Does Emotion Belong in Today’s Business World?

2015-10-30-1446220789-6450545-featured18wdd2xTraditionally, business was seen as a cold, pragmatic undertaking devoid of emotion. Decisions were supposed to be based on data; there was no room on the bottom line for feelings.

That stance is no longer so commonly accepted, as passionate leaders like Richard Branson have changed our outlook on what business should feel like and how decisions are made. At least some forms of emotion – passion, for example – is more acceptable, even expected.

So if emotion does belong in business, where and how does it fit?

How do we know when to let emotion show… and when to be more traditional? On our last episode of Breaking Glass we discussed this with our panel:

Have You Ever Been Told You’re Too Emotional at Work?

This was the first question I asked our panel because it’s something I’ve dealt with more than once. I wanted to hear from each of our panel members, particularly Joe, our sole man on the panel.

Deb often has been called “hot-headed”, and sometimes has been on the verge of tears of frustration at work. She has been called a “pushy broad” and also labeled as “tough,” something that indicates strength and not emotional weakness. In the beginning she found it really difficult being told she was too emotional – she now understands that is often a technique used to stop your momentum or change the subject. Over time, and with experience, she has learned how to handle it.

Interestingly, although Joe has never been called “too emotional,” he has been told – by both women and men – that he was “too worked up,” or that he was “making a big deal” out of something. Like Deb, through experience and repetition, he has come to understand that sort of language is used as rationalization for stopping the conversation.

Ayelet, who worked for years in tech, has heard the term “too emotional” often. Sometimes she was accused of being too empathetic, or too passionate. Her nickname was “troublemaker” and she was frequently called “Kiddo” by people no older than her.  

How Do You Handle Being Called Too Emotional?

Deb’s advice to anyone experiencing this at work now is to step back and say “OK – let’s talk about what your problem is at the current moment.”

Joe’s answer was simple: let them own the problem. If you believe your emotion is good, even necessary, let the person who has the problem with it own the problem. Now, if your emotion scares or stunts a team member, you have to find a way to work with each other, or, accept that your emotion will drive them mad periodically.

Ayelet was always very direct, but not always in the instant something happened. She would take people aside privately and tell them she didn’t appreciate the nicknames etc.

To prepare yourself for these situations, be sure to recognize code words – terms like “too emotional” “or “too aggressive” should set off alarm bells. The answer in this situation is – ask the person specifically how you are being too “whatever,” and how that negatively impacts business. Understand they’re critiquing, or even attacking, you on a sub textual level – but that you are not responsible for their interpretations or actions. Then, let it go. Ignore it, move on, and keep pushing the team mission forward.

It takes experience to recognize these situations, but you can learn to stick to the facts and stay on course… you need to allow yourself to get emotional about it at some point, but you MUST learn not to react in the moment.

This doesn’t mean you should continue to tolerate a culture that forces you to constantly be on guard; perhaps you should look for a new place of work if you cannot change the dynamic in your current work culture. But that isn’t always possible. The key is to recognize if an environment is too unhealthy for your emotional needs; perhaps you can only cope for a period, and make plans to find a way out.

Working Around the Clock Heightens Emotion in Business

As technology has blended personal and business lives, emotion seems to be more prevalent in the workplace; we’re simply working longer hours and stress levels are on the rise. If a colleague is video conferencing with you after hours and your children or dog interrupts the conversation, we are far more likely to act out in “home” mode than “professional” mode – which some see as “too emotional” or “drama.”  

As Deb pointed out, our overall culture is more dramatic overall – the rise of reality television has reflected and encouraged that. Being cognizant of the fact that all of us are under more stress and sacrificing personal time to work may create work cultures more understanding of emotional outbursts (just don’t let them happen too often – or the “drama queen” label may become too close to truth than you would like).

When is Emotion an Asset?

“Sales, sales, and more sales” was always my answer to this question.

As already mentioned, passion is an emotion – and it’s a positive one, particularly in sales. An old manager of mine used to say “every one of us is in sales.” Even if you’re not selling a product, you must sell your ideas at some point. And if you want to lead people to believe in your ideas, you certainly need passion.

Yet, also as mentioned, not all emotions are good ones… and many are never appropriate in the workplace. Sometimes you need a breather – but how do you learn to slow down and give yourself time to breathe?

By being incredibly self-aware of how you react to certain situations that elicit strong emotions,  and by learning to take a strategic breath; experience and practice will help you develop these coping skills.

How Do We Create a Culture Accepting of Positive Emotions?

In an emotionally healthy workplace everyone must have a voice. Listening is a huge part of the recipe for a positive work culture; you have to BE the example. Listen. Let your workers be heard. Making yourself accessible is the very first step to changing the culture.

Leadership has to embrace positive emotions, while diminishing negative emotions and their impact. It must be part of each of our workplace missions.

Today, we don’t really have separate lives; we realize we are all human beings 24 hours per day. And as we explore this human side of business, we understand – that for both men and women – that emotion will appear far more often than it ever used to.

How ready are you to deal with this new workplace reality?

Want to learn more? Watch the latest episode of Breaking Glass here.

On Breaking Glass, we tell our stories to help other women, and men, prepare for the day they may face these very situations so they’re not caught off guard. Our mission is to bring people together around issues that still hold women back in their careers.

If you have workplace challenges that you think we can help with, please reach out.

Join us for our next Breaking Glass session on January 13th at 9am PST / 12 noon EST when we discuss “Who Are the Women Leaders We Should Emulate? #LeanIn #GirlBoss.”


Amy TobinAbout the Author: Amy McCloskey Tobin is a content strategist and creator. She specializes in generational insights, the future of work, the remote workforce, workplace diversity, and how tech has changed the business world. Amy has worked with major online publications to develop content and content strategy. A devotee of social media, Amy believes firmly that great content begets social media community. Find Amy on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter!



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