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3 Reasons to Accept & Embrace Emotions in the Workplace

Wherever humans exist, emotions will always co-exist with them. Until robots run the world (a different article I probably won’t write), humans and their emotions will be inextricably intertwined.

Still, how often have we heard things like this at work: ‘Take your emotions out of it’, ‘He/she is so aggressive’, or ‘Don’t take it personally’, implying that emotions are taking the lead? While there are healthy ways to respond to and manage our emotions, we will never be able to dismiss the role emotions play in every aspect of our lives or stop them from showing up. So reason #1 is.....

1. Emotions are an inextricable part of being human and how we manage them is based on learned behavior.

The most important reason to accept emotions in the workplace is because they are inextricably part of our human DNA. The CEO and the young Customer Service Associate don’t differ in any way when it comes to this reality. While we may judge ourselves and be judged by others for expressing them, emotions on their own are not the problem.

Problems arise when we identify or 'hook' ourselves and others to emotions like I AM sad or he IS so critical instead of noticing that an emotion is present and using it as information. Labeling ourselves or attaching others to emotions creates a judgment about an entire person being a certain way instead of just experiencing an emotion in that moment. We are often unnecessarily hard on ourselves and others because of how attached we get to how we feel in any given moment. The truth is, emotions come and go like cars on a highway, clouds in the sky or boats on a river. They will be there, present for a few seconds, several minutes or much longer but they eventually pass and new cars, clouds, and boats appear and replace them. Same with emotions, new ones will come along and we will feel differently. As the saying goes, 'this too shall pass'.

How we experience and respond to emotions comes from our learned behaviors. When we are born we express emotions freely until we start to understand how expressions of emotions are perceived and received by others. What we learned about expressing our emotions helps or hurts how we view and respond to emotions as adults. These responses impact our relationships and results.

As a child, if you were shamed for expressing emotions because you often heard things like: ‘nobody likes a crybaby’, 'stop embarrassing me‘, or ‘be a big girl (or boy) and stop crying’, from those ‘in charge’ of you, you naturally learn to suppress emotions that elicit those responses by thinking you can avoid, resist, or cope (SERENITY NOW!) in ways that don’t do a damn to prevent or eliminate them from showing up. Still, you learn, that if I express myself or act that way, I will feel worse, guilty, or be punished which plays into our other natural human tendency to gravitate towards experiences that please us over pain. Then BOOM! We are now conditioned to think we can suppress our emotions though we will always continue to experience them.

Over time, you also learn how to navigate the expression of your emotions in the workplace, but it can be tricky. If you are led and supported by self-regulating, emotionally intelligent leaders who truly put people first, they will understand and openly acknowledge that having and expressing our feelings is an important part of building an inclusive, people-first culture. These leaders also tend to be visible and demonstrate vulnerability by genuinely expressing how they feel about what they are experiencing as they share important information about the business with employees. Leaders who are truly ‘in tune’ with the important role of human emotions and can effectively role model expression of their own emotions, are more likely to build trust, commitment, and connection which impacts engagement, retention, and many other factors that make a difference to the bottom line.


 2. Noticing emotions (in ourselves and others) is a relationship-building and integrity-saving tool.

Have you been in a workplace interaction when someone’s expression, tone, or body language tells you they are feeling 'some kind of way'?

Most of us recognize or have heard before, that only 7% of communication is based on the words we use which means the rest (93%) comes from our tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%). This is because emotion plays a huge role in how we express ourselves. If you are someone who accepts emotions as useful data and, as mentioned above can unhook yourself from them, you are more likely to be curious and empathetic toward others when you see and hear them react in a manner that tells you they are feeling some kind of way. If, on the other hand, you tend to fear, resist, or avoid emotions (especially the ones you learned were 'bad' or negative), you are more likely to be triggered in a way that hooks you in. Expressed, this can look like going into 'fix it' mode to try to alleviate what the person is feeling, or perhaps you join in on the emotional response with your anger or frustration where no problems are ever solved because your rational minds are out to lunch. If your flight response takes over, you may want to stick your head in the sand because you're so uncomfortable you just want to disappear.

If we are able to accept emotions for what they are, it is an exceptional opportunity to acknowledge and validate how someone may be feeling even if we don’t agree with their reaction, feel the same way, or would rather not be on the receiving end of it. Acknowledging and validating someone's feelings can de-escalate and diffuse their emotional response to be able to move into problem-solving mode which supports relationship building. This behavior also demonstrates you accept their feelings are valid (since all feelings are valid) and is an example of expressing empathy. Finally, it also keeps your integrity in tact because you don't react to them in ways you might regret or might later hear about from others or your boss in a performance conversation.

3. Tapping into and responsibly using emotional data makes for better workplaces.

Emotions, like any other signals or information we receive to make decisions, are data. When people can safely express how they feel about their workplace, you are accessing a sacred circle of trust that must be taken seriously.

If your organization can’t collect a high-quality sample size of engagement or workplace experience data even with anonymity, it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a culture of psychological safety, but it is a red flag. People who have been ‘burned’ by past organizations when gathering data similarly, may not respond or are unlikely to respond honestly in similar surveys elsewhere regardless of the promise of anonymity. Only if organizations can consistently demonstrate that they take the psychological safety of their team members seriously, will they respond honestly and also go above and beyond for that organization.

The fact remains, at the bottom of Maslow’s triangle of human motivational needs (above basic air, water, and shelter) is the need to feel personally, emotionally, and financially safe. This also includes the need for our health and well-being to be cared for. Humans cannot function or perform to their potential if they are fearful or worried that these basic needs are regularly threatened. They may learn to operate in fight or flight mode but this results in high levels of disengagement, turnover, and other problematic behavior. While employers and employees both create a culture, employers who truly listen and take action around honest and truthful feedback without judgment or repercussions will also see employees go the extra mile in support of the mission. Most people WANT to feel pride about where they put their knowledge, time, and energy. Employers and leaders who ask, listen, and respond with acceptance and empathy will always have a better reputation and results than their competitors who don’t.  

If you want to show up with more acceptance for your own and others' emotions and recognize how your learned beliefs, perceptions, and behaviors may be blocking your success, you can!

Contact me to learn about how mindfulness and coaching tools like the Energy Leadership Index Assessment can shift how you respond to emotions and lead yourself and others when stress and emotions run high at work AND at home.


Chief Success Designer

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