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The ripple effect of emotions

Do you recognise the following situation? You sit behind your desk and someone enters the room; you can feel from the moment they come in that they are angry. The anger may not be directed at you, or even anyone else in the room, but you know it’s there.

Your response is to sink a bit deeper into your chair, and look the other way, pretending you have not heard, seen or felt anything.

This is just one of the many examples of how emotions can play out at work and we all know them: a frustrated customer, an angry boss, a stressed-out colleague or an upset employee yelling down the phone, berating you at a meeting, or sending you a proverbial ‘poison’ email laced with frustration.

Emotions at work – we can all feel them and they produce a ripple effect much wider than we might have noticed.

On a personal level, you might not pay attention to these recurring emotional situations. There is a big chance though that you can get drawn into them and become part of them. After an outburst from a frustrated colleague, you might then find yourself frustrated. A ripple effect occurs, with emotions seemingly passing from one person to the next, and from there on these situations can affect not only the people in the office, but also the way the company is presenting itself to its clients and the services or products it delivers.

You might want to blame that one person who is responsible for bringing the emotion into work, but on this point, you actually have to question what your part is in the situation.

How do you respond to such situations; do you react or do you remain the observer?

Let’s face it – we all have a tendency to react instantly, whether we are conscious of it or not. We might protect ourselves from the impact of the emotion of the other by tensing up and going into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode:

  • We might join in and want to defend or express ourselves in a similar emotional state to the other

  • We might contract and withdraw ourselves away from the situation, pretending it has nothing to do with us

  • We might sit in our chair like a deer in the headlights, frozen and not dealing with what is happening; we are physically there, but totally checked out.

All of these are reactions or ways to seemingly protect us from not getting affected or hurt. When we react, one of the effects might be the creation of hardness or tension in your body, but on top of that you are now also drawn into the situation. When this happens you add your own emotions to the emotions already present, and so the ripple begins, potentially spreading like wildfire.

Similarly you can also add more emotion to an emotional situation indirectly by withdrawing or checking out. In this we disconnect from others and ourselves and in that we allow the abuse to continue. In fact, we leave the other to continue their emotional behaviour, so they might not even realise the ripple effect they are causing. Therefore, it is not only damaging to ourselves but to many others as well.

Is there another way?

There is.

By developing an inner awareness, a new way of responding is possible.

First and foremost, each of us has a responsibility to build the connection we have with our inner-self. This ever-deepening connection forms a foundation that is the strength that enables us to remain steady and “live like a fish in the sea and not get wet” (Serge Benhayon, 2010)[1].

With this steady foundation of who you are in yourself, you can then stay open to others, regardless of their choices and moods, and develop an awareness of emotional behaviour at work – both from others as well as from yourself. With the development of this awareness, further steps will come where you can introduce a ‘stop moment’ to feel, and from there choose your response (rather than a reaction). This requires you to first register how you tend to react and stop that reaction. It is important when becoming aware of how you might react that you do that without judgment or condemning yourself.

When you don’t contribute to emotional behaviour by reacting, this prevents you making the ripple bigger and also stops the blame game (‘They started it by being angry first!’).

It also offers the other person a stop moment – a moment to reflect on themselves. As a listener (or a reader of emails), you have a responsibility and a vital role to play in these situations. By remaining steady and not reacting to emotion that is coming at you, you are choosing not to step onto the emotional roller coaster that is being offered.

There is always a choice and at any moment we can get ourselves involved in an emotional situation and add to the energy of frustration, stress or anger, or we can stay observant of what is going on with others. This does not mean you are necessarily silent (although you can be), but the point is you are aware of the situation and not buying into it. Through observation you might even start to have a deeper understanding for this person and why he or she is behaving like that. Observation gives you the space to stay steady and not be disturbed in yourself. This is a choice each of us can make in any situation.

It all comes down to this simple question: do you add to the emotional ripple effect that has started, or do you offer another way with a quality of being that reflects your inner steadiness, and therefore starts your own empowering ripple effect by staying present with yourself?

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Say no to abuse not to the person

Understanding why abuse and the abuser are two separate things.


Reference: ----------

  • [i]

    (Benhayon, S. and Conrad, G. (2010). The Living Sutras of the Hierarchy. Goonellabah, N.S.W.: UniMed Publishing.

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