Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #56 Welcoming Emotions at Work

June 06, 2023 Jean Balfour Season 2 Episode 56
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #56 Welcoming Emotions at Work
Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever struggled with your emotions at work?

In our uber analytical organisations welcoming emotions can feel very risky. The challenge is that for all of us emotions are a normal part of our lived experience - including our working experience.

In this episode Jean provides perspectives on how to welcome our emotions and see them as a valuable tool. 

Susan David  -

Brene Brown -

Feelings Wheel -

Amanda Blake - Your Body is your Brain -

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Hi everyone and welcome to Making Sense of Work. How are you feeling right now? If you tap into your emotions, what are they telling you? Today I'm gonna talk about emotions at work and welcoming them. This is a topic close to my heart. Those of you who know me. And work with me will know that I'm an emotional person, and so this podcast comes with a lot of experience and practice. Before we dive into this, if you are curious about coach training and would like to know more, you can now sign up for our free and on demand taster course, and there's a link for this in the show notes. It would also be great if you could rate and review the podcast. Particularly on Apple Podcasts growing. The impact of any podcast is partly dependent on your reviews, and I really appreciate your support. So let's go back to how you are now. What are you feeling right now? Just pause for a minute and tune into your feelings. Notice, maybe notice your thoughts also. Are you excited for something or worried about something? Are you concerned about a conversation or optimistic about an opportunity? We, all of us have something going on in our emotions. It can be serenity or joy or calm, but we all have something most of the time. The trouble for us is at work and at work, we can really find it very difficult to acknowledge our emotions. Our organizations have, in many cases, sought the idea of everything being logical and cerebral. Instead of seeing that by trying for this, we're ignoring half or maybe even more than half of the story. I've often said that it's like we are asked to leave our emotions at the door when we tap in at the turn style at work. And I believe that this is trouble when we are ignoring our emotions. All of them, they hold a huge subliminal power in our lives, and we're not able to be our best selves at work. We can call this many things. It's suppressing or bottling or ignoring them, but they all add up to the same thing. We are trying to ignore a version of what's really happening. One way of thinking about this is to think about trying to hold a ball underwater. So imagine this, now, you're in a swimming pool and you have a lovely, colorful, inflated ball, and your aim is to keep this ball underwater so you see yourself. Pressing down hard to keep the ball underwater, but it just wants to pop up and you can feel the pressure on your hands as you try to push it down. And this is what it's like suppressing our emotions. Another way of thinking about this is to imagine you're holding a piece of paper out in front of you for a long time. If you think about it now and you hold it out in front of you and see if you can carry on holding it with the paper in front of you, you can't see through it. You have to look around it, and also your arms would get tired holding it there. You can't very easily go on with your day. And in our very analytical and logical work environments, this is what's going on because we are having to try and hold the ball underwater, or we're trying to hold the paper in front of us and carry on like nothing's happening. The thing is that because we are doing this, it's actually hard. It's getting tiring and still our feelings are impacting every aspect of our life. They're taking energy and they're taking focus away from our work. So in this episode, I'm gonna share some practical ways of being more present to our emotions at work. And this is the equivalent of putting the paper down in your lap or letting the ball just float to the surface. Let's pause before we get into the tactics to see a few examples of why this matters. I mean, in some ways it might just be easier to tow the line and try and stay in our analytical brain, but if we do this as we're seeing, it's exhausting. So here are a few examples. First of all, Brene Brown's research on vulnerability found the people who were the happiest. Embrace some sort of vulnerability and were more open to their emotions and to sharing their emotions. Amanda Blake, in her book, your Body is, your brain defines presence as the capacity of having your attention simultaneously on yourself and on another. And she says that deep presence requires feeling into all of our sensations whilst actively tuning into the people around you. So when we're ignoring our emotions and sensations, not only are we impacted by them, but we are also impacting the others. And it's kind of paradoxical here that by tuning into ourselves, we actually become better at tuning into others. There's also one study I came across that suggests that bottling our emotions increases other people's blood pressure. So whilst we think that we're doing everyone, and especially ourselves a favor by ignoring our emotions, it's actually not helping everyone. There's another really important reason, and that's without tuning into what we are