How to acknowledge & show emotion in the workplace

Unlock authentic conversations and stronger performance for you, your teams, and organizations.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, let’s talk emotions in the workplace.  Even with people practically reciting Brene Brown’s words on showing more “vulnerability” in the workplace, I’ve found that many leaders struggle to model it – partially because for years many of us (myself included) were taught that this was the antithesis of good leadership and could even make you appear “weak.”  While vulnerability is not purely centered on noticing and sharing emotions, acknowledging emotions in the workplace invites your employees to be human and can bind them together more soundly as a team.  Often the emotions ignored in the workplace are masking things that can help us get to the heart of unlocking our employees’ motivations, invite new paths for innovation, allow us to identify risks and create sound mitigation plans.  Grounding yourself and your teams in the emotions at play is a superpower, and yet, I find many of my clients are afraid to use it.

So, how can you model emotional vulnerability as a leader?  Take it in steps and only move onto the next step after you feel comfortable with the one before. 

  • Name the emotion.  Start by simply noticing what you are feeling and properly labeling it.  Go beyond the most common emotional words like happy, sad, or angry to try to label your emotions more meaningfully and expand your vocabulary.  (Brene’ Brown’s most recent book Atlas of the Heart has a lot of great resources around emotional vocabulary groupings.)  Are you elated, empty, despondent, effervescent, remorseful, et cetera?
  • Play with metaphors when your emotions aren’t easily labeled for you.  “I’m feeling fire in my gut and smoke is billowing out my ears.”
  • Start with verbalizing your own emotions and the impact they are having on you with your teams.  It invites your team to do the same.   “You might notice I’m frustrated today.  I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and it means I’m a little slower to process information today.” Or “I’m feeling animated today.  It means I’m primed and ready to dive into the big strategic questions with you.”
  • Model and verbalize healthy emotional responses in front of your team when you can. “I’m feeling outraged right now.  I need to take a break from this project.  Let’s come back to this tomorrow when I’m a bit more clearheaded.”  or “I’m feeling untethered right now.  I’m going to take 5 minutes to breathe and then I’ll be able to devote my full attention to you.” Or “I’m elated that we just won that bid, can we all just take a minute to bask in it together before we jump into the next thing?”
  • Challenge yourself to name the emotion in the room and then check in with your employee or the team. “I can feel disappointment in the room.  Is that what you feel or is it something else?”  It invites your team to speak up and talk about their concerns or celebrate their wins together before you dive into the business at hand.  Often, when you ground and observe emotion, business related topics that can feel taboo to speak about come to the surface and allow your team to observe and tackle things together.  You’ll be surprised about the doors you can open when you let yourself and your team be human.

PRO TIP:  Remember that we have a bias toward “positive” emotions so it’s often easier to start by identifying and acknowledging those as a first step.  Just be sure you challenge yourself to move into other areas of emotion once you’ve become  accomplished at this first step.

What if you make a mistake?

  • Be curious.  If you mislabel an emotion, invite your employee or team to name it properly.  If your sharing of your emotions is causing people to pull back, be curious with them about why.  If you see a strong response in someone else, it just might be an area to explore.  And be cognizant that if someone isn’t ready to talk about emotions, that’s okay. Let them explore this at their own pace.
  • Own your goals.  I always like to share with my teams what I’m working on so if one of your goals is to get better at acknowledging emotions and understanding their impact on you and your teams, why not share it with them?  Invite them to give you feedback on how to get better at it and hold you accountable.  You’ll be surprised at the invitations they give you when you share your very human goals.

As always, if you need help building your emotional awareness and workplace vulnerability, don’t hesitate to reach out.  And, if you are a leader or organization that wants help developing a culture that recognizes the human side of your work, I’m here.  Do not hesitate to contact Livthentic for an exploratory discussion or schedule directly on calendly.  I see your spark and want to help you grow it into a flame. You can also join our mailing list to stay in touch or follow us on Linkedin, Facebook, or Instagram.

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