To Share or Not to Share Emotions @ Work
Updated: Jul 11
“There’s no crying in baseball”, that famous quote from the late Penny Marshall’s movie A League of Their Own may apply to a baseball movie but just the opposite appears true for most workplaces.
A 2018 survey over 3000 people in both the USA and Canada by Accountemps showed close to half of those polled admitted to crying on the job and an equal number owned up to losing their temper at work, mostly directed at their colleagues.
Workplaces can be emotional places, some more so than others. Do people show more emotion in a dental office or in an engineering office? Are emotional outbursts more common in a social services unit or a bank? The nature and purpose of the workplace matters but I believe the makeup of the individuals and the workplace culture are also determinants of how comfortable people are in sharing emotions at work.
The challenge is not the existence of emotions in the workplace but the challenge we all face in channeling those emotions productively or at least enough to keep your job!
Clearly some sharing of emotions at work serves us, our colleagues, customers and the employer. When leaders appropriately, selectively and in the right measure, share vulnerability and empathy they strengthen relationships and build effective groups. Sharing our excitement about our work builds teams and enhances workplace climate. Sharing our joy can be contagious but also distracting if overdone. Demonstrating selective transparency, without oversharing, of a personal challenge or crisis can be helpful in many ways. Over-sharing anger, jealousy or disappointment can be toxic.
Industrial/organizational psychology researcher Cynthia Fisher’s research at the Bond University School of Business has stood the test of time and she identified the 5 emotions most represented on the job along with some ideas for how to manage them:
1. Frustration/irritation-try remembering the last time this happened and how it blew over or ended up being inconsequential.
2. Worry/nervousness-try being deliberate about who you surround yourself with and learn deep breathing and other tools.
3. Anger/aggravation-get clear on your triggers, remove yourself from the situation and picture yourself red-faced and arms flailing about, that acts as a deterrent.
4. Disliking others-try showing unwavering respect and assertiveness.
5. Disappointment/unhappiness-remember the big disappointments pass and surprisingly have little lasting effect and most journeys are bumpy not smooth.
Asking employees to “keep their emotions in check” is a tough ask yet regulating our emotions and being in tune to the emotions of others and responding appropriately is at the heart of Emotional Intelligence (EI) which has been shown to be hugely effective in predicting positive outcomes for people’s careers. There is a huge difference between caring deeply and displaying passion on the job and the immaturity of innapropriate emotional outbursts.
Managers and supervisors are under greater scrutiny with regards to managing their emotions and they should be. Set aside that they must always act like the adult in the room, learn to respond thoughtfully rather than react emotionally and actively dampen workplace drama rather than contribute to it. Leaders are also caught between doing the what’s right and what’s popular. Doing what’s popular brings immediate emotional relief to a manager, doing what’s right can be decidedly unpopular, drawn out and may lead to a few tears being shed.
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