Emotions in the work place?

by | Mar 5, 2020 | Thought Piece Series

This is part of my Thought Piece Series where I explore topics related to leadership and provide both answers and questions. My intention is to start meaningful conversations that help us move forward.

Do emotions have a place in the workplace? What emotions are allowed?

In January I was invited to speak on a panel about emotions in the workplace by Uber EMEA HQ for their first event of 2020 on Diversity and Inclusion (thank you Ashwini and Raashi).

As a panel, we shared examples of when we had personally expressed emotion, in a big way, in the workplace, our thoughts on the relevance and place for emotions, etc.

There’s a thing I have noticed. When we start talking about emotions in the workplace, the typical response is to think about things like anger, tears, and basically anything that isn’t a cool, level headed “professional” demeanour. And we tend to think about the negative emotions: don’t show your anger, don’t cry, don’t be sad.

Have you ever expressed emotion in a big way at work?

Maybe it’s because I can be contrary, or unconventional, but my first thought was: what about laughter? Joy? Love? What about expressing the extremes of these? So the example I gave, of a time when I really let loose and expressed emotions in the workplace, was about this time when I got the giggles.
We were having fun at work, in our meeting, and either I or someone else said something funny, and it set. me. off.

I giggled. I snorted. I clutched my sides and bent over and jiggled as I giggled.

I had to leave the room because the giggles had me. It was joyful and painful, all at once. And it did pass. While the urge to giggle lingered, I kept breathing it out and got back to the meeting, and we carried on.

I did notice the responses from my colleagues. They were curious, bemused, slightly puzzled, patient.

And for at least some of them, we had become closer. They had seen a raw, unfiltered side of me. They got to really see me as a human being at that moment, with all my quirks and oddities. Here’s the thing: we are all quirky and odd and weird in our own way, and the sooner that we accept that we are all weird, the sooner we can stop trying to pretend we are normal.

Emotions play a huge part in that. It’s how we connect with each other. When we are connected, the irritating habits that each of us has, are more tolerable. We see passed that to the human facing us, and we interact with them, not their habits.

So if we live in a world where emotions aren’t allowed or merely tolerated in the workplace, then we live in a world that is telling us the connection is important, while telling us not to do the very thing that creates connection: express emotion. That’s messed up.

But if the world is messed up, what can we do?

We can start with our world.

Yes, but what does that even mean?

These things are in our world: our family, our friends, our colleagues, the teams we work with, our neighbours. Basically, the people we interact with on a daily basis.
With these people, we can express our emotions, take off the veneer of “professional”, and let the human out.

Does this mean that we can let our emotions run the show? Well, here’s some news that you won’t like and will probably get annoyed by, our emotions already run the show. We are human beings who experience emotions all the time. When we suppress them, they leak out anyway, infecting the conversation while we blindly think we are being so cool and rational.

Yet when emotions are allowed: we acknowledge them, allow ourselves to feel them, and we consciously choose how we want to act, then good things happen.

You know, it’s tiring trying to hide your emotions. Don’t waste your energy on that. Re-focus your energy and attention on listening to what your emotions are telling you, and on choosing how you really want to act.

Because emotions in the workplace? They are already there.

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