How to be Emotionally Intelligent with Written Communication at the Workplace

Emotions play a big part in our communication at the workplace, either face-to-face or written. The way we express our emotions require us to be sensitive to others’ emotions. In the same way, we also need to be sensitive to our own emotions and values and respond accordingly. The mastery of our own emotions is a skill that can help us become more productive at work. Working on how we express ourselves can greatly affect how we connect and collaborate with others.

Expressing ourselves through written communication is a challenging task as we have limited means to express our ideas. Email, chats and all other sorts of documents in a workplace often focus totally on the subject or topic; which makes it difficult to understand the emotions behind them. However, I feel we need to make space for our emotions, ideas, and thoughts to be freely expressed in any form of communication to build lasting trust and cooperation with our colleagues.

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Pros and Cons of Written Communication In The Workplace?

The digital age has made communication faster and more accessible. We’re able to send messages to people we can’t meet personally in a more efficient manner. Emails and text messages can distribute information to people anywhere in the world while we’re at the comfort of our desk.

We use written communication in many different situations at the workplace. Some of these situations can be found below :-

  • Sharing important information through emails to different division members
  • Providing feedback on documents sent to us for review
  • Responding to messages asynchronously
  • Requesting permission for vacations leave and other administrative tasks

These situations can get challenging since you need to fit your message into a certain format and you’re left to express your message often only through text. There are no verbal and nonverbal cues to help you express your thoughts.

Emotions can get in the way or get you on the way. -Mavis Mazhura

Emotions can get in the way or get you on the way. -Mavis Mazhura

So, where does emotional intelligence fit? Emotional intelligence can help us in phrasing our emotions into words and sentences. The knowledge of our emotions serves as a guide to how we can communicate better with other professionals.

Communication, in whatever form, is never detached from our personality (thoughts, emotions, beliefs). Even a simple email or letter is already an expression of ourselves. Emotional Intelligence is not just about communicating verbally and listening to others. It is about expressing ourselves clearly regardless of what medium we use for communication.

Written communication, while it is effective, also has drawbacks. Since messages are limited to written text, they can get lost in translation. The way we choose to express the message can be interpreted differently by the other person. Some parts or the whole intent of the message can be misunderstood.

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion. – Dale Carnegie

What Can We Do To Avoid Confusion And Misinterpretation?

By being careful about a few ideas as listed below, we can make written communication easier for others to process and understand :-

  1. Write messages in simple and short sentences. Written communication is about effectively transferring information. By adopting a simple style of writing, we become more effective since there is less room for misinterpretation.
  2. Ask others if they understand the message you’re expressing. The most effective way to ensure that no miscommunication happens is by confirming the message with others. There’s nothing wrong with asking colleagues if they understood the details you provided.
  3. Be careful in being funny or sarcastic. It’s alright to add some humor to messages, but be sensitive of others who might get offended or misinterpret them.
  4. Avoid emotionally-charged messages. Written communication is not meant for emotional release. Ask yourself if you would have the courage to say the same thing face to face. If not, don’t express it as an email either.
  5. Ask for acknowledgement if you expect something back. Or follow up if you don’t hear back or hear an unsatisfactory response to make things clear.
It isn't stress that makes us fall--it's how we respond to stressful events. -Wayde Goodall

It isn’t stress that makes us fall–it’s how we respond to stressful events.
-Wayde Goodall

When Should We Not Use Written Communication?

While written communication may be helpful, there are times when its use is not the best choice. Having the presence of mind not to use written communication if the situation calls for it is also being emotionally intelligent. Some situations like those listed below might require a personal conversation instead of written.

  • Discussing sensitive or emotion-loaded discussions – Written communication cannot express the full spectrum of emotions and messages we wish to send to others. Verbal and nonverbal cues are important when talking about sensitive topics to be able to fully express emotions and communicate the message without room for misinterpretation.
  • Personal discussions – Personal discussions often require attention and immediate feedback. The nature of written communication, unfortunately, cannot fit the needs of these important discussions.

