Why Great Leaders Lean Into Emotions
Notes from Dr. Tal September 26, 2021
My Dear Readers,
The other day I was working with a client of mine who is a top executive at her company. She was sharing how conflicted she felt when she saw her assistant walking into the office looking distraught. Here is part of what we discussed in that session to break down our perceptions, or misperceptions about processing other’s negative emotions in the workplace:
Emotions can be a wary topic for leaders in the workplace. Most of the time as an authority figure in your organization, being emotional with your employees and/or colleagues feels like a red flag. Understandably, emotions can sometimes make things feel “messy”, and your job is to keep things in order. But the truth is, great leaders have learned to move past the concern of temporary emotional imbalance. Why? Because acknowledging emotions is a powerful tool to build TRUST.
Luckily, there’s a relatively simple technique to acknowledging others’ emotions:
All it takes is noticing an emotional cue (a smile, a frown, or maybe even a yawn) and then addressing it in a genuine, kind fashion. You can pose it as a statement or question, like “You seem satisfied”, or “Is something troubling you?” By doing so, you show your employee and/or colleague that you’re willing to step into this “messy'' territory (instead of turning a blind eye), and you intentionally acknowledge their emotional state (concerned, upset, etc..). This allows them to recognize that you have their WELL-BEING in mind, and that’s what builds trust.
Today, with many people returning to the office and adjusting emotionally to a difficult year and a half, it’s so important that you, as a leader, be attuned to others’ emotions. So, here are a few tips to help you acknowledge your employees’ or colleague’s emotions in a productive and beneficial way:
1. Acknowledge emotions directly, not the situation that provoked the emotions.
For example, if an employee and/or colleague of yours was running unusually late to an important meeting, you can say: “You look flustered, is everything okay?” instead of “You’re late, are you okay to start?” By acknowledging the emotion, not the situation, you’re validating their emotional state as well as the fact that they’re human.
2. Remember to acknowledge the negative emotions, not just the positive ones.
Many leaders get caught up in amplifying positive emotions such as celebrating work victories, birthdays, etc. This is a great practice of course, but it’s important not to forget the negative ones. Acknowledging negative emotions not only builds trust but can strengthen your organization. It allows for the clarification of what can be done better within it, right now, to take care of the emotional life of your team. And after all, any organization is only as strong as its collective parts.
Also, if you are concerned that inviting a ‘discussion’ about their negative experience might take too long, make it short by extending the invitation to discuss it further later on, at a mutually planned time for the two of you.
3. Don’t worry too much about your emotional interpretation, acknowledgement itself is more important than correctness.
The most detrimental thing you can do is be silent in the face of employee and/or colleague emotions. Taking the time to care, notice, and prioritize their well-being (despite your packed to-do list) is what they’ll take notice of. It doesn’t matter too much whether you interpreted their emotional cue correctly - it’s that you noticed at all.
It is advantageous to acknowledge how powerful emotions can be to build workplace trust and support. Emotions are more than a feeling, they’re unique to everyone, and they represent the way people experience themselves everyday. They also guide their ability to perform.
Now why would you turn away from something so important?
Keep on laughing,
Dr. Tal Leead, Psy.D.
PS: What other environments beside the work place can you apply these suggestions? Parenting your teenager? Take a second to contemplate.
Remember: Little Habits, Big Difference
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