feeling, we're actually ignoring data. Data that can impact our decisions. There are a number of studies in neuroscience that demonstrate that our emotions and our sensations give us information, for example, about whether somebody's lying long before our brain becomes conscious of what's happening. So, The thing is that our inability or our unwillingness, or our fear of tuning into our emotions is affecting lots of different aspects. And these are just a few examples. And so it's so important, I believe that we learn to become more adept or a Susan David would describe it more emotionally agile because it has a good impact on us, but it also has a good impact on other people. This has been a very personal journey for me. As an emotional person, learning to see my emotions at work as valuable and helpful has been really hard. I cry easily. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and yet for a lot of my career, I've actually felt quite a bit of shame around this. I often felt that I would be more effective as a leader or a coach or a colleague if I could just be analytical and less tuned into my emotions. And it's taken a really big journey for me to see that my ability to tune into my emotions, with ease is actually a strength. It means that I bring my way of. Being and seeing the world into decisions and into the experiences of others. And I guess I invite you too to be curious about what would happen if you paid more attention to and valued more your emotions at work. So let's look at how we can do this and what happens. One of the areas to start thinking about this is to think about how we can make friends with our emotional life. And an aspect of this is to become better acquainted with our triggers, the triggers that trigger us into different emotional reactions. Let me give you a personal example of this. I learned many years ago that trust is very important to me. I see myself as trustworthy, and I trust others. So if someone questions me in a way that I think is questioning my trustworthiness, I can get very quickly hurt, angry, defensive. I'm instantly derailed, and I'm functioning out of my. Less best self to say the least. Over the years I've really learned that it's okay for people to question me. They have a right to say, are you sure about that? And I've learned to be less triggered by it or sometimes actually not triggered at all. I've got better and better at it, and I'm working on it because I know that my defensiveness doesn't help anyone. Victor Frankl, who was a Holocaust survivor and a psychiatrist, described it like this. He said, between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose a response, and in our response lies our growth and our happiness. So what we're aiming to do with increasing our emotional strength is to learn, to find that space, to find the space between the trigger and the response. And it's in that space that we can become more aware of what's happening to us. Emotionally and we have more choice about how we respond. So in my case, I'm learning to find the space. I feel the instant reaction, and I'm learning to pause and see that in this case, every person has a right to question my trustworthiness. That's not my decision to do. They wanna find out something for sure. My job is to be calm and respond appropriately. We can, all of us be triggered by so many things. it can be a values clash or maybe being micromanaged or boundary issues, or maybe somebody even mentioning a piece of work or a criticism we feel is unfair. So many things that trigger us. Maybe something reminds us of something in our past or. Ultimately, stress in and of itself can be a trigger that stops us functioning in this way. So learning to know our triggers can really help us in learning to be more emotionally resilient. It doesn't mean emotions go away. It means we've become better at making room for them and understanding them and knowing what they are. If you are not sure about this, about what's triggering emotion, one way that you can do this is to work with thought patterns to see what might be doing it. So maybe you have an emotional reaction to something and you're not sure what was triggered it. Take some time to track back on your thoughts and see what you were thinking beforehand. What were the thoughts that could have been causing it, and can you begin to see them tracing to the trigger? I know that we can get better at this. I've got better at myself. I've worked with a number of coaching clients around this to help them to improve that so that we can find that space. As I've already mentioned, Susan David, has written a brilliant book called Emotional Agility, and in her book she says that learning to be emotionally agile is about loosening up, calming down, and living with more intention. It's about choosing how we'll respond when our emotional warning system triggers something in us. I'd like to share a few ways that I use to help me with this, to help me to manage that, to help me to become increasingly emotionally agile. So the first of these is actually just to make room for emotion. If you think back to our ball on the pole, their energy involved in pushing it down and holding it down is exhausting and also not good for us. The scientists tell us that suppressed emotion is really not healthy for us. So the first place is really just to become aware and to notice it. And it's almost like making room for it in your lungs. Breathe into it. Allow the emotion to be there in a very accepting way. Let the emotion pass just by doing that, it comes in and it goes out. Sometimes