Three Keys to Communicating Your Feelings So That You Can Be a More Effective Leader
Do feelings and emotions belong at work?
Clients often bring up the challenge of how to handle emotions at work. One successful manager who was caring, giving, and in touch with her emotions, was actively discouraged from showing any feelings in the office where she worked. Even though she was in the health and human services field, she felt she was looked down on by colleagues if she did so much as quietly share on an emotional level with a colleague.
After raising a concern to her boss about fears within her team over how a new piece of software might lessen some of her staff’s current responsibilities, she was told to handle it and discouraged from bringing similar issues to her boss in the future. After this incident, she’d decided that it was better to stifle her own emotions at work so that she was viewed as professional. She’d also begun to avoid dealing with team members who brought what were obviously emotional concerns to her and would redirect conversation to the project or task at hand. Yet in our sessions, she acknowledged to me in tears that it wasn’t working – she was no longer dealing with issues directly in the office, she felt she was losing trust within her team, and, even worse, she was taking it home and sometimes taking things out on her husband. She felt like a professional failure because of this and wanted help in being less emotional.
Instead, I encouraged her to continue to tune in to her emotions – and to consider them as a gift and a guidance system. We worked through processes to leverage her emotional awareness to help navigate her role as a manager – so that she was able to re-connect with her team and build professional relationships on solid foundations. Over time, she not only felt more confidence and respect for herself – working from a place of greater alignment – but she reported improved relations across her team.
Using Emotional Intelligence for Leadership
Although our emotional state profoundly influences both the quality of our work and the way we experience our workday, many of us aren’t that aware of how we’re feeling at any given moment. And we aren’t usually encouraged to tune into emotions, much less express them. Many employers would rather we leave our emotions at the door so they don’t interfere with the work day.
Yet the fact is that we are all human.
And we work with other humans.
And we serve customers who are human (most of the time).
The businesses we run or the organizations we work in are made up of other humans. And feelings and emotions are inherent to our human relationships in every part of our lives. Not only are they inherent, but they are a valuable guidance system to let us know when things are on course or when something’s off and needing an adjustment. Even at work.
So leaving our feelings at the door is not in fact possible or desirable. But we’re often not encouraged to express our feelings, much less taught how to do so in an effective and productive way.
Unfortunately, this takes its toll on us as individuals – and it takes a toll on our work.
Conversely, naming and owning emotions tends to lessen their charge. When we’re aware of our emotions, this empowers us to more informed, intentional choices about how we deal with them.
The ability to be in tune with yourself and your emotions – as well as having sound situational awareness – is a powerful tool for leading a team. The act of knowing, understanding, and responding to your emotions, and being aware of how your words and actions affect others, is described as emotional intelligence. It consists of self-awareness and management as well as social awareness and relationship management.
If you own your own business or are a manager or leader of other humans, I encourage you to set the example by making feelings more of a priority. It can dramatically improve you and your teams’ experience of the day, and studies show it can profoundly improve quality of work and consistency of performance.
If you’d like a bit more courage to communicate your feelings at work – or anywhere in your life where you’re relating with another human – here are three ways to help ensure that you say what you really mean in a way that your message has a better chance of being heard and understood.
1. Name It.
Before you can communicate what you’re feeling, it’s important to get clear on what you’re actually feeling in the first place. Sometimes this is obvious but sometimes it’s not. What’s the emotion you’re feeling? Be specific. Name what you are feeling; being precise helps to reduce misunderstandings.It also empowers you to take a deep breath and decide how to proceed – whether you need to make a change or you need to have a conversation with someone.
For example: “I feel pleased to see the way our team is working together; it’s helping us bring more creative, quality solutions to our customers. And it makes working together more fun. But I’m frustrated that several projects are still behind schedule. I’m concerned because these deadlines are around the corner. I’m worried we won’t meet our commitments.”
As a start, here are some words to help you name what you’re feeling. They’re categorized into the six “classic” emotions: happy, surprised, angry, afraid, disgusted, and sad. Use specific language to add clarity to your communications:
Happy: pleased, satisfied, proud, hopeful, contented, gratified
Surprised: astonished, stunned, astounded, shocked, amazed
Angry: mad, furious, annoyed, livid, irritated, hurt
Afraid: anxious, concerned, uneasy, insecure, threatened
Disgusted: sickened, revolted, nauseated, repulsed
Sad: upset, frustrated, troubled, regretful, dejected
2. Get Clear.
What is your intention in communicating your emotion? Remember that emotions are just a form of energy seeking expression – not to be feared or avoided. If you need to have a conversation with someone, take a moment to get clear on what you want the outcome to be. State this up front. If possible, get agreement on the intention from the person you’re speaking with so that you can work towards a successful outcome together.
Whenever possible, communicate emotions and feelings face-to-face.
Be wary of sharing feelings and emotions over email or text. If it’s important enough to bring up, it’s worth having a conversation face-to-face – or via video if you aren’t in the same location. So much of our communication is nonverbal, without this context, texts and emails can be easily misread. Even with emojis.
Emails also don’t allow the person you’re communicating with to ask questions to help clarify what you’re saying as you go. It’s also easy for email to be forwarded to someone else without your permission.
3. Be Professional.
Being perceived as unprofessional is probably the biggest concern I hear when clients consider talking about feelings with someone they work with. Some think they won’t be respected or that being “emotional” means they aren’t “rational.” The two are not mutually exclusive. Here’s an example of how you can combine them:
“I’ve thought about our situation and our customer needs given Adam’s departure. I’m proud of what’s been accomplished with one less contributor on the team. But, I’m concerned that we don’t have the resources we once did and that we need to hire a replacement. It’s been two months now and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’m troubled because I’ve taken on most of his responsibilities. It seems like I’m trying to do the work of two people all by myself and I don’t feel that is sustainable.”
Having the courage to communicate your feelings is an opportunity to connect both with yourself and with another human.
In short, when you’re talking about feelings at work, be prepared. For that matter, it’s helpful to be prepared in any circumstance. Consider your choice of words. You might even practice or get feedback from a coach or trusted mentor.
If you find yourself in an emotional situation, allow yourself to pause. Take a deep breath, step outside if you need to, allow yourself the time that you need in order to get clear on your feelings and compose your thoughts before you try to communicate them to someone else.
Having the courage to communicate your feelings is an important opportunity to connect both with yourself and with another human.
As a business owner or leader in your organization, you set the tone for your team. Where can you make the choice to be more intentional and to lead by example in communicating your feelings and thus allowing others to do the same?
How have you expressed feelings at work? When has it worked well? When hasn’t it?
If you enjoyed this post and would like help communicating your emotions so that you can enjoy your success more, get your free guide with 5 ways to find more balance and meaning today or contact me directly to see if you qualify for a complimentary strategy session.
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