Posted December 18, 2018
I’ve been triggered twice recently by someone saying we can’t talk about emotions at work. That sentiment really pisses me off. Emotions affect how humans operate and inspire every action. As a result, we must all learn to identify them and use them appropriately. Using specific examples, this post will unpack why withholding emotions could be holding progress back.
Getting to “F”
I’m not a fan and I’m not saying I’ve never used it. When I have, it just hasn’t been useful. John Reardon, counselor, consultant and teacher, says that “expletives release primal energy” and it’s an energy that can and should be used. If you are experiencing an internal dialogue of “F you” it can mean one of two things; either that some inferior feelings inside of you have been triggered or there is some “minus” that you want to move to a “plus”. Alfred Adler, father of Individual Psychology, describes the movement of a “felt minus” to a “perceived plus” as one of our human innates.
In a recent workshop, I was fortunate to watch Reardon help someone get to their business purpose by using primal emotions. A woman was feeling stuck in how to approach her new business. It wasn’t really clear what problem she was hoping to solve with her business; what “minus” circumstance in our world that she wanted to make better or move to “plus”. As I watched Reardon ask questions, digging her deeper into her real purpose, I could sense he was trying to get her to say “the F word” – or something close to it. When she finally did, she appeared relieved with more clarity about her real purpose.
Keep in mind that in order for something like this to work, safety must be established in the room. People must feel free from retribution to be able to speak with raw emotion. That’s a rare place.
The myth of gender and emotions
Gender plays a role in our issues with emotion. It’s called the double bind. Historically, women who try to be assertive are seen as less caring while men who assert themselves are praised. Men equally see the double bind when they express emotions and are chastised. It’s part of gender bias in our society. Cornell University has an entire certificate on navigating the double bind in the workplace.
Recently, I attended a meeting of women wildlife professionals. While talking about the purpose and goals of this developing group, one of the women said something about not wanting this group to be a place where a bunch of women just talk about emotions. I felt enraged by that comment – triggered – that after 20 years directly removed from the wildlife profession (I’ve been involved indirectly during that time, but more directly with industry), that women are still being categorized this way – by both men and women. The double bind is so ingrained and I don’t like when either gender is held back by it. I believe we ALL need to define emotions if we are going to be authentic.
We all agreed with the comment and focused our attention on any way we could support women in the field, since this support and networking remains necessary. The comment gave me a growing desire to keep pushing and teaching in hopes that, regardless of gender, emotions should be expressed or addressed, internally and externally, if we are to make real progress in any venture.
The myth of keeping emotions from the workplace
A second experience in our struggle with emotions in the workplace occurred last summer. I conducted a facilitation training for a group of professionals working to increase outdoor recreation participation. I included a section on creating safety in meetings and explained how emotions affect people’s perceptions, experiences and responses. One of the men in the room quickly spoke up with “We can’t talk about emotions at work.” The comment itself was the result of an emotional trigger; annoyed, irritated and frustrated are just a few come to mind. The emotion I provoked isn’t important as knowing that one was and he acted on it by speaking up. If I’d had more time, I would have taken advantage of the comment and dug into this mistaken belief with rigor because we all act from our emotions.
Forbes, earlier this year, posted an article on how your emotions influence your decisions. There is a significant amount of brain research to back this up. To put it simply, the base emotion (triggered by words or events) causes hormones to be released and that leads to a feeling and then an action.
I am not sure how many noticed, but as a part of the closing portion of the facilitation training session, I asked participants to write two things; one word with how they felt about the session and a sentence about what action they would take as a result of the learning in the session. That’s right – I asked them for feeling words and participants seemed to complete the task with ease. The most frequently used words included; encouraged, empowered, enlightened, Informed, inspired, satisfied, hopeful, confident and glad.
No training is perfect and some participants had more experience with facilitation than others so it didn’t surprise me that I also saw a couple of negative feeling words like confused and overwhelmed. A few people avoided feeling words (reality, redirection, foundational). There are many reasons why this occurred. I wonder, though, how many people that hold a strong belief that emotions should be banned at work would also struggle to complete such an assignment?
Are you encouraged or discouraged?
Some of the negative words from the facilitation training were understandable because we covered a significant amount of material in four hours and these outdoor professionals aren’t fans of sitting inside all day. Perhaps some felt discouraged or inadequate. I challenged the status quo in how meetings are run inside the industry so some doubts about the teaching would be natural. Finally, a strong negative emotion could be an indication that some feelings of inferiority have been triggered. All humans are inadequate in some way and we all have such feelings and triggers, as is taught by Individual Psychologist, Alfred Adler. What’s important is how we proceed. Those deciding the lessons weren’t important won’t take action. Some will decide they need more study.
Overall, the list of positive feeling words means it is more likely that participants will implement the tools I provided or rethink about how they run meetings and interact with others inside the industry. I use this exercise as tool to obtain feedback and to force use of emotion words. Asking them to also include what they’ll do with the information ties the emotion directly to the action. And, the action is all that matters in the end. I do believe I encouraged more than I discouraged.
Do you want to work well with others? Teach emotional intelligence and encourage using them appropriately. Make it safe to use emotional words and then help people overcome negative emotions through actions. I believe everything you want to accomplish will move faster than you could have ever imagined once you do.
Authenticity and feelings
Truthfully, I struggled with this article for months. My editor busted me in my first draft – I’d played it too safe and sidestepped the heart of the problem. I spent most of my career in places where real feedback was squashed and I had squashed myself. By digging into the topic, I risk the alienation of some in my network. That’s ok. I’d rather be and allow others to be truly authentic by identifying feelings and emotions so we can all move forward with our best creative energy.
I feel relieved that I completed this article that I’ve been sitting on for far too long.
I feel grateful to have an editor who can call me on the carpet so I can improve my work.
I feel vulnerable that some colleagues will reject me for challenging beliefs about emotions at work.
I feel guilty for all the times I did not adequately address my feelings and may have negatively affected others.
I feel hopeful that my message will be clear (with the help of a good editor).
I feel authentic in presenting my experiences and beliefs.
Anything that is meaningful to us is filled with emotions. Heck (“F” just isn’t required here), even if an experience or conversation isn’t meaningful it has an emotion involved, like bored or disinterested. I hope I’ve piqued your interest. What emotions did this article trigger in you? Share and maybe we can work together to make emotions not only acceptable but also necessary to use at work (and in life).
Contact me if you are interested in facilitation or want a workshop on the topic of emotions.