Do emotions have any place at work?

I can see the hands go up to indicate a big NO. Rather than join the NO chorus, I’d like to explore this for just a moment.

Habitual negative emotional tone creates a toxic environment. One person can set the tone and if it’s the BOSS it walks in the door with him or her and stays. This person usually isn’t aware that their “mood” is an emotional tone that affects anyone else. They may not even realize that they have a mood – they may simply feel justified because of all the ‘blankety blank” they have to deal with. In addition anyone in a workplace can hold a team hostage if people fear the fall out from extreme emotional reactions such as crying or anger. However, ignoring or stuffing emotions can be just as deadly a practice even though things may appear more serene on the surface.

A recent conversation reminded me that I am a harmony seeking device. ” Play nice.” “Why can’t we just get along.” “Look on the bright side.” The cliches just roll off my tongue. How can harmony hurt?

A great leader or manager or a great employee or entrepreneur … we all need to be able to have “difficult” conversations. This means in part entering territory that isn’t harmonious. Being able to stay in the tension of these moments long enough to flesh out what is really going on and to be open and curious about possibilities allows new solutions to emerge.

Trust is critical to these conversations and trust is eroded by toxic environments. Before things escalate to the point of no return find trust in yourself to hold the tension of a difficult conversation whether emotions surface or not. People who are “feelers” may want to avoid the humiliation of crying so instead they tolerate or stuff an issue that needs addressing. People who find any kind of emotion irrational and bothersome want to nip emotional “outbursts” in the bud or they may embrace any number of avoidance tactics.

Stuffing or avoiding simply delay the inevitable. Having the conversation that needs to be had is a courageous and important part of creating great work.

NOTE for MBTI folks:
I have purposefully used the word emotions rather than feelings. Feeling in MBTI terminology refers to a subjective decision making function and not to emotions.

Category: Communication / Leadership
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