Over the next several months we will share blog posts from Tiffany Willis on her experience becoming a leader in the workplace.  The blog series, The Making of a Leader will delve into topics such as characteristics of a leader and empowerment. If you have any ideas or thoughts on these topics, please feel free to drop us a note!

Emotions are a natural response to the stimuli around us all the time, and it is perfectly normal to have a wide range of emotions. However, in the workplace, all emotions are expected to be under control 100% of the time. What makes this task difficult is that “positive” emotions are expected to persist within challenging times and it seems like “negative” emotions are never welcomed in the workplace. We also typically spend 1/3 of our day or more in an environment that exposes use to stimuli that encourage certain emotions. Positive emotional consistency is even more difficult for people who lack self-awareness of their emotions/body language. Let me be clear….masking your true emotions to fit within the culture of your workplace is stressful, unhealthy, and unproductive. However, being angry, having attitude, crying, burning out, and shutting down are not appropriate ways to handle emotions either.

I take things personally and my face reacts before I can process information. With that said, you can already predict the struggles I have internally when approached with negative feedback or difficult conversations.

Two years ago a position had become available that I wanted but knew that I was not fully prepared for, but I decided to shoot my shot anyway. Ultimately, I did not get that position but received some useful feedback and was placed in a professional development program that could prepare me for the position in the future. Honestly, I did not take the news well but I understood the reasoning and was emotionally prepared for the rejection. True story….I still dropped a few tears in front of my boss despite what I knew about myself.  A year later another position had become available that I knew I was prepared for and definitely felt like I could do an excellent job. And when my two bosses told me they thought I was STILL not prepared to handle a higher role I DAMN NEAR DIED. Even though I did not say much you could see it all over my face and in my eyes. The saddest part is how I tried to play like I was sick and I looked like that because of my allergies. #tragic

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So what now? How do you handle your emotions at work (really, this should happen in your personal life too)?

Know your triggers

In order to really take control of your emotions, you need to know what triggers your emotions and what reactions you display. Take the time to deeply reflect on your successes that brought you joy within those situations and reflect on “emotional failures” that pushed you to react negatively. Think about what interactions you had with people and what proactive steps you took to end with a positive and/or negative outcome. Some common triggers for me are;

Here are some common triggers for me:

  • Team members who do not honor their professional commitments
    • It is difficult to do your job to the best of your ability when a team member does not contribute to their commitment to the team.
    • Also, people, who are not self-starters and will ignore a task they do not understand.
  • Negative feedback around tasks or interactions that I gave 100% effort too.
    • Sometimes despite the effort, you drop the ball or miss the mark.
  • Negative feedback in a group setting
    • Critique no matter how helpful, is difficult to absorb in a group setting

Accountability – You cannot always change others, but you can definitely change yourself.

After you have compiled a hopefully short list of triggers, then you need to modify YOUR behavior and potentially have a few difficult conversations. If any or all of your triggers revolve around someone else behavior then you need to reflect on how you contribute to the negative reaction and change your behavior. You need to take responsibility for your part in the negative outcome and hold yourself accountable. This way you can walk away from any negative situation knowing that you were and gave your absolute best.  For example:


  • Team members who do not honor their professional commitments


  • Recognize my emotions
  • Reflect on the situation and how I am feeling (this may require you to pause the conversation for a short period)
  • Assume the best, maybe there was miscommunication, confusion, or a lack of knowledge. Don’t assume that someone neglected a task due to ill will
  • Approach the difficult conversation directly with a positive attitude, a problem-solving mentality, and use inclusive positive language. Be a model of how you want people to complete a task or approach a conversation.
  • If possible, reapproach the task and provide support…..or create a plan moving forward to prevent the issue again.

Relax, it’s feedback

Now let us say you recognize your trigger and put in all the work to be successful and you are still receiving feedback. RELAX it’s okay. True story…. no one is perfect and everyone needs to develop and grow. Do not assume that because of you a receiving feedback that you are inadequate or a failure. Take the feedback as an opportunity to improve your practice. Soak up the knowledge and make the second round better than the first.

Storytime! About three weeks ago my supervisor sat me down and told me that I was going to ask members from my team a simple question. How can my role effectively support this team? As soon as I heard that question a flood of emotions ran over me. In my head, I was asking myself, “Jesus, they are going to read me like TMZ! Do they do not find me valuable? What did I screw up that bad this year that we need to openly discuss my effectiveness? Nope, not going to participate.” Then I recognized my emotions and I thought, “Tiffany Chill. This is a new role and we are in the middle of summer planning. A time that everyone uses to reflect on the past year and make changes so the following school can be better. Chill.” According to my supervisor, I looked like a deer in headlights for about a cool minute before I was open to the conversation. Within that conversation, I expressed my concerns and gathered clarity for the purpose of me asking the question to the group. In the end, I was on board.

So in the following week, I sat down and took notes around what my team said and noticed that the issues we not necessarily around me, but confusion between my role and theirs. An issue that can be addressed through clarifying our roles and expectations. And at the end of the day, the clarification will allow a whole team to be more productive and effective.  However, this whole experience was made better by having an honest conversation with my supervisor about my triggers, and me changing my reactions to my triggers positively. #notearsthistime

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Check back next month as I give you a look into my experience becoming a leader.