One unspoken expectation I consistently encounter in organizations is that people should check their emotions at the door. There is an assumption that emotions interfere with productivity, profit, and achieving goals. If we keep emotions out of the workplace, we’ll supposedly be able to get more done, cheaper, and in less time.
Organizations typically value things like creativity, innovation, self-motivation, collaboration, and inspiration. Ironically, it is when we accept our emotions that we access these traits in abundance.
People have all sorts of strategies to keep emotions out of the workplace. Some include:
- Pretending they personally don’t have emotions
- Mocking those who display emotions
- Redirecting the focus to getting things done and moving on when emotions surface
- Apologizing for having emotions
- Pointing out how emotions are a waste of time
- Reinforcing how everyone should just get over their feelings
Emotions are a normal part of being human. As long as you are awake, you have at least one emotion at any given moment.
But I’m Not Emotional!
One common misconception people have is that having emotions means displaying emotions. In reality, they are not necessarily the same thing. Ask yourself if you’ve ever experienced any of the following:
- Not wanting to come to work
- Experiencing boredom at work
- Feeling frustrated with your boss
- Being overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to get done
- Concern as you prepare to speak in public or give a presentation
If you’re like anyone I’ve ever worked with, you’ve probably experienced all of these things at some point. And, guess what? Behind each one is some kind of emotion. Just because you felt these things didn’t mean you cried, yelled, threw a fit, shook nervously, or talked anxiously. Probably no one else even noticed.
Why Emotions Matter
Emotions are a form of energy. Block, suppress, or deny the emotion and you block your energy. Allow the emotion and you free up your energy.
Emotions are information. In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren describes the message that each emotion tells us. Knowledge is power, and when we decipher the message behind our emotions we have greater access to our personal power. This frees up our creativity, motivation, inspiration, passion, sense of peace, fulfillment, happiness, and connection. Think about it: do you do your best work when you’re miserable, uninspired, bored, and disconnected, or when you experience the qualities in the previous list?
But I Can’t Be Emotional At Work!
Again, there is a difference between feeling an emotion and expressing an emotion. A big part of why people struggle with emotions is that they go to extremes. They either suppress emotions to the point at which they come out sideways, or they allow their emotions to run rampant and lose control of them. One saying from AA that I often share with clients is, “Emotions are like children. We don’t want to lock them in the trunk, but we don’t want them driving the car.” The more comfortable you are with simply noticing the emotion, naming it, and feeling it, the more quickly it will pass until the next one comes along. Just like with children, the more you patient you are and the more you listen to the message, the less trouble they’ll give you.
The Payoff of Emotions
When we accept our emotions for what they are, we can reap the benefits. Some of these include:
- Experiencing the joy of achieving a goal, which generates enthusiasm and motivation
- Noticing your overwhelm and saying no, which frees up your time
- Acknowledging your boredom, and seeking new approaches that lead to innovation
- Recognizing your nervousness, and taking extra time to make sure you’re adequately prepared
- Connecting to your frustration, and having an honest conversation with your boss around what you need
Putting Emotions to Work
Emotions aren’t complex. To use emotions to your advantage, ask yourself three simple questions:
- What emotion(s) am I feeling right now?
- What is the emotion telling me that I need?
- What can I do to meet that need?
Make a point of checking in with yourself several times a day and notice what emotions you’re experiencing. If you’re new to this, it might take time to recognize your emotions. You can start by noticing sensations in your body such as tension, numbness, tingling, relaxation, or temperature. You can use this emotional vocabulary list by Karla McLaren. Enlist support from people you trust, and over time it will become easier.