- Lauren Pappas
A Case to Embrace Emotions in the Workplace
"The words you speak become the house you live in.” - Haviz
In my last blog post Emotions, Communication & the Workplace: Part I shared why overlooking emotions limits an organization’s capacities to collaborate and creatively problem solve.
In contrast, welcoming emotions into the workplace - with the right frameworks for exploration, awareness, and expression - builds trust and teamwork.
In a nutshell: embracing emotions in the workplace is the key, the foundation to collaborative negotiation, a skill I teach and facilitate with Allison Ayer through our dynamic communication learning platform, Wake the Talk UP! (WTTU!)
Welcoming emotions into the workplace has two other benefits that merit their own exploration:
First, whether we choose to be aware of them or not, our emotions have a powerful impact on our experience. Without awareness, emotions can intensify. For example, anger can intensify leading to resentment - gloominess can intensify into despair or resignation. Stronger, more intense emotions limit our communication choices, and making reactive, unconscious communication more likely, consequently diminishing teamwork, trust, and creative problem solving.
A classic example? Frustration and anxiousness, if unnamed, is often interpreted as anger or aggression (it’s no one’s fault - this is just how we’re wired). Simply naming, “Hey, I’m feeling a bit anxious about this” instantly builds trust, shared understanding, and diffuses tension. Whereas, an unacknowledged anxious tone or posture is likely to be met with defensiveness or avoidance.
Second, knowing how we feel, and being able to express it, make us more powerful leaders and valuable employees.
Discerning emotions requires accessing our internal experience - a skill that we teach with a multidimensional approach in Wake the Talk UP! What else lives in our internal world? Our ability to inspire others. Our ability for diligence, for attention to detail. Our capacity for loyalty, teamwork. All of our unique super powers live inside of us - waiting to be discovered, explored, and expressed.
So, by developing a habit of turning inward to access our emotions we also cultivate intimacy with our greatest skills and capacities to contribute to our teams and organizations.
To bring the themes in Part I and this segment to life, here’s a fun and slightly hyperbolic example.
Fred, head of one of the “Mind over Feels, Inc.’s” production lines - is feeling anxious. A massive snowstorm struck the East Coast, creating major supply chain disruptions. Fred’s Q4 bonus is tied to meeting sales targets - he’s concerned his division won’t be able to hit their numbers due to material shortages and delivery delays. To make matters worse, he hasn’t heard a word from leadership. Fred is anxious because he needs reassurance and trust in leadership.
However, Fred isn’t aware that he's anxious because he hasn't learned how to access his feelings. To the extent he can notice his anxiety, he isn’t in touch with the wealth of information that lies in it, and how to develop a communication strategy from that information.
All he hears is a story, a thought track in his mind: "I can't believe my Sophie hasn't brought up the snow storm yet. My wife told me to talk to my boss, but that’s a terrible idea: the last 2 times I tried to talk to them, they canceled. They’ll probably flake again. It's a waste of my time to even schedule a meeting. It’s like management doesn't even want me to get this bonus - I bet this whole incentive structure is just to trick us into working harder. "
If Fred’s anxiety isn't addressed, it could compound into a more intense emotion such as panic, more fundamental unneeds for trust and security, and a more hyperbolic story: "If I don't get this bonus, I can't afford my kid's Christmas present. And then my kid will hate me, and move in with their mom, and I'll be a total failure…" (you get the idea).
If Fred believes this story is true, his capacities for curiosity, creativity, and openness are limited. His communication choices are restricted, and the choices that are available are likely to be costly. Maybe he raises his voice and yells at the delivery truck driver when they arrive. Maybe he sends an email at 2am to his Sophie "you are a complete phony and you don’t care about any of us." Maybe other incidents occur, and the company decides to lay him off. HR says: “Fred doesn't know how to deal with his emotions."
The WTTU! Interpretation? Fred was actually “dealing” with them in the only way his system “knew how” - to release the intensity! The actual issue? Fred and Sophie were never shown the wealth of information that emotions have, how to access this information, and how to cultivate a clear, impactful, and connected communication strategy.
Option #2: Fred and Sophie participate in a WTTU! Intensive Online Course. They have a concise, compassionate, and direct conversation where they separate interpretation and emotion from the actual facts and unmet needs. Sophie attunes to Fred’s experience, and makes an offer that might meet Fred’s needs: “I hear you’re anxious because you need reassurance and trust. I see how the snow storm will impact Q4 bonuses unless the plan is adjusted. It’s important to me that your effort and impact is recognized. I’ll advocate to leadership that the production’s team’s bonus quotas are adjusted to normalize for non-controllables. If they don’t accept that, I’ll suggest a non-monetary compensation, like extra paid vacation days. I’ll announce their response to our whole team once I receive it. Does this plan meet your need for reassurance and trust, for now?”
Fred’s anxiety dissipates after this conversation because his need for assurance and trust is met. He crushes it for the rest of the holiday season.
In the end, leadership wasn’t able to adjust the bonus plan due to lower revenue and cash flow, however, thanks to another creative WTTU!-moderated collaborative negotiation session, Leadership gave the production team an extra day of paid vacation.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s time businesses embrace the power and wealth of information emotions hold. If you don’t know where to start in your communication empowerment journey here are some options:
Schedule a complimentary 30 minute session with me, and we’ll unpack the opportunities that abound for your organization.
Join our next Intensive Online Course for a sample of WTTU!’s signature tools and frameworks. Our next cohort begins May 7th!