How to Create Emotional Space at Work

knee paddingBuilding an emotional buffer is vital to surviving the working world. If we take every complaint, compliment and comment to heart we get too caught up in our emotions. When we are attached to how we feel we get pushed around by the most dominant emotion.


I had an old boss that was an emotional roller coaster. Every day was a new type of ride. A lot of times I had trouble interpreting her emails. For example I sent her an update on a project that I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks. I thought it was thorough and quite good.

She did not see it this way.

She wanted more detail and better understanding of what I was trying to accomplish. I felt attacked. I felt my energy level falling. I felt like she didn’t trust me.

It was how I was feeling, not how she was feeling. I was interpreting her email as a negative response. It was all in my own head.

Instead of responding back in defense of my email I took a 5 minute break. I worked on my emotional development.

My self talk went something like this:

“What more does she want?” the angry part of asked.

“She just doesn’t see the full picture,” my relaxed part of me said.

At this point that my angry side was screaming and I can barely hear the relaxed part of me even talking.

“Why does she have to be that way?”

“That’s how she handles these situations. Believe me when you’re the CEO some day you won’t be perfect. Your employees will be angry at you for plenty of reasons. It’s what employees do.”

“It’s just that it hurts.”

“Yeah, it does, but it’s just feelings, it isn’t concrete reality. If you can create more emotional space you’ll be able to just look at these emotions as just sensations without letting them push you around.”

“How do I do that?”

“Let’s say the next time your boss doesn’t like something you do, don’t attach yourself to the project. Your heart and soul are still in you, not in that project. Notice those feelings starting to bring you down, let them be there, but at the same time, slowly let them go. Don’t hold on to them otherwise you’ll just stay angry.”

“Yeah. I can do that.”

“Good. The more emotional space you create the faster you can process your emotional states. Remember it takes lots and lots of practice. Your anger will get the better at you at times, but always be practicing letting go of your feelings.”

As this internal dialog ended the relaxed part of me spoke louder and the angry part of me settled down. I was able to use this anger to improve my emotional development.

Emotional Padding

Creating emotional space is just a way to insert a soft padded buffer between your emotions and how you interpret them.

It’s how Zen masters never let anything bother them. Think of sitting in a large glass cage as someone shoots tennis balls at you. All they do is bounce off. You notice that they are there, but they don’t cause any pain. I like to think of this at emotional mastery.

Next time you notice your emotions spiraling down; watch how it makes you feel. Take an emotional step back by taking 5 deep breaths.

Then ask yourself these 3 questions:

1. What is happening to your emotional state?

2. How are you feeding this emotional state with your thoughts?

3. What can you do to create more emotional space?

By taking a step back and answering these questions you’ll start to see the situation in a new light. The important part of this exercise is to learn to do this quickly before you let your anger take over. Yes, it will take practice, but the more you practice at letting go and not holding on to your emotions the stronger your emotional intelligence will become.

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