Emotion regulation: a critical skill in the age of disruption

When you cannot control your emotions, you are likely to say or do things that you regret. Before you prematurely fire someone or turn in your resignation letter, gain control of your emotions through emotion regulation. Positive psychology trainers and experts in emotional intelligence have a range of tools you can use to do this.  

So what is emotion regulation? Put simply, it involves managing both your emotional state and your expression of emotion. It is mostly automated and unconscious, but it can also be consciously controlled to build emotional intelligence. In positive psychology, emotion regulation is the ability to actively upregulate or downregulate your thoughts and feelings. Upregulation means enhancing an emotional state. Downregulation means reducing it.  

Emotion regulation includes three primary components: initiating actions, inhibiting actions and modulating responses to your emotions. Using the upregulation and downregulation model, you can filter your responses to information in a positive way. Positive psychology trainers suggest that it is most useful to upregulate positive emotions and downregulate distressing emotions 

How do you gain more conscious control of your emotions? The top five emotion regulation techniques taught by positive psychology trainers and coaches are: 

  • Situation selection 
  • Situation modification 
  • Attentional deployment 
  • Cognitive change 
  • Response modulation 

With situation selection, you choose to avoid or accept a situation. For example, you may choose to avoid a situation that you know will bring negative emotions.  

With situation modification, you modify the situation to create a different emotional impact. This includes changes to your environment, such as standing further from someone if you dislike close interactions. 

Attentional deployment requires you to direct your attention away from or towards an emotional situation. Thought suppression and distractions are great examples. If you direct your attention elsewhere instead of dwelling on the situation. The opposite of this approach is rumination and worry. 

Cognitive change is the process of changing how you appraise a situation to alter its emotional impact. This includes reappraisal, distancing and humour. People frequently inject humour to upregulate positive emotions and downregulate negative ones.  

Distancing provides a method for self-reflection. You appraise the situation from a third-person perspective instead of a first-person perspective, distancing yourself from the issue.  

Reappraisal is widely regarded as one of the most successful emotion regulation techniques. With reappraisal, you reinterpret the meaning of the event. This may allow you to see new solutions or focus more on the big picture.  

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To apply some of these emotion regulation strategies at work, try using the following tips from positive psychology trainers. 

  • Compartmentalise your work and personal matters to prevent negative issues at home from affecting your work 
  • Use deep breathing and relaxation techniques to give your mind more time to analyse negative situations 
  • When feeling angry or frustrated, count to 10 before responding to the situation 
  • Clarify your response before acting on it to avoid misunderstandings 
  • Remain mindful of your surroundings and the perspectives of others  

According to a study published in Cerebral Cortex, reappraisal provides an effective emotion regulation strategy. Based on the study, reappraising a situation by upregulating positive outcomes and downregulating negative outcomes directly impacts people’s decision-making processes. Leaders may use this strategy to influence the way a team analyses and reaches solutions. 

Emotion regulation is a widely studied process that will give you the tools needed to control anger, worry and other negative emotions. Instead of allowing these emotions to get in the way of effective decision making, find ways to reappraise difficult situations. If necessary, call on the expertise of positive psychology trainers and coaches. Or contact your human resources department for advice on building your emotional intelligence skills.   

About the author of this article: 

Eleanor Shakiba is a trusted coach and trainer to thousands of professionals in high intellect fields. Her expertise is in using positive psychology to build high performing leaders and teams. Eleanor works with trainers and HR specialists to build exceptional organisations and teams. She is the author of the Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D practitioners. She also runs a range of retreats and workshops for trainers and facilitators.