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The Fear of Feelings at Work


I remember it like it was yesterday... Monday April 11th 2011. 
I was about to present a Leadership Development Program to one of my biggest clients. However the night before my partner of 11 years had decided to end our relationship. He met someone else...
That morning I decided to suppress all my big feelings and 'stay professional'. I needed to lock in this deal. So I started my presentation. 

A few minutes in I suddenly felt tears welling up from down deep inside. I tried really hard to not to display my emotions and push them away, but the harder I tried the stronger it grew. And then it happened... I started to cry. 

In front of my client, in the middle of my presentation. 
Ashamed I tried to get out of the meeting room and hide in the toilets. But my client stopped me. He sat me down and asked me why I was upset. I told him what had happened the night before. And then he said something I will never forget. He said:

"Janine, showing your true emotions, does not make you less of a professional. It makes you human. Whatever you feel, it is welcomed here. So let's talk." 

Now this sounds simple enough, but it’s pretty difficult in practice. 

Because emotions have a bad rap in the workplace. If you’re a true professional, the thinking goes, you don't show emotions at work. Consequently, in many workplaces showing strong emotions, good or bad, can be career suicide. If you allow your frustration at a bad decision or your elation at a victory to shine through, you will be seen as volatile, untrustworthy and, of course, unprofessional.
There’s only one problem: Human beings don’t work that way.
We have emotions. We have them in our private lives, and it’s not like we can leave them in the car in the parking-lot at work. Whether we want them to or not, they’re coming to work with us.
The best workplaces, like my clients', know this, and leave room for both positive and negative emotions. As a result, people are happier at work, are more creative, function better in teams and are more productive and motivated.
On the other hand, companies that ignore emotions are setting themselves up for massive doses of conflict, frustration, disengagement and unhappiness at work.
So, should all business devolve into endless meetings where we can talk about our feelings? Should all meeting rooms be equipped with Kleenex in case someone starts crying? Should we express our tiniest emotions and go into full-on tantrums whenever we feel like it?
No.
But workplaces should:

1. Make room for the emotions that employees have. They’re there, might as well deal with it.

2. Learn how emotions influence business success factors like learning, creativity and teamwork.

3. Learn how to deal constructively – and even appreciatively – with displays of emotion – negative and positive.

And that’s how the best companies handle emotions. 

They ask questions like:

“So, how do you feel about this meeting/decision/project/whatever?”
“How are you doing?”
“I can tell you’re not happy with this decision. What’s your take?”

And then they shut up and listen!


What about you? Do you show how you feel at work? The good or the bad? How does your company receive displays of emotions? 

Write a comment, I’d really like to know.

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