Why Emotion SHOULD Play a Role in the Workplace

Eve, Le Blog Gender Gap, Social Impact

Do you know what’s worse than showing too much emotion in the workplace? Showing too little. Welcome to the era of emotional intelligence.

Whenever I find myself in the pits while I’m at work in reaction to an unsuccessful meeting or less than ideal chat with my boss, I blast Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (which I’ve basically dubbed my feel better anthem, is that just me?). I sing along for a few bars and somehow feel better knowing even Fergie has down days. But why should I care if I’m upset and it shows?

While sobbing openly in a sea of cubicles, storming out of your boss’ office with fists clenched, or even happily prancing down the halls in reaction to good news isn’t encouraged, Showing up to work and demonstrating that you are in fact a real human is. So why do we find ourselves so afraid at the thought of being emotional the workplace?

Emotion has developed a negative connotation, especially in reference to your professional life. And that’s in part thanks to some problematic gender norms. In an interview with Marketplace, Caroline Turner the founder of Difference Works argues: “The workplace is based on masculine norms. Women come into the workplace with our differences, and the world has defined professionalism and leadership in that masculine way, which is ‘leave the emotions in the parking lot’.” And while Turner and others like her are working toward a more emotion-friendly workplace, she still recommends that women save the tears for a bathroom stall.

If you take the time to show feeling, whether it’s positive or negative, you can bet it’s career suicide. As a result, too much of what comes out of our mouths is sugarcoated, restrained, and muddy. We are so consumed with how we can diligently deliver a message with the “right” tone that it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and confuse people instead of creating success for a business.

So much of what you feel can be mistranslated by an outsider—into hostility, untrustworthiness, and most frequently, just a lack of professionalism. Often anyone who reveals strong feelings gets categorized—women are seen as “emotional basket cases” and men are perceived as “weak or unmanly.”

It’s time we destroy these stereotypes and realize that showing emotion at work can in fact have positive implications. We have emotions. We are humans. So what? If you figure out how to show emotion at work in a positive way, it can lead to a more collaborative environment, motivate teams, and inspire creativity. In the same Marketplace report, John Gerzama, author of The Athena Doctrine: How Women and the Men Who Think Like Them Will Rule the Future, polled 64,000 people and found that expressiveness is seen as an essential characteristic for leaders. “I think this is really about getting to see the true, authentic person. We’re looking for leaders that are actually themselves,” he says.

Here are some more in-depth reasons why you should show emotion in the workplace:



If we went into every meeting with our mouths sewn shut and agreed to everything that was said, it wouldn’t make for a very product hour now would it? We meet in those conference rooms for a reason, to present ideas and collaborate through expression of opinions and thoughts and refraining from emotion makes it pretty challenging to find a solution to any problem. If you are angered by a certain strategy in place or happy about a future initiative on the table it is vital to demonstrate that. Change doesn’t happen by all of us agreeing and restricting how we feel. Allowing ourselves to feel emotion encourages us to stand up for what we believe in and work with others to find common ground. Furthermore, emotion challenges us to think outside of the box or see a solution in a new light.



There is seriously nothing more frustrating than not knowing how a colleague or boss feels about something. You sit there attempting to read their facial expressions, taking into account every eye movement and lip twitch like you are on an episode of Criminal Minds interviewing a suspect accused of murder. You want a sign, literally ANYTHING, to let you know how they feel about something whether it is a proposal you submitted, an upcoming project, or even the silly meme you forwarded them through email. If you have the ability to show emotion, it translates to the people you interact with on a daily basis. It allows them to know with certainty that they are on the right track or in fact do need to find a different solution. Not being able to recognize these feelings makes its difficult for people around you to know where they stand and causes friction in work relationships. Communication is key to team building and people that lack emotion contribute roadblocks that become increasingly difficult to reconstruct over time.



When we know how we feel, things get done. Too often we are wishy-washy and refuse to make decisions on things because we are afraid to “show too much”. We can spend all day listing the pros and cons (which you should definitely do), but often fail to take action on these goals because we don’t want to press further for fear of being too passionate, annoying or immature. Drive is important and it often pairs with emotion to accomplish tasks and reach goals.



For me personally, I thrive on positive reinforcement. If my boss is elated and over the moon with my work I challenge myself that much more to do even better the next time. Some people alternatively depend on disappointment to help push them into high gear and improve, whatever works better for you, we can agree that some sort of emotion is shown. We do better knowing where we stand and can improve by understanding our superiors. A great manager will do more then tell you, they will show you. It is important to celebrate our victories and take time to mourn our losses.



Most of all, sharing how you feel helps people understand you. Take pride in showing your joy for your colleague’s promotion or learn from your boss’s disappointment. Obviously, be careful and refrain from over sharing, but don’t be afraid that you will be seen as weak or incompetent in the workplace. Of course boundaries are important, but so is creating a bond with the people you spend 40+ hours a week with.

Emotions aren’t something we can turn off and on easily, so do yourself a favor and take some time feel a little more at work. Having the ability to accept how we feel demonstrates strength and although it’s often seen as a weakness, emotion can improve our work atmosphere, relationships and overall desire to be a better employee.


This article was first published on Career Contessa.