Emotion @ Work – How Socially Intelligent Are You?

Recently, I was struck by a person’s response to crying at work. They saw this as a complete no no, unprofessional and a weakness and had always viewed others who had committed such a crime as pathetic.

After a good cry and close scrutiny of their own beliefs around emotional responses they had a different perspective. There were able to see that being vulnerable was liberating and the cost of bottling things up was not good for their health. They also were more productive that day. However,  it got me thinking about the cost of suppressing our emotions at work.

emotion at work

Emotion at work

I’m certainly not advocating turning up to work, day in and day out,  in tears or angry however on any given day of the week staff arrive at work in a wide array of emotional states from happy to sad and if you have been stuck on a train since 6am and are late for work – mad!

And what about the stuff that happens at work too? The boss who has dumped a new project on you with no explanation, the put down by a colleague, the Board presentation that did not go according to plan… All of these things will have an impact and yet many leaders either ignore emotions or judge staff as being “emotional”?

In Daniel Goleman’s work on Social Intelligence (SI) he lists a number of vital SI skills for leaders, three of which are particularly relevant to dealing with emotions at work:

Empathy: Are you sensitive to their needs?

Attunement: Do you listen attentively and think about how others feel? Are you attuned to others moods?

Developing others: Do you coach and mentor others with compassion?

My tips for you when you next have a member of staff in an emotional state:

  • Acknowledge the behaviour and make it OK to have emotions – after all we are all human! I find providing some context to the situation helpful or restating what they have said to you so that you demonstrate that you have been listening and understand. A powerful question you could ask is “what is the benefit of being in this place?”. Don’t move on until they have answered. Whilst this may appear to be an odd question, its amazing how the answer often brings a new way of looking at the situation.
  • Get curious about the behaviour especially if its out of character. We are not particularly good at describing our emotions so an open question like “where are you currently feeling the emotion?” “What’s that like… What else?” can help the person describe the impact of the emotion on them – both in terms of their ‘head’ and their ‘body’.
  • Be compassionate and empathetic and put yourself in their shoes. How does it feel to be them? It’s likely that they are giving themselves a hard time so asking them “What would your compassionate self say to you about this situation today?”, often permits them to give themselves a break.
  • Give them time,  let them ‘be’ with their emotion – don’t rush to hand out the tissues. You maybe the first person who has listened to them and so truly listen to them.  Holding the space and making it OK for them to experience the emotion behind the tears  –  9 times out of 10 a shift happens and they feel better able to deal with the situation.
emotion at work

Emotion leads to action

I believe releasing difficult emotion leads to greater action at work. After all emotion is purely energy in motion! I’d love to hear from you and so do give me your comments.

If you are struggling with handling emotions at work either personally or professionally and want to talk through how to manage a situation email me and book a coaching session.

photos by danielito311 and Will Lion