Feeling the feels: a Project Manager’s guide to keeping the peace in an office

Hang tight.

Keep your cool.

Chill.

We are the project managers, leaders and directors. We work in professional environments. We are the ones working against deadlines and working with clients. We tackle big problems and we find innovative solutions. We are the ones tasked with keeping order amongst chaos, but does this have to mean that we don’t feel things too?

When working on a complex and timely project like developing a brand strategy or building a new website, there are going to be a lot of feelings, opinions, and emotions.

There I said it.

Emotions in a workplace. Scandalous – I know.

We have all been there: Sometimes a build just doesn’t go right. Sometimes you  are up against a tight budget. Sometimes opinions and egos are counter productive. And sometimes — you just have a bad day.

It is unrealistic to expect that a complete separation between our work, productivity and emotions can exist at all times, especially when you are passionate about your work. When you care deeply about the quality of what you do, you are going to have emotions that are sometimes difficult to work through.

This is normal. Feel it. Understand it. Accept it. Move on.

This doesn’t mean you should put your boots on and stomp around the office when you don’t get your way. But emotions are like landmines: if you don’t address something when it happens, it becomes a landmine in the field of your professional life. Each unresolved issue adds  a mine to your field until it is so full of obstacles, you can’t navigate around them. Then one day, you hit one of these landmines that ignites the others and everything comes crashing down.

We all know what this looks like in the professional space. Most of us have had that coworker or boss that loses their cool and creates a toxic atmosphere.

Here are a few easy steps you can take when you are feeling particularly overwhelmed:

Quietly acknowledge it

That anger, frustration, sadness? Yep — those are real things living and breathing inside of you. They’re real, and it’s okay to feel them. Feelings don’t make you weak; they make you human. This is what it means to be alive.

Don’t react

The worst thing you can do in a professional (and probably personal) setting is to react based on fear or anger. Take a second. If you must absolutely throw something, scream or cry, close your office door, take a walk, or visit the bathroom. Do something to get yourself out of the immediate environment that is causing the stress. If you don’t have this luxury (yes, we’ve all been in THOSE meetings), then just take an internal step back. And then take a deep breath.

Think on it

Why are you feeling this way? What is causing you to react with such vehemence? Did someone disagree with you? Did you get some negative feedback? I there some portion of the project that is stressing you out or did you make a mistake? Or is it something underlying that? You don’t feel valued. You don’t think you are capable. You need help from your team. You are tired and overwhelmed by life. Think about what it is that is ramping you up and thank it for existing. It’s most likely not going anywhere anytime soon, so you might as well start to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Accept the reality and work towards a solution.

Empathize

This is the hard part. Understand that how you react in this situation has a direct impact on those around you. Know that they can feel and will feed off your mood. As much as we sometimes wish we were solitary creatures, we are not. Our success, in part, is dependent on our ability to relate to and understand those around us. If someone is making you upset, try to see where they are coming from. Dealing with a particularly difficult client? Try to understand what could be going on on their end that is causing them to be difficult. We all have stressors, pet peeves, deadlines, and performance reviews. This intricacy of actions, reactions, emotions and priorities creates the most perfect environment for complete and utter social implosions. Know you are not alone and that everyone is feeling SOMETHING in that moment.

Take action

This is the part where most people get stuck. Don’t sulk, don’t stew. Don’t be so paralyzed by your emotion that you can’t make forward progress. I will be the first to admit that stress is hard. Feelings are hard. Controlling these things is even harder. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to name it. Tell your boss or your coworkers. “Hey, not feeling myself. Promise it has nothing to do with you. Just feel overwhelmed or stressed by this project.” You will be shocked by how just naming it will break down walls and barriers. Just as you empathized earlier, people will be able to empathize with you. Now you can find a solution. Organize your thoughts and create a task list. Strategize with your coworkers on how to deal with a difficult client. Vent for a second and then find a solution (there is ALWAYS a solution).

And now, and only now, can you get true progress. It’s hard work, but worthy work. By being the master of your feelings and your reactions to those feelings, you automatically demand more respect from those around you – your team and your clients. And I have a feeling that it will also make life a little easier for you as well.

Tell us about how you manage emotions and stress in a difficult workplace scenario.