In conclusion, becoming emotionally intelligent requires us to know when and how written communication can be used in a professional setting. Doing it well allows us to capitalise on human relationship and unlock the huge potential when people work together for a common purpose and mission. On the other hand, if not done well, it can also go downhill pretty quickly.

Do You Know your Emotional Triggers? And What To Do When You Are Emotionally Triggered?

“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power” – Lao Tzu

I am sure we’ve all experienced a sudden emotional reaction. It happens when our thinking starts to become clouded, and feelings (of fear, anger, or sadness) overwhelm us. While it’s not always possible to avoid emotional outbursts, there are always better ways of expressing our emotions without suppression or explosion.

Our emotions play a crucial role at the workplace too. Anybody who tells us otherwise doesn’t understand that human beings are emotional beings, and just because we are at work we can’t expect to not have any emotions at all.

Teamwork and cooperation rely heavily on each team members’ communication. Here’s where identifying our emotional triggers becomes important. Understanding our own emotions also helps us understand how we can interact better with others. Rather than suppressing or controlling our emotions, we should be able to express our emotions in a way that we can be proud of in the long term, and which just doesn’t give the kind of short term relief an emotional outburst provides. When we are able to do that, we build trust and cooperation with colleagues which in turn translates into better quality work.

When Do We Become Emotionally Triggered?

Every one of us is unique. We have our own likes and dislikes, personalities, and habits. We sometimes refer to this as our “identity” as individuals. We all have our own unique and different emotional triggers as part of our identity, and some of us are more sensitive to these emotional triggers than others.

Our beliefs, values, culture, and past experiences shape how our identity is formed. In a similar fashion, our means of expressing emotions are shaped over time. They are learned and slowly become habits, unless we intervene and decide to change them.

But what causes our emotions to trigger in the first place? There are different factors that can trigger our emotions. Figuratively, emotional triggers are stimuli that can press our hot buttons. Like an Achilles’ heel, we usually try to guard ourselves from these triggers.

Emotional Triggers

What Factors Cause Our Emotions to Trigger?

These triggers can vary from the simplest things in our daily life to more personal ones, but they can be classified into common factors such as the following:

  • Undesirable memories of people, places, and events – Anything that reminds us of a past traumatic experience can be an emotional trigger. These memories evoke strong emotions that might cause us to behave differently.
  • Stress and lack of comfort – Some situations cause our emotions to stir without us knowing why. The loss of comfort and the built-up stress in these situations weaken us and cause our emotions to trigger.
  • Conflicting beliefs, values, and culture – Our emotions often trigger when we feel that our identity is being attacked. While some of us can be aware when this happens, most of us instinctively have our emotions triggered whenever conflicting beliefs arise without us realising so.
  • Pet peeves and dislikes – The things we dislike, whether or not we’re aware, also trigger our emotions depending on how much we dislike that thing. While pet peeves don’t always trigger strong emotions, these dislikes may weaken our emotional barriers and make us more emotionally vulnerable.

Once these emotional triggers press our hot buttons, we often become overwhelmed with emotions. As a result, our actions can often end up sending the wrong message. These can strain our relationships with people around us, or give an impression to others which we might not want to convey.

Knowing what our emotional triggers are is the first step to expressing them wisely. Becoming less vulnerable to emotional triggers requires knowing where our weak spots hide. As we get to know more about ourselves, we learn our emotional triggers and become more skilled in expressing emotions in a way that we can be proud of. When we think of it this way, we can turn our emotions into a strength rather than a weakness.

How Do You Identify Your Emotional Triggers?

“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.” – Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

We can’t always avoid stressful situations. At work, we face these situations when heated arguments happen and conflicting views arise.  There will always be times when our emotional triggers suddenly act up. Whether we like it or not, we still need to collaborate with different people and their different identities. It all boils down to how we react to what we face.

Emotional Intelligence & Emotional Triggers

To be able to identify our emotional triggers, we must begin with introspection or the process of examining our emotions. Like a river, our emotions flow continuously. Learning what causes the tides of our emotions to change will help us identify our emotional triggers. Our body can also help us identify these changes.

