Learn the genuine facts.
- A person doesn’t have to suppress all emotions to be professional at work.
- In fact, deep emotions can be a source of strength and insight.
- The ability to process feelings and choose how to act on them will serve highly sensitive people especially well at work.
Emotional depth is not something to be resisted in the workplace. It’s a trait that makes you powerful. Consider this: People with higher sensitivity are consistently rated as the best performers by their managers. Research by Google also shows that teams where the leaders and team members feel free and safe to express their emotions, fears, and concerns are more innovative and productive. Being emotionally aware can put more money in your pocket. People with higher EQ earn on average $29,000 more than people with lower EQ. Put simply, embracing all of these skills and qualities—your emotional sensitivity, depth, and intelligence—can make you richer, happier, and more effective all-around. Let’s bust three of the most common myths about emotions in the workplace and replace them with facts.
Myth #1: Emotions have no place at work.
You may have heard some variation of this belief pop up before. Sometimes you’ll be told to take your emotions out of a situation. Or you might have said to yourself that you don’t want to come across as “too emotional” when giving someone feedback, for example.
However, ignoring your emotions is a mistake. There’s a wealth of psychological research that points to the fact that suppressing your emotions isn’t helpful and can backfire in a big way.
The easiest way to think about it is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater—when you try to hold the ball underwater, the surface of the pool is smooth and serene. But you’re putting all your energy and effort into holding it down. And with only one hand free, your action is limited.
Then, when you loosen your grip, the ball comes rocketing to the surface, making a big splash and smacking you in the face.
In the same way, pushing down your emotional reactions can be exhausting. It wastes valuable mental resources and energy you could be using in other ways. It also makes those negative feelings stronger and more influential. Most importantly, trying to tamp down your negative emotions also tends to mean losing access to positive ones like joy, excitement, and connection as well.
Your emotions are messengers. They give you important information about your needs or actions you can take. They are signals that indicate what’s important to you. They’re a valuable source of intelligence and insight.
Myth #2: Emotions dictate your actions.
At times, you may have felt like you were at the mercy of your feelings and like you had no control over them. What we sometimes forget is that our feelings don’t always tell the entire truth. Sometimes our emotions get out of sync with reality.
Think back to your school days: Did you ever have that experience where you took a test and felt certain that you bombed it, only to find out later that you actually did OK?
When your feelings are especially strong, as they often are in the workplace, you can operate from old, outdated stories and beliefs that warp your ability to see the situation clearly. Your thinking gets distorted, and you have a hard time staying grounded in objective facts about the situation.
While it’s true that you can’t help how you feel and that your emotional experiences are 100 percent valid, you can control how you choose to respond. In other words, feelings are not facts. Your emotions are directions, not directives. Emotions can certainly influence your behavior, but they are not the total story. This is why it’s really important to evaluate your feelings objectively and to curb the tendency to make negative mental jumps.
Myth #3: Crying will ruin your career.
Many of my clients are sensitive people who put a lot of pressure on themselves and fear that crying will decimate their reputation. It makes sense because, for decades, emotional expression has been stigmatized in the workplace. But holding yourself to the standard of never getting emotional is unrealistic, and as we’ve talked about, it can also be damaging.
Full-on sobbing regularly will not help your career, but breaking out into tears during the occasional emotional meeting or after getting harsh feedback isn’t as career-damaging as you might think. About 75 percent of C-suite leaders who were surveyed in one study think that crying every so often is normal.
If you do get emotional, acknowledge it. You’re usually better off acknowledging your reaction rather than trying to pretend it never happened. So at the moment, you can say something like, “As you can see, I’m feeling pretty invested in this”; “This is hitting me pretty hard. Would you mind if I stepped out for a moment to get some water?”; or “I realize I had a strong reaction while we were talking. I wanted you to know that I really appreciate the feedback you shared with me, and I’m working on implementing it.”
You don’t need to—and shouldn’t—apologize for your reaction.
It’s human to have emotions. But what makes you a great leader is how you choose to respond and communicate when those emotional reactions do arise. If you take ownership of your feelings and reactions, it conveys strength and confidence that other people will respect.
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