Have you ever been accused of being “too emotional” at work? Was your first response to get less emotional?
There’s an unwritten rule that says showing emotion at work is unprofessional. The minute we hit the front door of the office, we’re supposed to become less than human in order to be effective. And you can blame Monsieur Rene Descartes for that—he’s the guy who stated, “I think, therefore I am,” making it OK for us to believe that our heads were no longer attached to our hearts.
Our biology makes the statement, “I feel, therefore I am,” a better reflection of the human condition. Still every day, in businesses around the world, there are those people who feel completely justified in yelling at their employees or berating them in front of others. (And, just so we’re clear, anger is an emotion.) Yet, when the employee responds to this aggression with an emotion (upset or hurt), they’re accused of being “too emotional.”
Before I say another word, let me make full disclosure here. I’m one of those “too emotional” people. However, I’ve discovered how to harness the power of my emotions to create remarkable results in my life—and teach my clients how to do it, too. There are three questions I’ve found to be helpful in re-wiring the experience of our emotions so we can harness their power:
1. What if your emotions are perfect for you?
Humans experience a wide range of intensity in the way we feel our emotions. Think of it in terms of temperature. When someone seems “cool” we substitute words like aloof, detached and unemotional. On the “warm” side we use words like passionate, enthusiastic and fiery. We naturally feel more comfortable around people whose temperature preferences are aligned with our own. It’s a lot like Goldilocks when you come right down to it. “Not too hot, not too cold—just right.” We have to remember that everyone’s “just right” is entirely subjective. While your emotional temperature might be uncomfortable for someone else, it is absolutely perfect for you. Understanding that your emotions are perfect allows you to concentrate on what to do when there is a temperature disparity in your relationships.
2. What if our emotions are an indicator that we need to pay attention to something?
Our emotions are a kind of intelligence. When we’re free to feel the full range of our emotions, we understand things we might not be able to see or even say. If you’ve ever “just known” about something, you’ve experienced this intelligence first hand. Our emotions signal us that something is happening that we need to pay attention to—whether it’s danger or opportunity. Emotions lock in information—we’re hard-wired to remember everything that happens to us in the midst of a strong emotion, whether it’s positive or negative. Since it’s only by feeling them that we get their signal, we have to pay attention to our emotions. Think of how many products and services that exist today are the result of someone’s passion—that’s emotion.
3. What if you can feel an emotion and not act on it?
Humans are hard-wired to feel emotion. And we’re also capable of becoming so swept away by our emotion that we’re incapable of rational thought. It turns out that the inability to access rational thought in the midst of a powerful emotion is a survival strategy handed down to us by our ancestors. When faced with a physical threat, our ancestors had to use their whole bodies—including their emotions and intuition—to escape. Any time spent in rational thought was going to get them killed, so clearly the emotional ones had a biological advantage. In the world we live in, there are still plenty of physical threats that require us to respond as our ancestors did. More often, though, we are faced with non-physical threats. When your emotions erupt at work, it’s likely a warning that something is wrong. You have to be able to engage your brain to figure out how to handle this threat. That requires getting some distance between feeling your emotions and acting on them. It can be as easy as the age-old practice of counting to 10 before you respond. Try it out and see how things change.
Now you have three important questions to ask yourself the next time someone accuses you of being or feeling “too emotional.” Try these questions out for a month and see how your experience changes.