The personal development business is booming. Countless books, podcasts, seminars and webinars deal with accepting and managing emotions. So has everyone suddenly become “hypersensitive”? And if they have, how can we start “managing” our own emotions and those of others, especially employees? Are managers expected to handle emotions as well as all their other responsibilities? How can we develop emotional intelligence without it becoming an uphill climb? Here are a few tips.
Allow enough space for emotions in the workplace
Are emotions in the business world taboo? There was a time when people “compartmentalized” their lives, masking their emotions to the point of not even being the same person in private and at work. It is now widely acknowledged that we are in fact whole beings whose body, head and heart all work together. We all experience emotions (fear, joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and so on.)
Emotions in the workplace are becoming more accepted mostly due to an increasing focus on quality of life at work, the prevention of psychosocial risks and the development soft skills. It has been proven that stifling emotions is bad for your health. Keeping your feelings in affects the quality of relationships and inhibits centered and balanced leadership. And that means we don’t really have a choice: emotions exist, and ignoring that fact can lead to disaster.
But is it so easy to deal with our emotions, let along those of others? Let’s set aside misplaced modesty and hasty (self) judgments about how emotions are expressed. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness, being angry doesn’t mean you’re hot-headed, laughing doesn’t mean you’re crazy, being fearful doesn’t mean you’re cowardly, making faces doesn’t mean you’re snobbish. Everyone feels emotions, they are signals that sound alarm bells for intimate needs. And the same goes for the workplace.
There are often high stakes in terms of identity, challenging situations that can shake up a routine, possibly power relations that can test stability, and there might even be conflict. It’s important to acknowledge emotions. Allowing them in through the front door means preventing them from bursting out through the windows and overwhelming you from all sides.
It’s a matter of co-responsibility
There are your own emotions… And then there are those of others! And we don’t all work in emotional harmony. What gets your blood pumping might scare someone else; what makes you sad might trigger anger in someone else; what troubles you might slip by unnoticed in another person. So how can we get along (and work together) amid such a cacophony of emotions?
We need to take co-responsibility: everyone is responsible for working with their own emotions, everyone is encouraged to take the emotions of other people into account, and together, we are all responsible for the overarching emotional climate. So what does that involve?
- Being honest with yourself. When you’re angry, you shouldn’t talk yourself into thinking that you’re right and others are stupid not to think the way you do. You should welcome anger for what it is, a signal that you need something (to feel self-assured, to gain recognition, to be considered with respect, to be more independent, etc.).
- Having empathy for others. Their emotions are just as valid as yours, and by seeing things from their perspective (or putting yourself in their shoes), you can better understand what might be causing their outburst.
- Taking an interest in relational dynamics within a group. When a person expresses an emotion, it’s not only about them but is also tied to the context and the situation. When an emotion is expressed, it can change an environment (nobody feels quite the same in a team after a fit of laughter, shedding tears or witnessing anger).
Acceptance and understanding
Once everyone’s responsibility is clear to all concerned, something will have to be done about the emotions that are expressed within the framework of the work group. “Acceptance”, which means “the action of receiving” is one of the keys to managing emotions in a positive way.
If you can recognize an emotion as a right, support the person who expresses it as they identify and name it, and pinpoint the underlying need that triggered the emotion, you can improve how we understand each other. In other words, emotions are an issue that involves everyone.
But in practice, isn’t it a bit unrealistic to manage all the stages in dealing with an emotion (given that statistically, in a group situation, there are countless emotions being expressed in a single day)? It is not so much a matter of which steps to follow as it is about taking the right attitude and seeking daily training. When you express an emotion, try to give it a voice and words.
If your colleague seems very upset by a situation, let them know that you have noticed by giving them a kind look and/or asking them how they’re doing. Make yourself available for a chat about what’s bothering them (possibly offering to take a break together), listen, show interest, and question what needs there may be behind the scenes.
Benefits of Non-Violent Communication
In addition to this maieutic approach to expressing emotions and needs, it’s a good idea to look at the benefits of Non-Violent Communication (NVC). This involves:
- Saying what you see (looking at facts: “I noticed that you seemed upset during the meeting.”)
- Sharing how you feel (putting emotions into words: “Did what was said make you angry? Sad? Worried?”)
- Expressing unmet needs (suggest going one step further in the analysis of the emotion expressed: “What makes you particularly angry about what has been said?”)
- Incite a clear request (invite the person to convert the expression of a need into a way of taking action: “Do you think it would be useful to go back over what happened here with everyone involved, so that they can all express their point of view clearly and that everyone can understand each other better? Why don’t you tell me what happened? As long as you express yourself kindly while being clear about your objectives, there is no reason for it to make things worse.”)
The key to NVC is to give as much space as possible to the first person “I”. On the one hand, you can make your singular voice heard from your subjective point of view (which is no less valid than any other subjective point of view) and on the other you’ll be able to avoid misunderstandings and feelings of aggression in others.
In other words, expressing an emotion, such as “I’m quite sad about what I heard the other day…” is always more effective for initiating a dialogue than complaining “I thought what you say about… was awful. It’s selfish and I’m not actually that surprised you said it.” Between these two extremes, there are thousands of nuances that need to be tempered so that feelings, needs and requests can be understood clearly.