  • Start by identifying physical symptoms of uneasiness and stress. Our body sends warning signals to our brain without us consciously knowing. These signals manifest into physical symptoms that we can identify. Involuntary shaking, sweating, increased heartbeat, and headaches are common symptoms that our mental state is vulnerable. You’ll notice that these physical symptoms arise when we start becoming highly emotional. By mastering this knowledge, we can identify the emotional triggers that causes us discomfort.
  • Notice changes in our behaviour. Our actions and mannerisms usually change when our emotional triggers affect us. Changes in the way we interact with certain people or in our routine are also symptoms of a weakened emotional state. In the same way as physical symptoms, we can also learn more about our emotional triggers by noticing patterns in our behaviour.
  • Identify common patterns. Learning more about our emotions and emotional triggers requires us to identify some common patterns. We need to know our dominant emotion before, during, and after periods of being highly emotional. Through this method, we can slowly map out how our emotions play out when we are triggered.
  • Reflect on your actions on when you became emotionally triggered. There will be situations when you will not know what exactly triggered your emotions even if you’re already aware of some of your emotional triggers. The best way to adapt to these situations is by reflecting on our actions and identifying what we can do to prevent the same situation from happening again.

What To Do When You Are Emotionally Triggered?

“He that knows patience knows peace” – Chinese Proverb

When worst comes to worst, we need to think and act fast and not panic. Below are some ways to avoid acting impulsively and doing something which we would regret later. 

  • Take a break – Take a pause, right where you are. Stop speaking if you are talking and take some deep breaths.  Get present to your body inhaling and exhaling. Let your body calm down and slowly relax. This will help you diffuse the situation as fast as possible. 
  • Get out of the situation (if possible). If it’s an uncomfortable situation that you can get out of, then do so immediately. You’ll know when you need to leave if you’re starting to feel physical symptoms. Removing yourself from the situation  gives you a chance to recover. If you can’t get out of the situation, patiently wait for an opening to excuse yourself.
  • Write it all down in a journal. Feelings of blame, justification, guilt or regret may often linger after having emotional outbursts. What you can do is to write your experience down in a journal. Keep writing until you have nothing left to say or express. Releasing all of the lingering emotions into a journal not only helps you release those emotions but also helps document your progress. P.S. – Don’t send it to anyone. Read it a few times and delete/destroy it.
  • Reflect and continue learning from the experience. Learning about ourselves is a continuing experience. Reflect on what you did and what you can do differently the next time. By reflecting on our past actions, we can always find ways to express our emotions better. 
  • Seek professional help if you need to. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in seeking professional help. This could range from asking a trusted mentor for advice or seeking intervention from a trained doctor. Some of us have grown up with several emotional triggers that greatly affect our daily life, and seeking professional help is sometimes necessary to live a more meaningful life.

Avoid Intoxication

Though there is always a temptation of doing so, we must avoid taking drugs and alcohol to feel better or suppress our emotions in the short term. Drugs and alcohol do not only remove so-called “inhibitors” but also weaken our mental state to the point where we become increasingly sensitive to our emotional triggers. What’s worse is that we tend to act more impulsively under the influence of alcohol that can cause harm to our relationships and people close to us.

In conclusion, the process of controlling our emotions goes hand-in-hand with learning about our true identity. Like how the seasons change, so too does our identity. Different experiences will eventually lead us to learn more about ourselves. Hopefully, this article will guide you in identifying and adapting to new emotional triggers that you’ll discover.


The Role and Importance of Emotions in Our Professional and Personal Lives

When I started working at the age of 21, my manager was only a few years older than me. Both of us being very young and passionate about work, we developed a good friendship. As I completed my first year at work, I sat down with this friend (manager) to discuss my performance. I wasn’t ready for what came next.

