Emotion is judged harshly in business.
Some share with me they're told to remove the emotion.
Others think they need to feel more emotion.
So how much emotion is the right amount in business?
When we're judged for being too emotional, we can react by 'toning down' our expression and question everything about our communication. We become unsure of ourselves and even silence our ideas. Sometimes deciding it's better not to speak up at all than risk feeling less intelligent, respected or valued when told our emotions are getting in the way.
When we're judged for not feeling or expressing enough emotion, for not being in touch with our emotions, it can be daunting and confusing. We become unsure how to make the connection, and doubt the purpose it would serve in our drive toward results. Trying to understand and express our emotions when we've been disconnected for a long time, can feel like being engulfed by fog and armed with a flashlight that only magnifies the grey.
The old model of leadership expects human beings to leave their humanity at the door and pick it up again on the way out, while meeting increasing expectations collaborating with people we may or may not like. It's a complex equation that doesn't add up using basic numerals, like think but don't feel.
In the complicated and sometimes awkward world of feelings and emotions (that many of us would rather leave buried under a rug at home), learning how to navigate emotions mindfully and with compassion takes skill and effort.
But as stories connect us, emotion moves us. If we harness the momentum of emotion in a way that benefits everyone, we can accelerate our ability to turn challenges into triumphs, and strengthen trust along the way. It's an investment in the longevity of our leadership that provides an edge to our influence most are yet to leverage.
IS EMOTION FULL DISCLOSURE?
In her research for the book 'The Inspiration Code', Kristi Hedges found that emotion came up repeatedly as something that inspires people and professionals, described as the gateway to authenticity. She states "if people don't see your true emotions, they can't see you."
I agree, being authentic is crucial to building trust and engagement between leaders and teams, however authenticity is not to be confused with over-sharing or full disclosure. Being real is not laying all of our feelings out on the table hoping something sticks or makes an impact.
Being real in a way that makes a positive difference and contributes to the fulfillment of an aligned future requires discernment - developing our awareness so we are clear when:
- our expression of emotion is driven by a trigger
- our withdrawal of emotion is a need for protection, or
- our level of emotion is a healthy expression of what we're thinking and feeling.
FINDING A HEALTHY BALANCE
Without the right skills, finding our way through the world of human emotions (our own and others'), can absorb significant energy, time and head-space.
I hear constantly from HR professionals their desire for leaders and managers to expand their ability and capacity to work through day to day 'people challenges' (including uncomfortable emotions), rather than rely on HR as their immediate solution because they don't have time.
The reluctance within leaders to lean into emotions, I find, is usually driven by a genuine desire not to make things worse, and past well-intended attempts that haven't gone to plan. Our hesitancy and skill gap, however, can leave people at sea without a 'leadership lighthouse' to guide them through these temporary storms.
If navigating emotions is a challenge and you find yourself avoiding them, wishing them away or judging their existence, there is a realm of influence available to you, that you're currently not tapping into. This may help...
WHEN EMOTION IS HIGH
DON'T REACT - DO QUESTION: When a person is triggered into heightened emotion, it's often due to a dis-empowering thought that's consuming their mind and limiting their focus. If we allow their emotions to trigger us, we're reacting from our own fight or flight survival program, and as a result diminishing our ability to influence.
Rather than react, Stop - Pause - Breathe, connect with your own centre of presence and (1) listen with curiosity for the feeling that's driving their emotion, and (2) listen with clear intention for who they are (and you know they can be) beyond the emotion. This creates space for the person to move through the trigger and back into a state of empowerment.
For example, "I can hear you're frustrated and disappointed. What else are you feeling about this right now?"
Leaders usually resist this approach initially, believing such a question will only make the situation worse and open the can of worms they've been trying to keep a lid on. But, in fact, the opposite is true.
Identifying the feeling (e.g. 'I can hear you're frustrated'), and then acknowledging it with respect and understanding, supports the person to feel heard and gotten. When someone experiences being heard they no longer feel the overwhelming need to fight for attention, defend themselves or prove their worth.
The charge behind the emotion drops quickly and a clear mind surfaces.
WHEN EMOTION IS LACKING
DON'T PASS OVER - DO DIG DEEPER: Recently a leader shared with me that he wasn't feeling much inspiration for his work. He was hitting all the targets, taking on additional projects and continued to impress his boss, but he had reached a point in his career where he was questioning what success was for him.
In his less than inspired state he knew he wasn't giving the best of himself to his team or his family, and as a result was keen to reconnect with his passion.
It's easy to let interdependent performers run their own race, we know they've got things handled in the execution of their role, so we assume the same in relation to how they experience their role and their part in the bigger picture.
But rather than passing over a perceived void in, or withdrawal of, emotion, investing time in initiating new conversations that venture beyond the day to day can help inspire new clarity about what someone may want in their future, new energy for how they fulfill it and new meaning to their leadership role.
Being interested in what could be the source of joy in another person's world, discovering and understanding what lights them up, is a conversation worthy of your time and energy.
SO, HOW MUCH?
Contrary to what our fear, or even ego, would have us believe, ignoring, avoiding or judging emotions forces feelings underground where they can fester and turn into gossip and 'side-bar' conversations. This behaviour fuels resentment and blame that insidiously eat away at your organisational and team culture.
Disproportionate emotion can be unhealthy, especially if the expression of heightened emotion becomes a chronic state. At the other extreme, showing no emotion can leave people guessing and unsure where they stand.
Either way, trust is the first casualty.
Knowing how to navigate the daily obstacle course of emotions across a group of people is a skill set most leaders have shelved until now. But as the call for conscious leadership becomes stronger, if leaders continue to delegate these delicate conversations to others they consider the experts, they risk significant opportunity cost.
When we invest in our people, supporting them to understand their triggers and the source of their dis-empowerment, partnering and challenging them to move quickly through their spikes or lulls in emotion and be bigger than their circumstances, we create leaders of people we might otherwise have marked as low potentials.
Allowing space for people to feel and have emotions helps them bring their best selves to work, because they feel safe to bring their whole selves.
Emotion is judged harshly in business.