This is Why Emotions Belongs in the Workplace | Fierce

emotions at work

In every Fierce workshop I facilitate or keynote I give, there is at least one point in time (and usually more) when I talk about emotions — why they matter, why we need to allow for them, and why they must be acknowledged and named. And every time I do so, the hands go up like defense attorneys immediately saying, “Your Honor, I object!” Here’s a quick synopsis of what I hear:

  • “Why do I have to name my emotions? Isn’t it better for me to remain objective and UNemotional?”
  • “Why do I have to ask the other person what they feel? Isn’t that stepping over the line and too personal?”
  • “What if I ask and their emotions are out of control? What am I supposed to do then?”
  • “We make a point of separating emotions from the workplace. After all, we’re here to work, nothing else. They’re not appropriate and only cause problems.”

I have “answers” for all of these. But before I provide a single one, let’s hear what a few other experts have to say: “What really matters for success, character, happiness and life long achievements is a definite set of emotional skills – your EQ — not just purely cognitive abilities that are measured by conventional IQ tests.”  – Daniel Goleman “The emotionally intelligent person is skilled in four areas: identifying emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and regulating emotions.” – John Mayer and Peter Salovey Here’s the bottom line: emotions matter! They’re a non-negotiable “truth” about you and everyone you know. Emotional intelligence is critical to our success (at work and, quite frankly, as a human being). Our ability to effectively acknowledge and include emotion in our conversations and relationships will vastly increase our effectiveness and overall quality of life. Case closed, right? Hardly. But faced with all this data, this research, this evidence, why do we continue to argue anything different? The easy answer? Emotions are messy. To stay in an objective, black and white realm, sans emotions, makes everything (seemingly) simpler, cleaner, and clear-cut. But for me, when I’m more reflective, more honest, far more of my world is gray. People are not objective, including me. Each of us — and the circumstances in which we find ourselves — are far more complex, far more layered, and far more nuanced than we often prefer to believe. If I’m even more reflective, more honest, I can also admit that I’m deeply grateful this is true. A flat, one-dimensional world — at work or at home — is not all that interesting. If you offered me a choice, I’d take the mess and complexity. Every. Single. Time.

What You Risk When You Ignore Emotions

I’m lucky enough to work for an organization that understands all of this and offers training that builds our capacity to live and work in a multi-dimensional world. One filled with far more than just black and white, but every possible hue. Not just sometimes. Not just when it’s convenient. All. The. Time. At Fierce, we know and understand that emotions are the catalyst for positive change. If we do not acknowledge them, even allow and honor them, we risk losing not only our humanity but also our ability to fully connect with those around us. When we resist and/or deny our emotions, we are resisting and denying a part of who we are… not to mention demanding the same of others. This means only the parts of us and others that we deem “acceptable” are actually present in the conversation. You can see the problem with this, yes? It prevents us from being real. If we only allow the part of us that plays peacemaker to take the lead, we force the part of us that is upset with a colleague to take a back seat and keep quiet. When we brush issues under the rug, we are, in effect, brushing a part of ourselves under the rug. Nothing is resolved, we are being “unreal,” and our peacemaker continues to keep the peace. Meanwhile, the part of us that has the capacity to improve the situation is silenced. When we deny or silence the part of us that wants to find a resolution to an issue, we contribute to a “CULTURE OF NICE” or one marked with passive-aggressive behavior. The decision to resist or deny our feelings (as if they don’t exist) causes the issues around us to persist and even escalate, creating a severe impact on both our individual and collective success. Unless we’ve connected with — and expressed — both the positive and negative emotions surrounding a potential outcome, we won’t see changes in others’ behavior or our own. Ultimately, our emotions generate every result we achieve — both positive and negative. Said another way: our emotions are at the core of everything. So maybe, just maybe, we would do well to learn how to incorporate and embrace them in ourselves and in every person with whom we relate.

How to Have Emotional Intelligence at Work 

There are SO many ways in which we can learn to do this effectively and consistently. Not surprisingly, this is much of what we advocate for and train at Fierce. Here are a few tips that will hopefully jumpstart your efforts and impact your results:

  • When you are in a conversation (or anticipating one) that is difficult, ask yourself, “What do I feel right now?” By giving yourself the space to actually name this — even if only internally — you are already being more honest, more authentic, more real. Remember: feelings/emotions drive behavior, behavior drives action, and action drives results. Shorthand: emotions = results!
  • When you are in conversation with another person, ask them, “What do you feel?” (Not “How do you feel?”) Be genuinely curious. Allow space for their answer. Recognize that you are asking the question on their behalf — not your own. They will benefit by being able to name and acknowledge this for themselves!
  • When you can acknowledge that you are avoiding a particular conversation, situation, or person, ask yourself, “What is it costing me to not say what needs to be said?” Inventory those things out. And then ask yourself, “When I consider those costs, now what do I feel?”
  • When you are struggling with a co-worker or direct report’s seeming lack of accountability, ask them, “If nothing changes, how will that impact you? Others? The team? The organization?” And then, “When you consider those results, what do you feel?”

I’ll say it again: Emotions drive behavior. Behavior drives action. And action drives results. And those results? They can be good…or not! Here’s a condensed and reliable formula: Emotions = Results.  I’m hopeful I’ve made the case for emotions in the workplace, in life…period! Now, finally, though hopefully not necessary if I’ve done a good job of convincing the jury, I return to where I started: with “answers” to the emotion-resistant questions and statements I often hear in the classroom and which just might apply to you: Why do I have to name my emotions? Isn’t it better for me to remain objective and UNemotional? I think we’ve addressed this, yes? Whether you name the emotions, or not, they’re there. You are NOT objective or UNemotional — it’s not possible. Your fastest growth and the most effective way to not only lead but develop authentic, meaningful relationships, is to acknowledge and name your emotions to be real! Why do I have to ask the other person what they feel? Isn’t that stepping over the line and too personal? The same rules apply: the more you model and invite others’ expression of their emotions, the better their results, and the better the relationship! What if I ask and their emotions are out of control? What am I supposed to do then? First, pay attention to your emotions around their emotions! Second, be aware that when stepping into conversations that are difficult, even confrontational, the other person’s response is to be expected: deny, defend, and/or deflect. When we train our CONFRONT model, we talk about all of this: naming that their response (the one you’re anxious or afraid of) is rarely the issue; it’s when you follow them there with your own responses, reactions, and yes, emotions, that the problems escalate. Take the high road, demonstrate compassion and empathy, and choose curiosity over your demand to be right. We make a point of separating emotions from the workplace. After all, we’re here to work, nothing else. They’re not appropriate and only cause problems. It’s a myth — and a harmful one, at that, to believe (or even remotely infer/require) that emotions not enter the workplace. They’re there, no doubt about it. The question is whether or not we allow them in a way that is constructive vs passive-aggressive, or just plain aggressive. Emotions do not cause problems. They are the key to solving them! As leaders, regardless of title or pay grade, at work or at home, your emotions (and acknowledging/allowing those of others) will make every difference you are hoping for, working for, and driving toward. Increased employee engagement, higher productivity, healthy corporate culture, accountability, strong communication skills, trust, authenticity, integrity…the list goes on and on. So what’s the most important thing you can do right now? Answer one simple question: as you read this post, what did you feel?  Those answers, those emotions, hold all the insight you need. If your feelings happened to border anywhere close to resistance, anxiety, even low-grade fear, they’re valid!  Every emotion you have — when named, acknowledged, and allowed — holds vast wisdom. They are the key to your behavior, your actions, your results, and everything that happens from this point forward. I rest my case.

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