will need in her next role, so she puts herself forward for a new project.

  • Maya is the most junior member of a team of four.
  • Eva, one of the HR managers, frequently delegates duties to her at the last minute and has a short temper.
  • Neil, another colleague on the team, often spends hours playing games on the internet, but is one of Eva’s good friends in the office.
  • Charlene, who worked in the staff development team, has not previously worked with Maya.

Eva is leading the project and has already delegated many of the tasks without discussion. Charlene is tasked with devising the questions to be asked, Neil is to conduct the interviews and focus group tasks and Maya is asked to write up the notes/minutes of the meetings.

Maya feels that her responsibilities don’t stretch her capabilities and is frustrated by the lack of discussion.

Once the project starts, Neil’s notes are not helpful and Maya finds herself contacting interviewees to re-interview them. Neil is commended for his efforts and fails to mention Maya’s additional contribution.

Which of the five negative emotions do you think Maya is feeling? You can choose one or more from frustration, worry, anger, dislike and disappointment.

Summarise your advice for Maya in the box below.

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Maya could have experienced all five of the emotions listed.

Many of the negative emotions were due to her experience of working with Neil. She may have been frustrated that he was given greater responsibility than her, then angered by having to do the work herself.

She could have been disappointed by the fact Neil took credit for some of the work that she had done and that she had not had the recognition that she felt she deserved. Over the course of the project she could have developed a dislike for Neil.

Advice for Maya:

Maya should try not to let her feelings get the better of her as she is building some useful skills.

She could benefit from practising breathing exercises to calm herself when she feels particularly angry.

She could also arrange to talk to Eva about her contribution to ensure she know what Maya has done. Chatting to Charlene about her actions and ambitions (without being negative about Neil) could also be beneficial. Charlene’s role in the staff development team might allow her to gain access to training, mentoring etc.

There are no right or wrong answers in this activity. It is designed to help you consider some of the options and help Maya return to a positive and productive mindset. Practising this type of analytical approach might make it easier for you to apply it to yourself in a similar situation.

Although this section contains lots of suggestions for working through your negative emotions, it can be a difficult process to step back from your feelings and analyse them dispassionately. You might find it easier to talk things through with a trusted colleague or coach.