Leadership Matters: Defusing Emotional Roadblocks

wooden balls painted with emojis to represent range of emotions stacked precariously on top of each other
Linda Rossetti Photo
Author/Social Entrepreneur
Transition Institute LLC

6 minutes

Use this reframing technique to help navigate and overcome negative emotions caused by upheaval in the workplace.

Something has become clear since the pandemic: We are in for persistent disruption in our workplaces and, by association, our careers. Advances like artificial intelligence, workplace flexibility and (often) increased longevity that demands longer earnings years all contribute to this increasingly altered state of work. 

I’ve spent the past several years researching the skills required to navigate these changes successfully and learned that our most critical new skill lies in reframing the emotions that spin up in response to constant upheaval.

Consider the example of Caitlyn, who celebrated landing a new job as a contracts administrator after an unexpected layoff 11 months earlier. 

That day had been the worst. 

The company to which she had dedicated 17 years of her life was acquired out of the blue by a private equity firm. In short order, she and her entire department’s jobs were outsourced to an upstart player that was unwilling to interview—let alone employ—her team. 

“I felt like an old dog kicked to the curb,” she said as she described the ordeal.

I asked her why she was so thrown by the layoff. “I am not 100% defined by my work, but my job and my accomplishments are a big part of who I am.” She added, “Financially, I am on my own. This was beyond scary.”

Caitlyn’s new role allowed her to exhale a bit, particularly from a financial standpoint. But other worries quickly filled the space. She felt anxious, full of self-doubt and overwhelmed by every new assignment.  

“What’s wrong with me?” she mused.  

Tools for Dealing With Change

My research revealed that responses like Caitlyn’s are common and have little to do with something being wrong. In fact, our emotional response to such upheaval is normal and occurs when the stability of something familiar—like a job or an old way of working—gets called into question. Most importantly, those oppositional emotions can be reframed to become oracles not obstacles to our progress. 

During intense periods of change, one of the most powerful tools we can adopt is an emotional reframing technique called HAIL™, which addresses emotions that arise during periods of uncertainty. HAIL empowers users with a step-by-step that helps users succeed in the presence of emotions, like anxiety or self-doubt. 

HAIL, a mnemonic, invites us to Honor our emotions, Ask ourselves about them, consider their Influence on us and wonder what we might Learn from an emotion’s presence. These four steps work on many levels to shift the power away from an emotion’s hold over us. Through it, we reframe our relationship with an emotion and infuse that relationship with new meaning. 

Reframing is a common word but merits a quick discussion. Imagine I asked you to draw a picture of an elephant as if it were standing three feet away from you. Next, imagine that I asked you to draw that same elephant, only this time, from the perspective of a hot air balloon floating high above the Serengeti. How you see that same elephant differs from these two vantage points.

This is reframing. HAIL enables us to take something familiar, like our experience of anxiety, and see it through a new lens. 

HAIL can be a useful tool if used in the moment that we’re experiencing an emotion as well as upon reflection at some point after the emotion is activated.  

A Personal HAIL Use-Case

I was thankful to be a HAIL power user recently, because it helped me reframe an emotion in real time. Without HAIL, I would have stewed about this experience for longer than I’d like to admit—a response that would have sapped my energy and led to all sorts of other work and non-work-related stress. 

I was awarded a consulting project to lead talent integration for a post-merger project at a large, publicly traded company. Six other executives were involved in the integration, many of whom I knew and had worked with in the past. Each of us had a single area of responsibility: sales and business development, operations, finance and administration, research and development, technology, and talent. We held a day-long meeting with the company’s CEO and CFO to review the plans and work through unresolved issues. 

One executive—Peter, the IT lead—was antagonistic toward me throughout the project. This day was no exception. 

Here is how the meeting unfolded:  

Every time Peter spoke about an area, he referenced the lead person’s name. For example, “Jack has more to do before IT can integrate the customer relationship management system.” Whenever he referenced the area of talent, my responsibility, he avoided naming me. He instead refers to talent. “Talent feels uneven,” or “Talent still needs to address that issue.”

I was stunned by his behavior. I got angrier and angrier as the morning wore on. “How dare he?” I thought to myself. Peter sat four feet away from me, but he avoided all eye contact. My anger notched up every time he opened his mouth. I’m not someone who carries anger often, so the anger felt raw and urgent. 

We broke for lunch. It was served in an adjacent conference room with high tables large enough for a person or two. I grabbed one of the deli sandwiches from the café cart and claimed a table near the window. I opened my laptop as if responding to an email, grateful for this decoy. I knew I need to create space between myself and my anger. I used HAIL in hopes of reframing my anger before we reconvened after lunch. 

This is how my internal conversation went:

Honor the emotions that come, including anger, disbelief, and self-doubt. What more can I say? I’m hopping mad that he blatantly refuses to acknowledge my presence. He never once makes eye contact with me. Anger surprises me. I’m not someone who gets angry often. Disbelief is knit together with anger. How can this be happening? Am I really seeing this? Am I making too much of his behavior? 

Ask myself about the anger. Why was it showing up? Why here? Why now? I instantly link Peter’s behavior to disrespect. I bring orders of magnitude more experience than he does to the table. Could this be why I am pushed off kilter? While interesting, I feel as if there’s more to this.

Later on, I smiled to myself as the meeting drew to a close, fully anchored and in an entirely different place than I was only hours earlier, thanks to HAIL. As I made my way from the conference room, the CEO excused himself from another conversation to come talk with me. “That was a terrific conversation. Thank you for being here.”

Linda Rossetti is a business leader, Harvard MBA, and a social entrepreneur who is dedicated to changing how we respond to career and personal upheaval. She also leads the Transition Institute LLC, a consultancy that collaborates on research and certifies others on transformational methods. 

Rossetti’s new book, Dancing with Disruption, gives a full description of HAIL and three other techniques designed to support your success in navigating personal and career transformational shifts. Visit to learn more.

Compass Subscription