Leaders are in the business of motivating others – to get things done, to believe they’re capable of more, to reach new heights in their careers. And the quickest way to do that is through … wait for it … emotions. Logically we all know this, though in application we often fall short, particularly at work, because there’s a misconception that emotions don’t belong.
And to that I say, “Ummmm, yeah. That’s not realistic.”
- Work involves humans who feel emotions … regardless if they want to or not
- Feeling anything is a sign of life; a sign that someone cares enough to react*
*It’s a misconception that the opposite of anger is happiness or the opposite of agitated is content. The opposite of any emotion is actually the absence of emotion. It’s not feeling at all.
So why is this important to leadership?
First, engagement. The buzz word running rampant in every organization, and the biggest challenge to productivity and success that only seems to be getting more insurmountable. Why? Because more and more employees are feeling disconnected from the work and the company. Why? Because they’re not connected with on a human level. They’re seen as commodities not individuals with unique talents and valuable insights, and their emotions are not being tapped into. Any article on engagement will tell you there are more people who fall somewhere in the abyss of indifference between engaged and actively disengaged than anywhere else on the engagement spectrum. So when an employee is feeling something, anything at all, it’s a sign that there’s enough to react to and it’s an opportunity to dig in.
Second, we’re all human and share in this experience we call life. We all want to feel included in something bigger, so shunning or ignoring emotion only adds to the feeling of isolation and ostracism, which contributes to employees feeling disengaged. And round and round we go.
Even when emotions are “negative”, there’s a great deal to learn for both you and the employee about what’s happening and why. There’s a very valuable reason for the emotion being felt at that moment. So next time, an employee displays emotion:
- REMOVE JUDGMENT. It makes perfect sense that you might get agitated when emotions surface. There’s already a lot to handle, one more thing can seem impossible to conquer. But emotional moments are the time to really dig in. Whatever your employee is feeling is perfectly normal for him/her – based on years of experience and exposure to similar situations. Take a deep breath and remember, “yeah, it’s not how I would react, but this isn’t about me. Whatever Sarah is feeling is what makes sense to her right now.” Simply acknowledging someone else’s story immediately diffuses judgment.
- QUESTION MORE THAN ANSWER. Get Sarah talking. Your position as leader is to listen to her thoughts and corresponding emotions. You can tell a lot about what someone is feeling simply by listening to the words they use and the non-verbals they give. It’s called objective listening. You’re listening to what she’s saying … and potentially not … vs. how you’re going to respond. If you feel the urge to launch into how you’ve experienced something similar, ask another question.
- AVOID ‘I UNDERSTAND’. Because you don’t. You couldn’t possibly. You’ve not walked in Sarah’s shoes; you’ve not shared in Sarah’s thoughts, so therefore it’s impossible to genuinely understand where she’s coming from. Through more objective listening, you gain a sense of what’s going on behind the emotion, and so the more appropriate response becomes “it’s understandable you feel this way because…[paraphrase what you just heard]”. This helps Sarah feel more at ease and normalizes her reaction vs. feeling shame and putting her on defense for having it in the first place.
While our core thoughts ultimately drive what we feel and how we (re)act, it’s our emotions that make us human and serve as the most effective way for leaders to connect and inspire. It’s why “People may not remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel,” carries so much weight. Long after the brain and logic have moved on, what we feel and where we feel it linger – for better or for worse. Your ability to link with your employees on an emotional level is paramount – for you and them – to ongoing success.
Lauren is a certified professional leadership development coach and mentor dedicated to radically shifting workplace cultures by empowering leaders through self awareness around how they show up and harnessing their energy to lift [others] as they climb. She works with leaders who are in the process of figuring out the most effective way to bring their definition of leadership to life to positively influence themselves, their teams, and their overall workplace environment. She fosters an open and engaging relationship to fully explore what’s going well as well as what’s holding leaders back from stepping into their full potential. Want support in tapping into your employees’ emotions and/or maybe even your own? You can find more information on www.unlimitedleader.com, LI and FB: Unlimited Leader, LLC; IG: @mrslaurenammon