Emotions – Not Okay At Work
In business I would venture to say there is a tacit (maybe even “explicit”) rule that emotions and emotional expression is not okay. If you do “get emotional” then there is something weak, defective or unprofessional about you. Emotions are inefficient and will take you off course from getting your work done (e.g. emotions are bad).
Yes, emotional energy can be a lot to deal with, but we believe that emotions are a key to accessing more of your intuition and creativity, and allows you to create better connections and relationships.
The problem is most people haven’t been trained how to work with emotions – yours or other people’s. As a result, you may tend to suppress or repress how you feel, limiting access to valuable energy and information that you could use to guide better decision making, creativity and connection.
Whenever you get smart or passionate, people rally around an inspiring goal and you use their emotional energy to move the project forward. You want their passion (i.e. emotions), you want their inspiration (i.e. emotions) and yes, you want their smarts (different opinions).
It makes perfect sense that people would “get emotional” at work as they bump into obstacles and challenges to move the project forward. Now, we tend to be okay with positive emotions, but not okay with negative ones – usually sadness and anger.
My Own Emotional Outburst
Several years ago Susan and I were leading a monthly CEO group. They were experience sharing more personally so they could to get to know each other beyond what their pedigrees. Someone shared about losing a sibling when he was a young teen. Suddenly, I felt immense sadness welling up in me.
I tried hard to swallow it down because I was embarrassed by my emotions in front of this group of mostly male leaders. I was not going to look weak by actually, heaven forbid, crying. However, the energy in my body wouldn’t obey, and I started to cry.
No, not a soft, inconspicuous cry. It was the loud, snotty, messy, sobbing cry.
I was horrified.
I looked up through my tears to see more than one stunned face, people uncomfortably looking away, and others bracing against the onslaught of my emotional outburst. Then one of the guys piped in with what sounded to me like some sarcasm: “Wow, do we need to take care of you?”
That stung, but it didn’t take me out. I took a deep breath, gathered myself, and found my words, “No. I am okay. I admit that surprised even me. What you don’t know is that my brother died 6 months ago.”
I turned toward the person who shared about his sister dying when he was a young teen and said, “I was touched by your story, and my own grief welled up inside of me. Right now, I actually feel much more present and able to move forward.” We carried on with the experience.
After we finished our group dialogue, what ensued was a healthy discussion of how each person sitting around the table dealt with emotions back on their teams.
Different CEO’s Challenges
One CEO had a female VP reporting to him. She was excellent at her job, but seemed overly emotionally expressive, which meant lots of tears. He was so uncomfortable with her behavior that he was considering firing her. We talked about some different ways of working with her.
Another CEO admitted that earlier in his start-up phase of his business, he had heart palpations, and his doctor sent him to a mental health provider who suggested he do breath-work for ten minutes a day. He hesitantly agreed to do this, but only behind his closed office door.
While breathing, he often had anger and some tears come up from the pressure and responsibility he was holding. Within the first week, he noticed a significant difference in his health, and his mental-emotional state allowed the anger and tears to flow. He stated that he continues to do breathing exercises regularly to this day.
A third CEO, a woman, spoke about her own struggle to ensure she never ‘cracked.’ She had learned early in her career that women and tears equated to a slow, flat career path. She often finds herself quite annoyed when her people become emotional, especially women. Paradoxically, she reported that earlier in her life she was emotionally expressive and creative, yet both currently were restricted. She missed the creativity. After others spoke, she said, “Wow, I think my creativity has dimmed because of my restricted emotional expression.”
The vulnerability and open conversation shifted the energy in the room. Though we had to shorten our regular agenda, that session was one of the most mentioned, and also was voted as the most valuable over other topics. Plus, it wouldn’t have happened at all had I not been surprised by my own emotional empathetic resonance.
Out of Control
I can just hear you thinking, “OMG you’re saying everyone should be processing all their emotions in the workplace! No way!!”
We agree. If there is a lot coming up for you or a team mate – like grief from the loss of a loved one – you or that person may want to get some outside emotional support. This is what I did when I realized I was suppressing my grief after the loss of my brother.
However, people tend to be too black and white about the issue of emotions, and can err on the side of stoic being the only way. One of the reasons you tend to be uncomfortable when you are, or someone else is, emotional, is that you can feel that sense of being out-of-control.
Emotional energy is a source of power all unto its own, and we think it can be a vital and important energy for creativity. Think about it. How often does creativity come out in some measured, orderly way? No, it is often that sense of out-of-control that can be a mainline for creativity.
A Culture Where Emotions Are Okay
To create a company culture where it is natural and normal to feel emotions (because it is) will allow you and your team to utilize this energy. It isn’t any weaker to feel emotions than not feel them. In fact, it actually drains your energy – mental and physical – to hold that emotional energy down. It also limits you to a one-dimensional perspective.
Research around the connection between mind and body (thinking and feeling) shows that allowing more emotional range and expression enhances quality of life and effectiveness. Emotional awareness and flexibility is important to health and productivity.
Women Seen As Weak
Women often take the hit for being “weak” or “too emotional.” However, there’s more and more data showing that woman leaders are better at building relationships, demonstrating empathy, and as a result, get to better overall organizational results! Empathy is directly tied to one’s ability to resonate and feel emotion with another.
But emotions aren’t a male or female thing. We all have them (whether you acknowledge them or not), and as a result, you can develop much greater empathy, connection, emotional intelligence and even creativity if you choose to use your emotional energy.
We believe emotions help connect the body and the brain as well as our heart and our rational thinking, which gives a person access to much more information and creativity.
We work with leaders and their teams that are stuck in defusing – or avoiding – conflict, which limits their team’s success. We help them use that energy of conflict to unleash creative, innovation, and profitable results.
One of the main reasons people want to avoid conflict is because it brings up emotions. Well, it’s time we learn that those emotions are there for some good reason. They bring heart and depth to our experience and access to our own intuition and creativity.
Don’t shutdown your, or your team’s, best source of energy and juice. Use that emotional energy. It’s the creative juice, and the best path to engagement and resilience in the workplace and on any team.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.
Interested in coaching? Check out CrisMarie’s executive coaching and personal coaching, or Susan’s personal coaching and equus coaching.
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