In the meeting he was very formal and distant in his approach which I found unfair. Due to our friendship, I expected an informal conversation. Instead, what I got was “feedback” and “improvement points”. When he was done with the performance cycle, it left me in a very bad mood and it affected our friendship. While he was only performing his job as a manager, I was too naive and felt betrayed as a friend. It took us more than a year to mend our friendship, and I am good friends with him to this day.

This incident was very tough for me, and it was not until many years later that I recognised why it was so. At first I blamed my manager friend for being more of a “manager” than a “friend“. Later (after we mend ways) I blamed myself for being too emotional and developing friendships at work. I came to the (wrong) conclusion that emotions and rationality are mutually exclusive, and I shut myself down emotionally.

It was much later that I realised that emotions were not the culprit. Instead it was my inability to handle my emotions which led me to react impulsively. With experience I have come to believe that emotions are absolutely necessary for doing any meaningful work. They only seem tough when we don’t know how to handle them.

I have already written about how to handle our emotions in the workplace. In this article I want to stress on the importance of emotions as the driving force behind decisions.

We Experience The World Through Our Emotions

We walk around the world and make sense of it through our emotions. When we experience an event, different emotions get triggered based on our values and beliefs. Emotions make our experiences good or bad, valuable or not, and pleasurable or painful. If we introspect we will found that every decision we end up taking is derived from an emotion that touched and moved us.

These emotions can overwhelm us occasionally, but without them we would have no connection with people or events around us. While emotions can sometimes bring pain and tears, it is only through them that we feel joy, happiness and peace in life. It is very important to realise that emotions are our strength, and not our weakness.

It is our emotions that make us human. The little moments of joy when we play with our kids, the smile on our faces when we help someone, the tears in our eyes when we see something cruel and terrible (even if it is on TV) – it is these emotions that connect us all as human beings.

Seeing a tweet by a billionaire CEO and to be able to feel empathy for him/her makes us bridge the economic, physical and social divides and come closer. On the other hand, if we are privileged in any way, being able to empathise with the less privileged and act for them brings us closer. Emotions help keep our egos in check, and prevent us from being indifferent towards the less or more privileged in our society.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in our Lives

Emotions and Reason are Not Mutually Exclusive

Most of us believe that emotions and reason are opposites of each other, and it is often presented as a fact that you can’t act rationally if you are emotional. In many workplaces, emotions are frowned upon and an excessive display of emotions (joy, tears, anger) are seen as a liability.

On the contrary, what I have learned over the years is that emotions can be our biggest asset. They can give us important information that can shape our lives if we listen to what they are trying to tell us. The key is to learn how to express our emotions without repression or explosion.

Emotions can help us clear the fog of rational choices and reveal our moral lighthouses. They help us choose wisely when presented with two equally good or equally bad choices. Emotions clarify our thinking and help us see rational choices in a new light while pure rationality often makes us run wild with ideas, even at the expense of others. Rationality without emotions can look enticing in the short term, but it can be a menace in the long term.

It Is Impossible to Be Rational Without Emotions

While it is true that emotions can overwhelm rationality at times, it is impossible to be rational without being emotional. Today there is scientific evidence to prove that we, as human beings, are incapable of making decisions if we can’t feel our emotions. You can read about the works of neurobiologist Antonio Damasio to see that without emotions, there is no decision making possible. [1][2]

He worked on a patient with a severed connection between the frontal lobe (where rationality originates) and cerebral amygdala (where emotions originate) in the brain. After the surgery, the patient could think, but he could not feel anything. He noticed that while he was able to engage in rational thought all the time, he was not able to make a choice over the other.

When Emotions Overwhelm Us?

We all have been in situations where we don’t want to do what we know is the right thing to do. When emotions overwhelm us, we can get sucked into the temptation of the respective emotion and (re)act in a way which provides us emotional relief. For example – When you couldn’t control your frustration and vented it out on your manager because it felt good to spurt it out.

