Dr. Susan David Explains the Secret to Managing Emotions at Work - Virgin Pulse

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Dr. Susan David Explains the Secret to Managing Emotions at Work

July 2, 2019 / Employee Experience

Written By: Jennifer Cook

Virgin Pulse recently hosted a webinar with Susan David, Ph.D. — the visionary behind the concept of emotional agility. During the webinar, she explained how managing emotions at work should be less about controlling our emotions, and more about understanding them. Shifting the focus allows for greater emotional agility, and ultimately a more successful and productive workplace.

Emotional Agility

So, what is emotional agility? Emotional agility is one’s ability to deal with stressors and discomfort in work and life. According to Dr. David, people are preprogrammed to deal with situations in certain ways, but these types of reactions don’t allow room for growth.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” Dr. David explains, which is born out of emotional agility. “In that space is our power to choose. And it’s in that choice that lies our growth and freedom.”

When people are emotionally agile, that space gives them the opportunity to deal with difficult and stressful situations and become resilient. Dr. David elaborates: “Emotional agility is being sensitive to the context and responding to the world right now — and that allows us to move into a space where we are managing our lives more in accord with our values.”

Stop Managing Emotions at Work, And Start Experiencing Them

“Firstly, it’s normal, healthy and good to experience the full range of emotions,” Dr. David said. It’s unrealistic to try to focus on being happy and positive all the time. This hyper-focus lessens one’s adaptability and agility.

The workplace demands a lot of employees. No matter how stressful or taxing, employees are expected to hide their emotions at work and only portray positive emotions. However, research shows experiencing difficult emotions helps people successfully navigate complex situations at work and at home.

Dr. David believes all emotions are necessary for employees to succeed in their careers: “There is no collaboration … without potential conflict. There is no innovation … without the potential of failure. And if there’s no openness to the emotions, the disappointment and the loss that comes with failure, well then you’re not going to get real innovation.”

Becoming Emotionally Agile

Even when there are the best intentions, things don’t always pan out as intended. Unexpected or non-ideal outcomes in the workplace can elicit rigid or preprogrammed reactions to emotions, like ignoring them or bottling them up, placing blame or replaying situations over and over one’s head.

“Rigidity in the face of complexity is toxic,” Dr. David said. In order to become emotionally agile, people need to acknowledge and understand their emotional responses but not take them as fact. For example, if a person is feeling a stress response, it doesn’t mean everything about their life has to be stressful. By understanding these emotions, one can learn from them and ultimately move forward.

Dr. David elaborates: “The radical acceptance of our emotions — even the difficult ones, even the messy ones — is the cornerstone to resilience, to effectiveness, to success, to relationships, and to truly thriving.”

To learn more about the benefits of emotional agility in the workplace, watch the replay of Dr. Susan David’s webinar.


Dr. Susan David is an award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist, CEO of Evidence Based Psychology, co-founder of the Institute of Coaching, and a member of the Virgin Pulse science advisory board.

About The Author

Jennifer Cook is a senior copywriter at Virgin Pulse. Her passions include sarcasm, hockey, dogs, queso, and being left alone to read.

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