I recently read the book Why Emotions Matter by husband and wife duo Tristen (L.P.C.) and Jonathan Collins. Here is a little snippet that stuck with me:

We all have a lens through which we see the world. It's shaped by our culture, our upbringing, our life experiences, and our personalities. This lens is why two people can look at the same situation and see it two very different ways. It's why the same words are hurtful to one person and inconsequential to another. Our brains literally perceive input differently, leading to different emotions, thoughts, and actions.

I think it's safe to say that most people accept an emotional element to their private lives (whether they like it or not is another matter). What is far less agreed upon is the role emotions should play at work. I'm curious about why that is and how it is hindering or helping us become productive and healthy team members, bosses, employees and friends to the people we spend a large part of our time with. Are certain emotions work-friendly (like joy and pride) and some not (like anger and sadness)? What I have observed is that our obsession with keeping our private lives private and staying on task at work has disconnected us from our emotions to an extent that is harmful to the value we can bring to our work. Susan David, author of the book Emotional Agility and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School states:

A core part of emotional agility is the idea that our emotions are critical; they help us and our organizations. For example, if a person is upset that their idea was stolen at work, that’s a sign that they value fairness. Instead of being good or bad emotions, we should see emotions as containing useful data.

Her perspective and those of the Collins' is that emotions reveal important information. Our emotions are giving us information that might not be readily available to our brains. Companies really want information, and if their people are systemically or culturally trained to keep emotions under wraps what kind of information is being missed that could benefit the bottom line? In their article Does it pay to let employees express their true feelings? Parke and Morris state:

Organisations with workers who feel comfortable and safe about expressing their true feelings tend to be more productive, innovative and creative. [Parke's] paper ‘The Role of Affect Climate in Organizational Effectiveness’ explores how preventing staff from saying what’s really on their mind can stop companies from achieving their strategic goals.

In an effort to encourage people to bring their whole selves to work, and not check their emotions at the door, I often start my work with teams by exploring personality-type. It's a safe way to build openness and understanding about the fundamental differences inherent in each of us (although often ignored, at the peril of team development and organizational goals). Next up is always re-opening the door to vulnerability. I've noticed (generally) that people who work together only give themselves a short window of curiosity about the personal lives of fellow employees - typically only open for the first week or two in a new job. So, if you haven't memorized the names of the children of your cube-mate (or whether they have children, or are married, for that matter) it becomes increasingly hard to re-open that window. I use the context of an offsite + being an outsider as an opportunity to not only re-open the window to the natural curiosity we have about each other but also ask questions that require a level of vulnerability not normally allowed at work.

Questions from (or inspired by) Patrick Lencioni's book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team:

1. What was the most difficult challenge of your childhood?

2. Where are you in your birth order?

3. What's your side-hustle?

4. What's your "crazy dream"?

5. What did you think you'd be further along in life about by this time?

It's remarkable to see the kind of connection that happens when we ask basic questions, that we would naturally ask any friend, but never think to ask an employee or (heaven forbid!) your boss. The combination of exploring and understanding personality type + human emotions in a work context is the secret sauce so many teams and organizations are missing. The implications for employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity are largely ignored, untapped or only paid lip-service to. I can help! Reach out here.


Sources + Additional Content:

  • I heard about Susan David's work from Bourree Lam's article in The Atlantic titled The Fear of Feelings at Work

  • You can find a Tedtalk by Susan David called The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage here

  • Research by Michael Park and Myeong-Gu Seo titled: THE ROLE OF AFFECT CLIMATE IN ORGANIZATIONAL EFFECTIVENESS can be found in the Academy of Management Review 2017, Vol. 42, No. 2, 334–360.

  • Patrick Lencioni (of the Table Group) shares a brief overview of how to conduct a personal histories exercise with your team here.

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