Twenty years ago, the answer was a clear No. Most organisations expected their employees to park their emotions at the door, particularly those messy negative ones. Positive emotions such as feeling happy or inspired were encouraged – as long as they were nicely managed. No exuberant whooping when clients were around.
Workplaces use to encourage you to bring only your managed and self-aware, positive emotions to work. These days, however, this is becoming increasingly untenable. Firstly, technology is blurring the lines between our work and personal lives. Secondly, there’s more understanding of the negative impact of burying your emotions, and the positive impact of using your emotions to improve your performance.
Management consultant and columnist, Steve Tobak, says, “The conventional wisdom used to be that we brought home the emotions we couldn’t express at work – snapping (or worse) at blameless partners and children. That is still true, but what’s new is that home life, with all its messy, complicated emotional currents, has become inextricably and undeniably woven into the workplace. “After all, compartmentalising your emotional state is more or less psychopathic, as any good shrink could tell you.”
The benefits of emotions at work
This blurring and merging is not a bad thing. Ask yourself this: do you really want to work in a place with no emotions? No laughter, no inspiration, no motivation or desire? No pain of defeat or thrill of a win? Where people only share factual information? It turns out our emotions are integral to our own performance at work, and our company’s bottom line.
Positive and negative emotions can drive us to try harder and achieve more. Emotions of fear, while uncomfortable, can stop us being complacent and propel us to take it up a notch. Likewise positive feelings of joy, hope, or affection for our colleagues can give us the strength to put in that discretionary effort. They also increase our engagement in our work – and organisations with engaged employees have higher productivity and higher profits.
CEO of Highland Consulting Group, consultant and author, Roxi Bahar Hewertson, sums it up like this: “We want the good emotions at work, as long as they are kept “in check” and “appropriate” but we find the inconvenient emotions, well, inconvenient. That’s not how it works. The way it actually works is that our personal values (and we all have them) drive our emotions and emotions drive our responses and our behaviours.”
The key is self awareness: emotional intelligence
Rampant emotions running wild won’t boost your performance, and neither will emotions that are buried and denied.
Steve Tobak says the question of whether your emotions will help or hinder you all comes down to self awareness. Are you aware of how you’re really feeling today? Acknowledge and allow those feelings, and be mindful of when and how your feelings affect your work and interactions today. Because they will. “We need to acknowledge, honour, and learn how to manage our own and help others manage theirs,” says Tobak. “This is why emotional intelligence competencies ARE the differentiator between intelligent highly effective people and intelligent ineffective people – especially leaders. “When employees’ emotions are honoured, these leaders KNOW the result will be that their people will be far more engaged and far more productive. And there is no down side to that equation.”
Tobak suggests a four step process for managing and harnessing your emotions:
Step 1: Awareness. Before you walk into work, identify how you’re feeling.
Step 2: Understanding. Take a moment to get to the bottom of what’s really going on: why are you feeling this way?
Step 3: Motivation. Use your emotions to motivate you. “Emotions can be powerful motivators. They can drive you to do great things, perhaps to prove to yourself what you’re capable of doing in spite of the obstacles.”
Step 4: Behaviour. When you’re dealing with some unusual emotions, be more aware of your behaviour.