Emotional Styles

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Learning Objectives

  • Learn how your emotional patterns influence how you cope with setbacks and conflicts.
  • Learn to catch yourself responding emotionally.


“My advisor made some critical comments about my dissertation the other day. I was so upset I could not focus the rest of the day.”

“I had the worst day at the lab. Everything seemed to be going wrong. I blew up at my partner when I got home and started a huge fight.”

What are Emotional Styles?

How do you react to criticism from an advisor? Are you likely to become hurt and ruminate over the feedback, like the student quoted above? Do you often say or do something in the heat of the moment only to regret your behavior later? We all let our emotions get the best of us from time to time, and we also all vary in our typical emotional reactions to different situations.

We use the term emotional styles to refer to individual patterns of responding emotionally to life stressors.1

For example, when it comes to dealing with negative feelings do you:

  1. Become engulfed by your emotions, allowing yourself to spiral out of control?
  2. Accept negative emotions, but do nothing to change them?
  3. Acknowledge your negative emotions and their source, and act to change things for the better?

Where Does My Emotional Style Come From?

The way we were raised and our unique cultural contexts probably influence our emotional styles.2,3 For example, some cultures or families value emotional restraint, whereas other cultures value emotional expression. Your emotional style is also related to your emotional intelligence (EI).4

EI refers to your ability to:

  • Notice what you are feeling, and tell the difference between your emotions
  • Express (appropriately) how you are feeling
  • Understand the source of your emotions
  • Notice and understand emotions in others
  • Control your emotional reaction
  • Use this emotional knowledge and control to help navigate your life

Why are Emotional Styles Important?

Emotional intelligence is related to career success1, social support5, and physical health1. It is also associated with your ability to manage stress6 and to exert influence over others.7

Emotional Awareness

Knowing the feeling is present: Pay attention to your personal cues.

  • Why am I getting all sweaty? Did someone just turn up the heat in here?

Acknowledging the feeling: Recognize that your body and/or mind is telling you something important.

  • OK, I don’t think it’s the thermostat — I’m having a reaction to something …

Identifying the feeling: Label this feeling.

  • I am breaking out in a sweat because I’m really nervous.

Accepting the feeling: Realize that this feeling has a purpose — it’s not bad, rather it’s a messenger.

  • I feel nervous but that’s OK, I’ll take five deep breaths and relax and then think about why I’m feeling this way.

Reflecting on the feeling: Take a moment to understand why you are feeling the way you do.

  • I’m nervous because I’m dreading telling my labmates that the bacteria samples are spoiled.

Forecasting the feeling: Project the future with a positive outlook.

  • It’ll be OK and I don’t have to be nervous about breaking the news because it wasn’t anyone’s fault. We’ll just have to request that the lab send new ones.

Reflections: Emotional awareness

Test your beliefs on Emotional Awareness: True or False

  1. Being emotionally aware takes a lot of time and energy. ___
  2. Emotional awareness is connected to feeling happier and being more successful in your chosen endeavors. ___
  3. Being emotionally aware can foster better mental and physical health. ___
  4. Emotional awareness is not connected to academic success because it deals primarily with feelings. ___
  5. If I am more emotionally aware, I will also be more sensitive and attentive to the feelings of others. ___

Out of these 5, only #1 and #4 are FALSE. The others are true.

This exercise is important because your perceptions of things influence how you respond. Buying into emotional awareness is important because it entails commitment to this process.

Instead of being impulsive, or going from nervous to full-blown anxiety, emotional awareness entails taking a moment to stop and think.

Although this is a multi-step process, once you believe in its benefits, you can do it in real time or as an emotion is creeping up. It takes about a minute.

How Thoughts and Feelings are Connected

Your thinking habits also play a major role in how you respond emotionally and behaviorally. How you view a problem — especially whether you view it as controllable — impacts how you feel about it, and what you choose to do about it. 4 (see How You Think)

Thought Feeling Emotional Reaction Outcome
Example 1: These students are bored stiff with my teaching. I'm going to get a terrible evaluation. embarrassed, self-conscious become flustered, lose train of thought students become more disengaged
Example 2: It's a Monday after a holiday. I wonder what I can do to wake these students up. empathic, curious remain calm and collected you start an interactive group activity

Conversely, identifying accurately what you are feeling demonstrates emotional intelligence. For example, if you think you are feeling angry (but you are actually experiencing sadness or disappointment) you are more likely to act in a way that you might later regret.

