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← How to embrace emotions at work

"You can't just flip a switch when you step into the office and turn your emotions off. Feeling feelings is part of being human," says author and illustrator Liz Fosslien. She shares why selective vulnerability is the key to bringing your authentic self to work.

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Showing Revision 6 created 03/27/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. No matter how hard you might try,
  2. you can't just flip a switch
    when you step into the office
  3. and turn your emotions off.
  4. Feeling feelings is part of being human.
  5. [The Way We Work]

  6. A pervasive myth exists
    that emotions don't belong at work,

  7. and this often leads us
  8. to mistakenly equate professionalism
    with being stoic or even cold.
  9. But research shows that in the moments
    when our colleagues
  10. drop their glossy
    professional presentation,
  11. we're actually much more likely
    to believe what they're telling us.
  12. We feel connected to the people around us.
  13. We try harder, we perform better
  14. and we're just generally kinder.
  15. So it's about time that we learn
    how to embrace emotion at work.
  16. Now, that's not to say

  17. you should suddenly become
    a feelings fire hose.
  18. A line exists between sharing,
    which builds trust,
  19. and oversharing, which destroys it.
  20. If you suddenly let your feelings
    run wild at work
  21. and give people far more information
    than they bargained for,
  22. you make everyone around you uncomfortable
  23. and you also undermine yourself.
  24. You're more likely to be seen as weak
    or lacking self awareness,
  25. so, great to say you weren't
    feeling well last night --
  26. you don't need to go
    into every lurid detail
  27. about how you got reacquainted
    with your half-digested dinner.
  28. So there's a wide spectrum
    of emotional expression.

  29. On one hand, you have under-emoters,
  30. or people who have a hard time
    talking about their feelings,
  31. and on the other end are over-emoters,
  32. those who constantly share everything
    that's going on inside,
  33. and neither of these make
    for a healthy workplace.
  34. So what's the balance
    between these two extremes?

  35. It's something called
    selective vulnerability.
  36. Selective vulnerability is opening up
  37. while still prioritizing stability
    and psychological safety,
  38. both for you and for your colleagues.
  39. Luckily, anyone can learn
  40. to be selectively
    vulnerable, with practice.
  41. Here are four ways to get started.

  42. First, flag your feelings
    without becoming emotionally leaky.
  43. Bad moods are contagious,
  44. and even if you're not vocalizing
    what you're feeling,
  45. chances are your body language
    or your expressions
  46. are a dead giveaway.
  47. So if you are crossing your arms
    or hammering on your keyboard,
  48. your coworkers are going
    to know you're upset.
  49. And if you don't say anything,
  50. they might start to think
    it's about them and get worried.
  51. So if you are reacting
    to a non-work-related event,
  52. so traffic for example, just flag it.
  53. You don't need to go into detail.
  54. You can say something as simple as
    "I'm having a bad morning.
  55. It has nothing to do with you."
  56. Now if it's a work-related event
  57. that's causing you
    to feel strong emotions,
  58. that brings us to point number two.
  59. Try to understand
    the need behind your emotion,

  60. and then address that need.
  61. If you suddenly start to find
    everyone around you irritating,
  62. sit back and reflect on that.
  63. And it might be that you're irritable
    because you're anxious,
  64. and you're anxious because you're worried
    about hitting a looming deadline.
  65. And in that case, you
    can go back to your team
  66. to address that need
    and say something like,
  67. "I want to make sure I get everything
    done ahead of the deadline.
  68. Can you help me put together
    a realistic plan to do that?"
  69. If you're thinking of sharing,
  70. try and put yourself in
    the other person's shoes.
  71. So if what you're about to say
    would help you feel more supported
  72. and better understand the situation,
  73. then go ahead and share it.
  74. But if it gives you any kind of pause,
    you might want to leave it out.
  75. And finally, read the room
    and provide a path forward.

  76. If everyone on your team
    has been pulling long hours,
  77. and you notice that one of your colleagues
    seems particularly deflated or anxious,
  78. you can acknowledge that
    and show some empathy,
  79. but then try to give
    them something actionable
  80. that they could hold on to.
  81. And in this case,
  82. you could suggest that
    you go to your manager
  83. and ask that your weekly meeting
  84. be pushed back a day
    so you both have more time to work.
  85. You're showing you're invested
    in their success,
  86. but also that you care
    about their well-being.
  87. When we can be honest about what we feel,

  88. and freely suggest ideas, make mistakes
  89. and just not have to hide
    every piece of who we are,
  90. we're much more likely
    to stay at the company for a long time.
  91. We're also happier and more productive.
  92. So take a moment to reflect
    on the emotional expression

  93. that you bring to work each day.
  94. And if you are prone
    to oversharing, try editing.
  95. And if you're a little bit more reserved,
  96. look for moments when you can
    open up to your colleagues
  97. and be a bit vulnerable.
  98. And chances are,
    there will be a big difference
  99. in how people respond to you.
  100. And selective vulnerability
    might just become
  101. one of your most valuable tools.