It isn’t easy, at times, to find the right words for how you are feeling. And it is almost impossible to differentiate what causes certain emotions. What causes someone to be angry versus disappointed? Sometimes the granularity of the difference between the two feelings is so minuscule that you might not know it yourself.
You may feel disappointed, but you express it as anger. Unfortunately, we, as a society, judge the behaviour and then attribute emotion to that behaviour. Rather than truly understanding what the feeling is first. For instance, disappointment is caused by unmet expectations. Anger, on the other hand, is caused when there is an injustice or unfairness.
Just like everyone had to practice their ABC’s in school, it is essential to develop an emotional vocabulary to help in both recognizing, understanding and expressing emotions, especially in the workplace.
The roller coaster of emotions people feel with the pandemic is now a call to action for better emotional expression, communication, and empathy. With the combination of pandemic fatigue and isolation, people are handling their stress in different ways, which can be confusing to understand without the right emotional intelligence tools.
Charles Darwin defined emotional expression as an internal state that feels and, therefore, expresses itself. Thus, the first step to emotional expression is diving deep into how something is making you feel.
However, some emotions are challenging to pinpoint, which makes them difficult to express. When someone feels frustrated, it could come across as envy, disappointment or sadness if not represented accurately. A key aspect of practical, emotional expression is understanding the “why” of the emotion before we communicate. Why are we feeling this way? What caused this emotional reaction?
Emotional expression can also be non-verbal. As tempting as it is to want to roll our eyes when someone says something that bothers us, it is crucial to evaluate the impact our non-verbal cues can have on someone. If you were to silence your voice, what would your body language be telling us?
Most importantly, to understand how to express emotions, people need to be aware of others’ feelings. Identifying other people’s feelings allows them to be more empathetic friends, colleagues, and leaders. Emotional expression can lead to a happier, healthier, more engaged workplace, which people are craving more than ever.
The Mental Health Impact
The pandemic and people’s mental well-being are ample reasons to start building a more emotionally expressive culture. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) conducted a study that revealed 70 percent of people in Ontario felt a severe mental-health crisis was looming.
The cold hard truth is, people were struck financially by COVID-19, and they are starting to run out of their emergency funds for their mental wellness budget. Beyond financials, people are generally limited to the amount of stress-relieving activities available. Going to the gym or a hug from a friend is not something we can do in the latter part of 2020.
Without the usual mental wellness outlets, people must rely solely on themselves to effectively manage and express their emotions. Learning to communicate when you need support during these unprecedented times is vital in your mental well-being, especially in the workplace.
Express Don’t Suppress
Everyone keeps saying the “we are in this together,” which is a cliche that people are sick of hearing. It is also just completely untrue. People were all hit by the pandemic differently, depending on their home-life circumstances, job position, financial status, and health conditions. The emotionally intelligent way to express the “we are in this together” statement is instead to say, “we are all weathering a different storm, and HOW can we ask for help to get through it.” If we do not learn how to express emotions effectively, we will repress our feelings, and we will never get the help we need.
Below are some strategies to help people better express their emotions.
Learn the Emotional Lingo
There are many emotional intelligence tips to teach you how to express your feelings in the workplace constructively. There are various mood meter applications, emoticons, or emotion posters to deepen your emotional vocabulary. Understanding the different names and intensity levels for emotions can help people better understand and constructively express their feelings. Building a dynamic lexicon gives people power over their own emotions and allows them to communicate clearly and effectively without letting emotions get the best of them.
Once people understand the variety of emotions, it is necessary to practice sharing them: leaders need to curate regular, emotional check-ins. These check-ins allow space for people to express feelings appropriately. At the beginning of the meeting, ask each person for a one-word feeling. This technique can help make it less intimidating for people to express themselves at work.
Encourage Kind Emotions
Avoid escape coping and acknowledge the changes happening. Problems that are put under the rug develop a deep level of distrust and uncertainty within the organization. Active coping allows organizations to take on the problem head-on and keep employees in the action plan. When employees know their role in the change, they are more inclined to offer help, work harder, and take on more responsibility.
The emotional expression of a leader will set a precedent for the team. Being emotionally expressive as a leader is essential in encouraging constructive communication and inspiring others to exceed their goals. However, that doesn’t mean leaders should hide their negative emotions. Leaders have to be honest with themselves and show transparency and vulnerability to create a culture of emotional acceptance.
Emotional Expression is the Key to a Happier Workplace
We have been on an emotional roller coaster ride during the past nine months – with emotions have been all over the place. Building a workplace culture that allows for constructive emotional expression creates a safe space to learn and understand how other people feel in the workplace.
With the emotional and financial instability of COVID-19, the last thing people want to do is suppress what they are feeling – which can indefinitely hinder their mental wellness, as shown in the results from the CMHA survey.
Top 3 Reasons People Don’t Show Emotions at Work proves that bringing emotions to work can create a happier, healthier work environment, and hiding feelings can lead to higher stress levels, health problems, and poor communication. Executive leaders are the drivers of culture. When they learn to use emotive language when expressing their ideas and thoughts, it will contribute to higher productivity, increased job satisfaction and improved team performance.
Bringing humanity and emotional expression into the workplace may be the difference between success and failure for you and your business. If you are interested in learning more about expressing emotions in the workplace, check out our keynote on Managing Emotions, available in live or virtual delivery.