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What Is Emotion Work?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2016
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The term “emotion work” refers to a person’s ability to manage and control his emotions, especially when interacting with other people. This is consciously done in order to preserve and improve relationships. The term was coined in 1979 by Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociology professor who pioneered the inclusion of emotions in sociological studies.

Professor Hochschild distinguishes emotion work from “emotion labor,” another term she had coined. The former term pertains specifically to the effort done in close or “private” relationships, while the latter is applied to the effort accomplished in a “public” audience, such as in the workplace. Just like how a person dresses and looks a certain way can contribute to how he presents himself, controlling and, in a way, acting out, appropriate emotions will help present a person in a positive light. Hochschild also asserted that emotions have “rules” that are governed by the norms of certain social situations; our emotional reactions depend on where we are and who we are with. This is why some actions, such as arguing, are frowned upon when done in public places.

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There are several ways in which a person can do emotion work, one of which is the cognitive method wherein the person can consciously analyze their thoughts and rationalize which emotional response is best, given a circumstance. Especially with anger, a person has a tendency to be irrational, so many experts suggest counting up to ten or 100 to calm emotions. In some cases, people think their way through an emotion by giving the “benefit of the doubt” to the situation or to the person they are in conflict with. By changing the way he thinks of someone or something, the person can change how he feels. Some people who regularly meditate attest to managing their feelings better.

The second method of emotion work is the physical approach, in which the person uses his body to alter his mood, usually in an effort to diminish his anger or calm down the jitters. Many people usually resort to inhaling and exhaling deeply before speaking, and some would roll their shoulders and rotate their necks when shouted at or shoved. Scientifically, it has been proven that some bodily activities can improve emotion management, which is why people with anger issues are advised to take up a sport to create a healthy outlet for their emotions.

Emotion work can also be done through the method of gestures, somehow related to the physical approach. A person can convey, hide or generate certain emotions by using his body language. He can smile more often to create the feeling of happiness, or he can consciously avoid folding his arms to make people think he is not a snob. Gestures can also involve doing something to the other person, such as hugging or holding the hand when talking.

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