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Wearing Emotions on your Sleeve


A common challenge when working with organizations, teams, and leaders for developing more sustainable leadership performance is understanding emotional intelligence. We can define it, and most people know they need more of it, but we are often stymied by the area/competence called “Emotional Self-Control.” When not correctly understood, this competency often makes leaders feel they should be even-keeled – even emotionless – at work. Keep calm, we tell ourselves; don’t appear upset or frustrated, and don’t show emotion. Some leaders even feel that a positive emotion such as excitement would violate the “keep calm” code, and/or would not be received well at work.

Where does that code lead us? Where is the humanity in our work if we do not show some emotion?  Why are we concerned or uncomfortable when a team member shares emotion? And how much effort does it take for us to avoid or bury those emotions at work?

I personally could not answer that last query, as I have the opposite problem – my emotions show even though I would prefer them not to. I was the kid, and now the adult, whose emotions are consistently betrayed by my body – whether it’s blushing and red-faced or using unconscious body language that speaks more loudly than my words ever could. I have often been challenged by my outward signs of emotions … and yet here I am, still wearing them on my sleeve. And in fact, advocating for it.

The real challenge of emotional intelligence is in NOT suppressing or hiding the emotions. While we certainly don’t want to unleash each and every emotion willy-nilly, I would suggest that we look at ways to notice our emotions, and when effective, share them verbally. People are not robots; as leaders, you are allowed to express and verbally share your frustration or disappointment – because trust me, your body language is expressing it anyway. And you can follow that sharing with another emotional intelligence competency called “positive outlook” and say, “We got this” or “I am confident that we can figure this out.”

One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”: “Unexpressed feelings never die: they’re buried alive and come forth later in uglier ways.”

The value you gain in sharing emotion with others is creating connection, and in creating that connection, you allow your team to support you or demonstrate empathy as well. This also demonstrates and models how others can express their emotions and make those emotions more productive.

This week, how can you demonstrate sharing your emotions with your team or family?

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