Emotion, Communication & the Workplace
Updated: Feb 16, 2022
"Emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to experiences and thus are the foundation of reason" - The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk
I love helping organizations make communication their greatest asset because more effective communication fosters collaboration, creative problem-solving, and trust - attributes all organizations benefit from.
Leveling up your communication skills is more than an intellectual process: it requires addressing emotions, cognition, somatic experience, energetic experience, physical experience, values and beliefs, needs, and listening.
When I bring Wake the Talk Up! (a dynamic communication learning platform I created with my co-creator Allison Ayer) to organizations and teams, I often receive concerns about addressing the emotional facet of communication. “Can we just skip that part?” is a common reaction.
I can empathize with this resistance! Prior to embarking on my own communication empowerment journey, here are attitudes I personally experienced toward expressing my own and witnessing others’ emotions in the workplace:
They're just my emotions. Workplace communication and policies should be based on a more objective basis.
If we focus too much on any one person's emotions, we'll get a skewed representation of “what's actually going on.”
I don't want to share my emotions because people might question my ability to think and behave rationally.
So first, let me say: I really understand that addressing emotions at work may seem risky. Emotion’s subjectivity may seem incompatible with information-based decision making. Plus, many of us have experienced harmful emotion-based conversation, such as blame paradigm or gossiping (certainly not conducive to a transparent, trust-based culture).
Finally, even if we understand the importance of emotions, we may not have the framework or tools to engage with them effectively. For these reasons, many workplaces default to “let's just not talk about feelings” or “take it to HR.”
In reality, emotions are hugely valuable data points. Just like a daily financial snapshot, emotions give us a temperature read, and can help us develop strategies to achieve individual and collective goals.
Here’s why emotions are SO valuable for organizations: fundamentally, all decision-making processes, negotiations, collaborations, and connections (aka - all communication) is about trying to fulfill unmet needs. Once we’ve identified our needs, we can get really creative about how to fulfill them, and devise win-win situations while fostering collaboration, creative problem-solving, and trust. So, any information that gives us insight into our needs is absolute gold for effective communication.
Emotions are a direct window into our met and unmet needs. Put differently, we can’t know what we need - let alone, what to advocate for, or how to advocate for it - if we don’t first tune into our needs.
I know, you’re wondering “then why didn’t my MBA negotiation class include a seminar ‘how to know what you feel?’ ” It is a great question that I also ponder. For more on “the problem”, take a spin through my other blog post Why it’s Time to Wake the Talk Up. For now, let’s keep discussing why emotions matter, and how we address it in Wake the Talk UP! (WTTU!).
In WTTU!, we approach emotions in a way that is objective, pragmatic and useful. Here are the three keys:
(1) We agree to treat emotions as information worthy of respect and curiosity just like financial results.
(2) We agree everyone’s emotional experience is inherently valid - whether or not we agree or enjoy receiving someone’s emotions is not relevant to effective communication (recall the last time someone tried to persuade you shouldn't feel the way you do, recall your reaction, and you’ll quickly see my point).
(3) We agree to invest in learning, cultivating, and frameworks, tools, and boundaries. Emotional fluency isn’t woo woo, or something you are born with: it can actually be taught.
When we redirect all the energy wasted avoiding someone’s uncomfortable feelings, or convincing someone else they should feel differently, we have abundant capacity to understand how they feel, and to access the needs hiding beneath those emotions.
In Wake the Talk UP!, we help build practical emotional fluency. We teach how to access, embrace, and share our emotions and needs, allowing emotion-based conversations to be discrete, uncharged, and compassionate.
With this information, we have a greater range of communication choices - choices that align our inner conviction with the external results we desire. Choices that support leading with conscious intention.
I say it’s time to embrace emotions as the trailhead to collaboration, trust, and creative problem-solving. It's time to see that intimacy with our emotional experience is KEY to leadership growth and evolution.
Sign up for my newsletter and get instant access to the video
8 Ways to Make Communication Your Greatest Asset
Allison Ayer and I share 8 ways that communication can expand your life.