How to embrace emotion at work

From Sunday Morning, 10:40 am on 9 June 2019

Being able to talk about how you feel without getting emotional is an important skill for everyone in a workplace, says Liz Fosslien, co-author of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work.

Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, co-authors of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work.

Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, co-authors of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work. Photo: Colleen Jose

Fosslien grew up in a "very stoic" household where she was taught to put her head down, work as hard as she could and never talk about feelings.

When she took that approach into her first job out of university, Fosslien ended up with severe migraines.

That experience eventually led to writing this book about workplace etiquette (with Mollie West Duffy), she tells Jim Mora.

Learn more about your own emotional tendencies on Liz and Mollie's website.

People who bring their full selves to work are happier, succeed individually and in teams and are more likely to stay in the job, research shows. So how do we do that?

Being 'authentic' doesn't necessarily mean sharing more, Fosslien says, it may mean not sharing much at all if that's your inclination.

"Really healthy workplaces are inclusive for every kind of person."

Put envy to use

Envy is often stigmatised, but it can show you what you need to look at more closely, Fosslien says.

"If you're envious of someone in the workplace it's usually because they're doing a really great job.

"Thinking about why you're envious, what they have that you want, can help you make decisions in the future and be clearer with your direction."

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Public domain Photo: Public domain

Contribute to the 'emotional culture' of your workplace

Do you feel safe to speak your mind at work?

People assume culture change has to start at the top, but everyone can make a difference, Fosslien says.

  • Learn how to pronounce spell and pronounce peoples' names correctly – if you don't, you won't use their name which doesn't feel good for them.
  • If you see someone get cut off in conversation, later say 'hey, I noticed you were saying something – do you want to finish your thought?'
  • When someone enters a conversation say 'hey, this is what we were talking about, just want to fill you in'.

"These small moments are so crucial in making everyone around you feel okay at work."

Ensure your manager knows what you do

Often the people above us don't know how much we're doing or how long it takes to do what we do every day, Fosslien says.

"Write down everything you have to do on your to-do list for the upcoming week and go to your manager and say 'here's how I've prioritised my tasks… can we just make sure I'm doing what you also agree is most important?

Showing them how much you're doing makes it much easier for them to tell you their priorities.

That can also help you feel better about going home on time, etc. when you trust that your manager knows you're doing a good job.

woman and man talking at work

 Public domain Photo: Public domain

Don't let work become your whole life

People who are too wrapped up in their jobs do themselves a disservice, Fosslien says.

"It's wonderful to have a job that you like, that brings a lot of meaning into your life … but if your passion for work is affecting personal relationships and hobbies that bring you meaning outside of work, that's too much.

"When you get critical feedback that feels especially bad because you don't have any other sources of self-worth in your life.

"Lots of research shows that when we work too much, our productivity goes down, we put ourselves at risk of burnout and we're just unhappy."

Your feelings aren't facts

Fosslien was once extremely frustrated with a co-worker who seemed to speak very slowly to her: "I thought he thought that I was a moron"

Then at work drinks one night she asked, 'Hey, do you realise when I ask you questions you slow down when you answer?'

"He immediately looked at me and said 'oh, I'm really working on that. I'm just afraid that I'm going to look stupid in front of you so I'm choosing my words really carefully'.

"I'd been so angry at him for weeks based on a completely incorrect assumption."

Often we have strong emotional reactions to an idea that we haven't even bothered to fact-check, Fosslien says.

"Be calm, speak about your emotions without getting emotional, then give the other person a chance to share their perspective before immediately jumping to conclusions."

Female office worker woman businesswoman with pencil smiling

Photo: Public domain

Proofread for emotion before you hit 'send' on an email

"I have a tendency to prioritise efficiency so I hammer out these emails that are just like bullet points of everything that has to change - and they feel really bad to receive," Fosslien says.

"With really important emails I've started writing a draft and sending it to myself so then I can really experience what it's like to get that email and open it."