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The next time you’re frustrated at work, embrace the power of the pause

Posted by Neha De

September 7, 2021    |     3-minute read (838 words)

Everyone gets frustrated or overwhelmed at work (and life!). On the one hand, feelings of encouragement and enthusiasm usually benefit people; on the other hand, it’s the feelings of stress and frustration we struggle with. 

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Modern neuroscience teaches us that two hardwired processes in the brain — pattern recognition and emotional tagging — are critical to decision making. Both are normally reliable; indeed, they provide us with an evolutionary advantage. But in certain circumstances, either one can trip us up and skew our judgment.”

When the going gets tough, humans tend to jump to conclusions and make reactionary decisions. 


Taking a pause to reflect before deciding what to do next can help us avoid making rash and impulsive decisions. 

This technique is especially beneficial to business leaders. Pausing and reflecting allows us to ascertain what our role is, how we can empower others and what we should actually get involved with.

The role of emotional intelligence 

Also known as emotional quotient, emotional intelligence is an individual's ability to manage their feelings and be in tune with others. People with high EQ can identify both their own and the emotions they see in others, and take measures in such a way that helps them succeed.

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and science journalist, popularized the concept of EQ in 1995. In his book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” Goleman explains the importance of an individual’s IQ when compared with their EQ. 

According to Goleman, EQ has these five elements:

  1. Self-awareness: An essential EQ skill, self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions, in addition to being aware of the effect of those actions, emotions and moods on other people. Self-aware individuals are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, learn from interactions with others and are open to new experiences and information. 
  2. Self-regulation: It’s not enough to be able to identify one’s emotions; one must be able to regulate and manage those emotions too. Self-regulation entails expressing emotions appropriately. According to Goleman, individuals who possess self-regulation skills take responsibility for their actions and are thoughtful about how they influence others. 
  3. Intrinsic motivation: Emotionally intelligent people are motivated by things beyond money, fame, acclaim, recognition and other external rewards.  Instead, they seek internal rewards. Such individuals tend to be action-oriented. They have a high need for achievement and are always looking for ways to improve. 
  4. Empathy: An empathetic person can understand other people’s emotions and reactions. Being able to identify someone else’s emotions or moods can go a long way in developing meaningful relationships. 
  5. Social skills: Goleman describes social skills as being friendly with a purpose. Having great social skills allows people to develop a strong understanding of themselves and others, as well as build meaningful relationships. People with strong people skills cultivate noncompetitive bonds built on mutual respect and trust.
People with low EQ tend to have a more difficult time working with others. They often find it difficult to accept criticism and own up to their mistakes. Whereas, people with high EQ are able to work closely with team members to solve problems, keep a level head when under pressure and take ownership of mistakes. 

How to handle workplace stress by adopting the power of the pause

All of us respond differently to different social experiences. However, taking a pause can help create positive energy and increase one’s strength as a leader as well as the ability to deal with complicated issues. 

There are several ways, including taking a walk, exercising, meditating or even a short coffee break, to give yourself a pause (physically, emotionally and mentally) in order to deal with workplace stresses better. The aim is to create time and space to empty the mind and then reflect on the troubling issues. 

Here are some tips on how to deal with frustrations at the workplace:

  • Grounding oneself: Being centered helps business leaders think clearly and connect with others more fully. To achieve this centeredness, try sitting or standing in a settled position, taking a deep breath and becoming aware of everything flowing through the mind and body. 
  • Putting feelings into words: According to professor Amy Arnsten, when people feel emotional or stressed, thinking becomes more difficult, which affects the ability to make rational decisions. In such a situation, putting feelings into words before taking action can help calm the mind.
  • Reframing the problem: When feeling stuck in one’s own perspectives and problems, reframing the experience can be a powerful cognitive strategy.
Final words

Frustration and stress at the workplace can stop us from thinking clearly and cause us to react emotionally. Pausing before speaking, responding or acting allows initial impulses to wane and makes space for reasoning and reflection. 

As remote-first work becomes permanent, impulse control has become more crucial. The fast pace of online communication can fuel miscommunication. Taking the time to understand others’ intent is the key to maintaining productive and positive relationships. 

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