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When you think about expressing emotions, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s celebrating the new year, showing love to your partner, or having a verbal fight with a close friend. Now, let’s think about expressing emotions at work – what do you envision? 

If you drew a point-blank, you’re not alone. Showing emotions in the workplace has become an increasingly important topic. In the past century, we experienced the Industrial Revolution, where assembly line workers in factories simulated robotic work. If somebody showed emotions in this environment, they saw it as preventing the team’s overall productivity and efficiency

In the modern world, jobs have now evolved; emotional intelligence is one of the top ten skills required for the future workforce. In fact, learning to deal with emotions is the key to effectively leading people. Now that people understand that emotions matter, society has to work together to bring humanity back into the workplace and make people comfortable bringing their emotions to work.  

While it may seem simple, there are a few common barriers to showing emotions at work. Let’s take a look at the top three reasons why.

1. Fear of Failure


When envisioning a leader, do you picture a “perfect” individual who is fearless and never makes mistakes? If yes, it’s time to adopt a new vision. The truth is, nobody is perfect. We cannot expect perfection from leaders, and leaders need to welcome failure as a learning opportunity. Both team members and leaders need to accept that mistakes are bound to happen. The number of errors made should not define failure, but the lesson learned from each mistake. It is easy to commit a mistake and brush it under the rug for no one to see. From a leaders’ perspective, covering their mistakes may seem like the right thing to do. They may think, “If I make a mistake, then am I even worthy of my position? Let’s pretend that did not happen”. Following this mindset will result in an unhealthy mentality and feeling the pressure to be perfect.

So how should a leader approach their failures? Our answer is to acknowledge and reflect; this shows self-awareness and a willingness to improve. When the leader demonstrates that mistakes are bound to happen, the mentality will trickle down to the team. Bouncing back and learning from mistakes will develop resilience. By overcoming a fear of failure, teams will emerge resilient and self-aware. Moreover, leaders will be cultivating a culture of learning and not being afraid to fail, sparking innovation within the team.  

2. Vulnerability as a Weakness


Embedded in the false image of a “perfect” leader lies a robust and fearless persona. We picture our superiors always to know what to do. Take the example of a military leader – if they say, “I’m scared to cross the fence!” how will that impact the team performance? Similarly, if your company’s CEO states they are uncertain about meeting the revenue goals for this year, how will the team react?

In The Future of Work Depends on Emotional Intelligence, we mentioned letting go of the corporate persona. The corporate persona is a personality displayed at work. With the changing workplace, we are now getting a glimpse of team members’ personal lives, especially in virtual meetings. Now more than ever, leaders need to ease off their corporate personas and unveil their true selves. Especially in these times of uncertainty, it is normal to feel uneasy and unsure. We need to regulate the message showing vulnerability is not a weakness but rather a demonstration of courage

Let’s return to the example of the CEO stating their uncertainty about achieving revenue goals. While it may be tough to admit that the company may not be heading the direction they wish, displaying this vulnerability creates trust within the team. Vulnerability is one of our greatest measures of courage. Brene Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It is the willingness to show up and to be seen, even when there are no guarantees. In essence, its leadership. Leaders need to be transparent with their team to build confidence and stimulate problem-solving and decision making. For example, when a leader says they are uncertain about the company meeting its financial goals and asks for help from the team, it provides the team with the perfect opportunity to think critically and brainstorm solutions to solve the problem while simultaneously supporting the leader.

3. Is it Only Me?

The last common reason why leaders refrain from showing emotions links to authenticity and comparison. If no one else is showing emotions, what will happen when the leader does? Will team members believe them, or worst, will it negatively affect and demotivate the team? It may be common to think, “If only I am feeling this way, are my emotions even valid?” 

You will never know how others feel until you ask. Please do not try to predict or assume your team members’ emotions; the purpose is to normalize showing emotions at work. Think of emotions as data, not as good or bad. It can provide you with interesting information about how people or ideas are triggering you. With that data, you can make more conscious choices of how you will respond or act. 

If no one else is showing emotions at work, then it presents the perfect opportunity to begin. Start small; it can be simple as showing appreciation for your team members. Recognition can go a long way and encourage them to do the same, kickstarting a chain reaction. While it may be intimidating to be the first one to begin expressing emotions at work, every journey starts with a single step. Emotions show others the “why” behind your ideas – your motivations or concerns behind your thoughts.

It’s Time to Show Emotions at Work


Showing emotions at work will lead to improved well-being and an overall emotionally intelligent workforce. Hiding feelings at work can lead to higher stress levels, health problems, and poor communication. Besides, hiding emotions at work will contribute to suppressed emotions; emotions run in the background during our everyday lives at work. If we choose not to acknowledge or cope with our emotions, there will be a reverse effect. For instance, if we feel angry and do not cope with the feeling, the anger will snowball and intensify the next time we feel angry. 

Emotional intelligence plays an essential role in the workplace. It can improve leadership skills, develop interpersonal relationships, and assist in decision making. If you would like to learn more about emotional intelligence, see where your emotional intelligence stands with our emotional intelligence assessments. We offer both leadership and workplace assessments, with a personalized debrief from a certified EQ coach. To continue to transform your workplace into an emotionally intelligent one, you can also check out our special packages, which offer a unique combination of a workshop, retreat, EQ assessment, and/or online classes. 

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