Recognising and managing emotion is an important part of daily life. Positive emotions, like love and happiness, can help us achieve great things. But feelings of insecurity, anger, hate or jealousy can work against us – and even cause us to hurt others. It’s particularly important to manage emotions in the workplace. Not just channelling your own emotions constructively. But responding sensitively to those of other people too.

What is emotional awareness?

Emotional awareness is the ability to recognise and manage your own emotions, and those of others. It’s a life skill that plays a crucial part in the way you build and conduct personal, professional and romantic relationships.

Emotional awareness can play an important role in other skills such as communication. Considering the emotions of others can make you better at team working and problem solving.

Emotional awareness also ties into important behaviours, such as responsibility. By understanding and accounting for the emotions of others, you’re demonstrating greater responsibility towards your co-workers.

Some people make their careers from helping others deal with their emotions. Counsellors provide a talking therapy that helps people find ways to deal with emotional issues. Find out more here.

Emotional awareness is a highly transferable skill. Being able to channel and manage your emotions effectively can improve your focus and productivity. While recognising the emotions of others makes you a better team worker or manager. 

Examples of emotional awareness in action

How does good emotional awareness help you in life, and in the workplace? It’s helpful to look at some examples.

Dean and Charlie often work together on site, and their working relationship is characterised by banter. One day Charlie pushes it a bit far. Dean’s upset and angry, and his work is shoddy for the rest of the day.

People need to be sensitive to each other’s feelings. If Charlie didn’t realise he crossed a line, Dean’s reaction should tell him – and he could apologise. Dean could also take a break to calm down, then try and talk it through with Charlie after work.

Tensions have been brewing for a while between Alisha and Molly. Alisha feels that Molly and her other colleagues don’t have her back. Finally things erupt into an argument. But Alisha makes things worse by lashing out at other team members.

It’s important to try to express feelings constructively in the workplace. And to deal with issues before they escalate – for example, by asking your manager for advice. It’s also important not to let your emotions overwhelm you. If you sense tension in the team, be the one who’s proactive and reaches out before the situation deteriorates.

Omar has had a report he produced emailed back to him by his manager, who’s made loads of changes. He was proud of the work, but now he feels a bit deflated.

Having your work critiqued can be a sensitive experience. For Omar, it’s important to recognise that his manager is using her own skills and experience to improve his work. Omar could channel his emotions into examining the changes, and understanding why they’ve been made. And ask his manager for advice, if it’s not clear.

There might also be a corporate style that Omar wasn’t aware of or didn’t use. So he could spend some time familiarising himself with the company style and report formats. Omar’s manager could show greater emotional awareness too. Perhaps by discussing the changes in person and reaffirming that the original work was good.

Why is emotional awareness important in the workplace?

Emotional awareness is intensely useful to the relationships we make with people – and these include the professional relationships we have with co-workers. Being able to recognise and allow for the emotional needs of others makes you a more understanding colleague. In a team, emotional awareness can help to prevent friction developing, ensuring that colleagues work effectively without feelings getting in the way.

Being able to understand and manage your own emotions can make you more effective in your job. You’re more able to focus on the needs of your job without turning other matters over in your head, for instance. Powerful emotions such as anger, jealousy or love can cloud people’s judgement, potentially leading to mistakes with work, or in their relationships with colleagues.

In certain roles, it’s particularly important you can keep a calm, clear head. Doing so helps people make better decisions, which is critical in safety-first environments like Hinkley Point C.

Emotions can be powerful, and strong emotions often produce a physical response. For example, anger can lead to headaches, insomnia and increased anxiety.

How might you have demonstrated emotional awareness at school or college?

Think of your time at school or college, or in a sporting environment. You’re likely to find countless examples of where you’ve had to manage emotions – either your own, or those of others. Have there been times where you’ve felt angry, sad, happy, jealous, surprised or excited? Have those emotions created problems or opportunities? Perhaps a friend let you down and you were angry – did that get in the way of your work, or were you able to channel it, perhaps into better sporting performances?

We can channel our emotions too. Happiness and excitement often give us energy and enthusiasm. Experiencing love may make us more supportive or empathetic to others. Even fear can be harnessed – for example, if we use it as a motivation to make changes to our lives or the world around us.

It’s hard to convey emotions in writing – that’s why we have emoji! While you wouldn’t use them in a formal business setting, they can be a helpful way for friends to express and discuss emotions.

There have probably been times where you’ve helped friends to deal with their emotions. People often find it hard to hide their feelings completely, and strong emotions can manifest themselves in many ways. People can become withdrawn, sarcastic or more talkative than usual. Or they may lose their appetite or energy, start skipping classes – even self-harm. Perhaps you picked up on these changes in a friend or loved one, and helped them get the support they need.

If you’ve worked in a customer-facing role you’ve probably learned to recognise people’s emotions as they react to good or bad experiences. You may even have had to deal with anger – for example, when dealing with an unhappy customer.

How can you develop this skill?

It’s important to understand that emotions are a natural part of life. It’s generally not healthy to suppress them, but rather to find ways to channel them into appropriate behaviour. Often, you can lessen the impact of negative emotions, like anger or fear, by learning to address their causes.