Emotions are very good messengers, but poor masters. We should always listen to them and let them play a big role in our rationality, but subjugating reason to emotional whims can cause us short and long term harm. In the end we should always use reason to choose the best option available for us, and use emotions as a lighthouse to guide us on the right path. This will help us in making the right choices (which might not be the easy ones) in life with conviction.

Emotions Intelligence is a Skill. Train Yourself

Now that we have seen that there is no action possible without emotions, we can conclude that emotions are not bad or good in themselves. It is our ability to handle them that make us interpret them as so. It is a skill that, just like other skills, can be developed.

Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions builds confidence and opens up new pathways which were earlier closed to you. Emotional people are often regarded as weak in certain societies, but I believe that the ability to handle one’s own emotions is one of the most useful skills a human being can acquire.

Increased emotional awareness can be a great asset we all can make use of not only to make the right decisions for ourselves, but also to create a better world around us. A world which is not mine or yours – but ours.

What Not To Do When Conflicts Happen?

We all deal with conflicts in the workplace. In the last 12 years of my professional career, I have had my own share of conflicts. That has left me with some learnings about how to navigate through them successfully. This article is the second in a series of such articles. To understand conflicts better, find the first one here.

While there are different ways we can approach a conflict, I have learned from my experiences a few things we MUST NOT DO when conflicts happen. However, these are the very things we end up doing when we are not prepared or aware about how to respond to a particular conflict.

1. Jump Right In and React

Conflicts can be complex, and attempting to handle them without preparation can be our biggest failing. As human beings, we (or our brains) never want to be involved in a conflict, so whenever we encounter one, the first impulse is always to react with whatever comes up in our minds.

Our brains are hardwired to protect us from danger and to ensure our survival. An unexpected conflict is perceived as a threat, and it can lead us towards a fight or flight reaction. Doing so without understanding the conflict and giving ourselves time to process it can do damage which can take a lot of effort to undo in the future.

2. Deny or Avoid the conflict

One of the most natural ways to react to a conflict is to deny its existence. There are always small signs you can notice as a conflict builds up. The sooner you act on it, the lesser damage control you have to do later. Don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, or you are only postponing the problem.

Denial means acting like the conflict doesn’t even exist, and I don’t think there is any human being who has not acted with denial when presented with a conflict atleast once in their life. We can close our eyes and walk around like nothing has happened, but that can often result in falling into a pit which can then take a lot of effort to get out from.

“You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” – Indira Gandhi

3. Surrender or Give Up

Many of us hate confrontation, and often we give up our needs and position to avoid an ‘unpleasant’ confrontation. While this prevents the confrontation, it often results in resignation and cynicism as surrendering doesn’t help in moving forward in our careers or life.

Surrendering never helps any party, and spoils the mood and culture in the organisation. We should not let anyone bully us or others, regardless of hierarchy or position. If we give up in a conflict, we must know that we have wasted an opportunity for a positive result.

What Not To Do When Conflicts Happen

What Not To Do When Conflicts Happen?

4. Dominate a Conflict

On the other spectrum of surrendering is trying to get our way by dominating. We can do this either by using our influence, position or personality over the other person. We might get our way if we dominate others, but we never truly “win” a conflict unless both parties are satisfied.

Domination, like surrender above, often ends up weakening the relationship rather than strengthening it. If people are unhappy and resentful, sooner or later it will boil up again as a conflict or show in poor results in whatever we are trying to do.

5. Ignore the Relationship and the People Involved

We often get sucked up in tasks and getting the results we want, that we totally ignore the relationship and the people involved. We should always remember that the people and relationships come first, and that any success that focusses only on the “task” will be short lived if we destroy the relationships in the process.

A productive conflict resolution not only reaches a solution which works for both the parties, but also strengthens the relationship between all parties involved. They end up feeling better about themselves and their work, without any frustration and cynicism.

In conclusion, I would like to add that constructive conflict resolution can only happen in a space of trust and camaraderie between people, and all of the points above destroys this space. When people understand each others’ needs and look beyond their fears and anxieties, they can work together to create new results which work for everyone. When this happens, you win WITH the other person rather than OVER them.