Controlling Your Emotions

Whether you are refraining from snapping at your friend, pretending not to be interested in your secret crush, or trying not to look bored during a dull lecture, you are demonstrating emotional intelligence by controlling your emotional reaction. People high in Emotional Intelligence know when to express their emotions and when to hold back.

To control your negative emotional reactions you can:

1. Gain a new perspective on the thought behind your emotion

2. Take a short walk before deciding how to react

3. Breathe deeply before reacting

4. Write in a journal

Emotions are fueled by chemical reactions in the brain. We sometimes make bad choices when we act in the heat of the moment. Pausing before reacting can do wonders!

Remember, controlling your emotions is not the same as suppressing your emotions. Suppressing your negative emotions can be unhealthy. Your emotions are trying to tell you something, so pay attention.


What are strategies to control your emotions?

  1. Change the cause of emotion.
  2. Train yourself to not respond to your difficult emotions.
  3. Recognize that you have the right to have whatever feelings you are experiencing.
  4. Re-think your attitudes about your circumstances.
  5. Know that it is your environment, not your thoughts, that cause your feelings.
  6. Rely on others to help you with your feelings.
  7. Recognize and identify emotions that are not logical.
  8. Choose the right time and the right place to express your emotion.
  9. Ignore emotions that distract you from your work.
  10. Cultivate mindfulness.

Though all of these are possible ways to control your emotions, numbers 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, and 10 are the best strategies that provide the most benefit to you. They place the power to control your emotions in YOUR hands.

Numbers 2, 5, 6, and 9 are popular tactics, however they are referred to as avoidant coping, or ways to avoid feeling important emotions that guide our understanding our reactions and choices.

CareerWISE Point on Emotional Styles

Thinking habits, temperament, culture, and how we regulate our emotions contribute to our emotional styles. Like our personalities, our emotional styles vary, but we do have some control over our emotional reactions. Increasing our emotional intelligence can help us to gain more control over our emotions and over our lives.

CareerWISE Tip on Emotional Styles

You have often heard to count to ten or take a walk when you are upset or frustrated. Indeed, simply deciding not to react when you are upset may still be one of the best ways to avoid a regrettable emotional reaction.


  1. Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Dell.
  2. Bell, K. L., & Calkins, S. D. (2000). Relationships as inputs and outputs of emotion regulation. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 160-209. doi:10.1207/S15327965PLI1103_04
  3. Suh, E., Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Triandis, H. C. (1998). The shifting basis of life satisfaction judgments across cultures: Emotions versus norms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 482-493. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.74.2.482
  4. Mayer, J., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In P. Salovey & D. J. Sluyter (Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence (pp. 3-31). New York: Basic Books.
  5. Lopes, P. N., Salovey P., & Straus R. (2003). Emotional intelligence, personality and the perceived quality of social relationships. Personality and Individual Differences, 35, 641-58. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(02)00242-8
  6. Bar-On, R. (1997). The Emotional Intelligence Inventory (EQ-I): Technical manual. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.
  7. Weisinger, H., Weisinger, H. D., & Williams, S. (1998). Emotional intelligence at work: The untapped edge for success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Seeking Support Outside the Department
How to refute sexist comments and challenge gendered assumptions.

Changing the System vs. Focusing on Cultural Barriers for Women
Suggestions for how to increase women's participation in science with an emphasis on policy change.

Ways to Cope with Minor Issues Related to Being a Woman
How to observe others' reactions to subtle comments in order to gauge an appropriate response.

Dealing with Assumptions and Accusations
Being accused of cheating and regrets about not being more assertive.

Other Students Helping in the Transition
How colleagues can assist in making the transition into graduate life easier by sharing information an advisor may not.

Dealing with Inappropriate Events
Suggestions for how to deal with sexist comments.

International Graduate Experience
Appreciation for advisor's assistance in transitioning to the US.

I Have Not Figured Out How to Say "No"
Emphasizes the challenge with saying no, but the importance of learning to do so.

Awkward Social Interactions
The challenges of working in male-dominated academic environments and the negative stereotypes associated with women who have children.

Experience as an International Grad Student
Challenges of being international and female, particularly with regards to an academic career and the choice to have children.


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