Try and consider the impact of your emotions, and their consequences on those around you. For example, if you allow yourself to become angry at work, you may damage your professional relationships or career prospects. At the same time, it’s not healthy to bottle up emotions like anger. The solution might be to use exercise to work out your immediate anger, then channel any remaining energy into fixing the underlying problems as constructively as possible.

We can often learn more about our emotions by discussing them. It can be helpful to hear friends and family talk about the same emotions you experience, and the methods they’ve developed for managing them. Talking about your own emotions helps you to process them and the reasons for them. Hearing other people talk about their own can make you more aware of other people’s emotions.

Emotions have an effect on any job, but they’re particularly relevant to group activities and team work. Any experience you can get of working or studying with others is likely to help you develop your emotional awareness. This is particularly true if you’re involved in managing others or delegating tasks.
 

An exercise to help you consider your emotions

Emotions are something we feel in the moment, and they can be powerful drivers for our behaviour. But it’s helpful to take a step back from the moment and try to understand better what you feel and why. Instead of reacting with your gut, try the following.(1)

Think about your emotions during the day

Try to get in the habit of asking yourself “What am I feeling?”, or “How do I feel about this?”. Name the emotion you’re feeling or find a matching emoji, then move on and try again later. Doing this helps you become more aware of your emotions, and how they come and go – just like thoughts.

Consider how strong the feeling is

Are you really angry, or just a bit annoyed? Delighted, or just a little happy?

Is this emotion making you want to act a certain way?

If you find yourself getting stuck in a certain thought process, use this helpful worksheet from the Harborview Medical Centre to work through your emotional response.

Talk about your emotions with trusted friends or family

Discuss how you felt, and what you wanted to do. It may be useful to talk through how you wanted to act – what would the pros and cons have been?

You can use this exercise in the moment, or just at random intervals, but you can also use it to reflect on events that made you feel strongly. Weigh up what you did against what you might have done. Use the pros and cons of each to understand which options make things worse, and which improve them. Ask friends who shared the experience what they felt, too.

Managing your emotions during Covid-19

Many people have had to struggle with emotional situations during the Covid-19 pandemic. From feelings of isolation and frustration, through to worries over money and other commitments. Or perhaps grief from seeing friends or family become ill. 

It’s always best to try to provide positive outlets for these emotions rather than bottling them up. One of the most constructive ways to process emotions is to discuss them with others. Just talking about things can help you understand them, and work out how to respond. It can also help to find something positive to focus your energy on. You might try a new sport like running or cycling, or focus on learning new skills.

If you’re struggling to deal with your worries or emotions, consider seeking further help. Student welfare groups, professional bodies or your doctor may be able to recommend local groups or counselling services. Some charities or services offer specialised help for events such as financial trouble or bereavement. Find a full list of helpful sites on the NHS website.

How can you demonstrate emotional awareness?

Not every job applicant will have – or be able to demonstrate – strong emotional awareness skills. So if you can, it could put you at an advantage. In a job interview or at a careers fair, start by showing consideration for the company representatives you’re meeting. Turn up on time, and be professional and engaged; rather than distracted or unprepared.

Remember, particularly at a careers fair, that people may have been working long days – be respectful of their time. The same is true if they’re displaying at a non-careers event. While it may be OK to drop off your CV at a stand, don’t take up people’s time for longer than necessary.

When talking with employers, you could give a generic example of how you channel and focus your own emotions. For example, perhaps you go to the gym, or try to beat your best time on a cycling route. You may channel your emotions into a creative outlet, such as writing or photography.

You can demonstrate emotional awareness at work or college by being mindful of other people’s feelings. Socially, and in team-working exercises, consider how your behaviour will affect others. Try to ensure you let others contribute, and give them space to explain their feelings.

Remember, however, that while it can be very positive to talk about emotions, the workplace isn’t always the best place. Some people find it hard to put their emotions into words, or to open up. They may not want to discuss their feelings with a colleague. Be respectful. Don’t over-share your own emotions. Or pressurise other people to share theirs. Having emotional awareness means knowing where the boundaries are – and respecting these.

Useful links

Emotions are a fascinating and powerful part of life. We never stop learning how to channel them, express them or understand them. You may find these links interesting or useful:

  1. Advice from Teens Health on managing your emotional reactions

  2. Read this article on the history of emoji – discover how they can help and hinder communication

  3. Unchecked emotions can cause mental health issues. Here’s the NHS list of groups who can help

Related skills

Emotional awareness supports many other skills and behaviours in the workplace.

Being able to respect and manage the emotions of others makes you a good team player. Read more about team working.

Emotionally aware people are often good communicators, as they know how to express themselves. They also know how to listen – an important part of communication! Read more in our skills guide on communication.

Having emotional awareness often makes you a more adaptable and resilient person. If you can regulate your emotions and know how to channel them positively, you’re less likely to be phased by change. And able to overcome any challenges that come up in your life. The answer isn’t to ignore any negative feelings – like fear or worry. Instead, adaptable and resilient people are able to accept what’s happened and consider how to respond in a constructive and positive way. Read more about adaptability and resilience.

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