What do you do when things start getting emotional at work? What if they’re your emotions? I’ve heard more than once recently, how some people believe emotions have no place at work. There was a period in my career where I subscribed to this belief.

Things were getting emotional

Last year, I attended a coach training event in Toronto. The day was great, and at one point I was asked to be the coaching client in a group exercise. In this exercise, everyone is in a circle around me, and people take turns coming up to coach the client (that’s me), for a minute or two.

The group did a great job coaching me. I love how even some of the most inexperienced in the room took a turn. The only way to improve your coaching skills is to coach.

Once the coaching wrapped up, we debriefed the experience. In such experiences, the debrief is often where the most significant learning happens. One person observed how emotional she felt at one point. She told us she was worried for me, as she thought I was close to tears.

Pointing out the emotions was a solid observation on her part. I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what we were talking about when things were getting emotional. However, I do remember the experience, and I was feeling very emotional as if things could head towards tears.

Don’t put your emotions in a drawer

I have always been an emotional person. I spent a large part of my life trying to deny and hide my emotions. I would fight to hide my emotions when I would be in a conversation. It is almost as if I was trying to put the emotions in a drawer, so I didn’t have to look at them.

At times, the emotions would originate in me. Those are the easy ones to understand as I know they are real. I know this because of how important something is to me, so it doesn’t surprise me when I get emotional.

Other times, though, I am surprised by an emotion that is coming up in me. What is this emotional feeling coming up in me if it is not mine? Is this feeling real? Should I talk about it? Is the emotion telling me something?

Yes, yes and yes.

Emotions in leadership

In the corporate world, and even in many parts of society we dismiss emotions. Too often we dismiss the things we cannot rationalize.

Over the years I’ve heard things like, “there’s no place for emotions in the workplace.” Or “check your emotions at the door and let’s have a rational conversation.” It even seems to move up some corporate ladders you need to control your emotions.

Your emotions are always there. Have you ever walked into a room and immediately had a feeling that something bad happened? I sometimes describe the air as tense or heavy when I get this feeling. Perhaps you just walked in after an argument or at the very least a heated debate.

On the day of the coaching event, I asked who else was sensing my emotions. Roughly half the people put their hands up.

I believe we all are able to sense the emotions in a room. The only questions are whether you pay attention to this information, and what are you choose to do with it.

Leading with the emotions

Emotions are one of the things that makes humans both beautiful and messy. When leaders start to look at emotions as both normal and necessary, it can change the impact of your leadership. However, how do you handle emotions?

To start, do not dismiss the feeling of the emotions. The emotions are providing you with important information. Sometimes, emotions are more important than the words you hear.

Once you’ve acknowledged the emotional feeling to yourself, ask yourself what is needed. Be careful not to dismiss the other person’s feelings. Trust your intuition as you’re an expert in emotional things (your humanity makes you an expert)

Sometimes, there is nothing for to do. I just let the other person hold on to their emotions and keep going. However, I don’t let those emotions hold onto me.

Other times, I name what I’m feeling. For example, if I’m feeling a strong emotion, I might say “it feels like there’s something important happening.”

In a group setting when things feel tense, naming the feeling can bring the important conversation into the open. This is probably the elephant in the room no-one wants to acknowledge.

I might say something like, “I feel a tension in the room. What needs to be said.”

When we deny the emotions, we run the risk of missing something important. We tip-toe around topics as opposed to putting the issue on the table and talking about it. Talking about what’s not being said can often be where the real opportunities for improvement are found.

The emotions you are experiencing are real, and they provide powerful bits of information. The good news is there is no right or wrong thing to do with an emotional feeling.

Just as long as you don’t ignore or deny their existence.