Collage Photo of Faces Showing Emotion

Busting the Myths about Emotions at Work (and Home)

How are you faring during isolation, lockdown, quarantine, whatever you’re calling it? If you’re like me, and most people I’ve coached and talked to, you are experiencing a myriad of emotions. We’re confronted with so many emotions right now, many conflicting, coming at us so fast. How do we all cope especially when most organizations and some people want to deny emotions affect us or are even present!

School of Emotions

I had the honour of interviewing Dan Newby, Founder and Director of School of Emotions this week. In my words, his mission is to increase emotional literacy on par with language and numerical literacy. He sees the 3 pillars as mind, body and emotions whereas historical education only valued mind and body. It’s about the practical application of emotions in peoples’ lives, they are a tool in our lives (and work).

He works with leaders and organizations on how emotions can be ‘used’ intentionally for positive effect – whether that’s productivity or satisfaction or both. For me, understanding emotions is foundational to emotional intelligence; see this HBR article for more.

The Myths of Emotions at Work

He outlined some of the myths about emotions, especially at work.

1. People should leave their emotions at the door when they come to work.

So Dan asks leaders “you want them to leave ambition, loyalty, trust and inspiration at the door?” Usually not. Organizations want those emotions, they just don’t want the ‘difficult or uncomfortable’ ones. This highlights the belief that some emotions are good, and some are bad. Emotions are just sensations and data. Fear is good sometimes as It alerts us to danger. Anxiety is the belief something might hurt us but we don’t know what, so it is good to keep us vigilant. There are no good or bad emotions and they are present.

2. People need to get rid of emotions to think clearly.

That’s impossible. Emotions are part of our thinking process. Also, do you want a customer service person to do their job from the places of empathy or joy or service instead of resentment? If so, those are emotions that you want present.

3. Emotions are intrinsic. That’s just the way I am.

It’s just the way you’ve been, you can learn and choose differently if you want. Some things about us are hard wired and many things are conditioned or learned over time. We need to experiment with different ideas, thoughts and behaviours to see which can be changed and which are fixed.

4. We need to Motivate People at Work.

True. Motivation comes from the same word as emote, to move people. And Dan suggests we need to be more specific or nuanced around the language of emotions. An employee embezzling from your company is highly motivated. Is that the type of motivation you want? Probably not. Leaders need to be more specific about the type of motivation they want, what moods and emotions do they want in people, their teams, and the organizational culture. The behaviours exhibited come from the emotions we feel. Same of your family too.

5. If a leader displays fear the team will become fearful.

Dan says that studies show that if a leader acknowledges the ‘darker’ emotion the team feels better; it’s healthier psychologically as illustrated by this Psychology Today link. The sheer act of naming it presents the possibility of shifting it as it’s been raised in consciousness; it doesn’t fester in the shadows. Fear or anger have less power when you say, “I’m angry.” It changes once it’s articulated. Same with “I love you.”

Now What?

The first step is learning the language of emotions. According to Pia Mellody the 8 basic emotions are: anger, fear, pain, joy, passion, love, shame and guilt. Practice mapping your bodily sensations (feelings) to these emotion descriptors to start your emotional literacy journey.

Feeling emotions are different than demonstrating them. Practice feeling them first, so you know what they feel like in you. Demonstrating them can be as simple as saying it, emotions don’t have to be demonstrated in a dramatic way.

At the end of my discussion with Dan I said I was appreciative and grateful. I think of those as perspectives or mindsets. Dan claims they are emotions. When I feel appreciative it feels like a soft comfy sweater wrapping me from the inside.

If you’d like more about cultivating the emotion of gratitude in this uncertain time read my recent blog, Say Thank You to Dire Times – Be Grateful. If you’d like a simple framework for your gratitude practice refer to my blog, Struggling with Positivity? Use this ‘Gratitude’ Framework for Ease.