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Why it helps to label your employees’ emotions

by Rebecca Bridger

Why it helps to label your employees’ emotions

by Rebecca Bridger

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Learn how to use labelling in the workplace to diffuse negative emotions in your employees, such as anger, fear, frustration or sadness.

Did you know that when we label our emotions, it helps us to be less negatively influenced by them? Crazy, huh!1Torre, J. B. and Lieberman, M. D. (2018) ‘Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation’, Emotion Review, 10(2), pp. 116–124.. When we categorise how we’re feeling, it makes us feel less uncertain about those feelings. This includes feelings such as fear, anger, anxiety or sadness.

Using labels in the workplace can be a hugely helpful method of diffusing a challenging situation or a difficult conversation.

How can you use labelling as a manager?

The same research referenced above has shown it’s easier and more likely to have a positive affect if you label the emotion for the individual.
Chris Voss, a famous FBI negotiator, founder of consultancy firm ‘The Black Swan Group’ and author of ‘Never Split the Difference’, recommends starting a sentence where you are seeking to label an emotion with:
  • “It seems like…”
  • ”It sounds like…”
  • ”It looks like…”
  • ”It feels like…”
 
For example, “It seems like you are frustrated?”

 

What is crucial about how this question is delivered is the lack of opinion or judgement. You’re not stating that they are frustrated – instead you are provoking an opportunity for them to consider if they are.

 
This method of labelling triggers the person you’re speaking with to pause, reflect and recognise how they are feeling. This process results in a form of appraisal.
 
When we appraise a negative emotion by recognising it, it reduces its impact on the individual.
 

It also works for positive emotions

Just as labeling a negative emotion can reduce it’s affect on us, the reverse is true when a positive emotion is labelled. It emphasises it! For example, “it looks like you really care” or “it seems like you are really passionate about this”.

Other tips for successful labelling

  • Don’t mention yourself by saying sentences like “To me it seems like…” or “I think that…”. This puts yourself in the frame when it’s supposed to be about them.
  • It can be tough, but try and be patient after you’ve labelled the emotion. Instead of talking, wait. Let what you’ve said sink in and allow the other person to digest and respond.

How effective do you think this would be in your workplace? Can you envisage using this with a member of your team? If you’ve given it a go in the workplace, let us know how it went, or if you do something similar.

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Rebecca Bridger

Rebecca Bridger

Founder of Hatching Ideas, Rebecca is an experienced coach and facilitator and is particularly passionate about helping others to realise their potential.
Rebecca Bridger

Rebecca Bridger

Founder of Hatching Ideas, Rebecca is an experienced coach and facilitator and is particularly passionate about helping others to realise their potential.

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