it feels held and trapped, and so we then need to perhaps talk to somebody to process it, but most commonly just making room for it with compassion actually makes it easier to bear. Easier. Talk about, easier to find that space. I've read quite a few studies of stress and anger that say that. An anger response is good if it lasts for about 90 seconds. It's problematic if it keeps going when we start brooding on things or overthinking things. So if we are feeling angry, good, normal emotion, then it is good for us to actually feel it. Don't press it down. Notice it. Make room for it, and think about what you can do with it. Another way of becoming emotionally agile is to learn to both feel them as I've been describing there, and also to name the emotions and to name them with a level of granularity. This can, again, seem a bit counterintuitive, to really lean into an emotion and name it when actually. Might feel more sensible to ignore it, but naming emotions helps us understand what's really going on, and then we get a bit more power and the opportunity to choose. We do an exercise on our coaching program at level two where we invite students to do this, and every time we see people visibly become more centered is they really understand the different names for the emotions that they're feeling. So we start this by knowing what the seven core emotions are. There's a lot of disagreement about how many are the core emotions, but let's go with seven for now. And they are joy, anger, sadness, fear, surprise, contempt, and discussed. The thing is that beyond these, there are hundreds of different emotions that come out from each of these core emotions. And if we can learn to label in an even more granular way, then that can be really powerful and helpful in liberating, and it helps us decode what's going on. So for example, stress could be a number of things. It could be overwhelmed. Disempowered, vulnerable, confused, worried, cautious, nervous, bewildered, or skeptical. If you think about when you are next stressed, being curious about what is that really that's causing that emotion of stress, that feeling of stress, we're much more likely to find a way out of it by labeling it accurately. We understand it. We can create a sense of it, and we can think about how to move beyond it. An extension of this is to notice how you are with the naming of it. So for example, when you notice yourself saying, I'm angry. You're actually very identified, or I'm very identified with that anger. Instead, we can say, I notice that I'm angry at the moment. We get a bit of distance from it and we're better able to think about it. There are lots of tools to help with this, and I'll put a link to one in the bio. There's also Brene Brown's book, Atlas of the Heart, which is like an encyclopedia of emotions, and Susan David's website has some fabulous and very beautiful tools that can help you think about the granularity. So all those will be linked in the show notes. A couple more things that you can do. Our body is an amazing sense organ and we can learn to tune in to become more aware. in her great book that I've already mentioned, your body is your brain Amanda Blake describes the wisdom, how much wisdom our bodies hold. And she also describes that our ability to be self-aware is impacted by our ability. To be aware of the sensations and emotions held in our body in an embodied way at a much finer level. If you could do this by just noticing your body now, maybe thinking about somewhere that you are holding some tension, maybe for example, in your stomach. Just become very aware of it. Again, tune into it, notice it. Try not to ignore it. Come right down into it and think about what is this feeling. Maybe think about even what color it is or what shape is forming. What temperature is it? Is it hot or cold or warm? Tepid, does it have a texture, this's feeling? Is it spiky or smooth, lumpy or floppy? As you tune into this information, just notice what that's telling you. What that feeling, maybe that tension in your stomach is actually saying to you, what's the information that's trying to convey to you? What are the emotions out there and what are the thoughts that are connected to that? Now all of this is very much about managing our emotions, but we are at work with our colleagues and our bosses and other people. And it can be very tricky for some of us to feel strong emotions and to feel those reactions to things at work. And yet this is normal. It's happening to all of us, and it's the pretend thing that it doesn't, that isn't helpful. How you approach this will be a very personal thing. So for some talking through emotions with colleagues or your boss will help For others, this might feel to exposing and you would prefer not to. But the main thing here is to remember that suppressed emotion holds more power. Back to our beach ball. So if you choose not to talk about it at work, find some other way to release it. Maybe journal it, talk to a coach, go for a run. Do something with the emotion. Allow it to come up. Make room for it. If you do, choose to talk about it. Prepare and be open. For their emotion as well. Emotions can be contagious, particularly at work, and it's okay for you both to experience emotion in any situation. If you notice yourself feeling defensive, maybe about feedback, just be curious about feeling defensive. It's okay to feel defensive, acknowledge it. It's again, a normal human reaction and it's not always helpful, but it is our system seeking to protect us. And again, we can name it, consider what's causing us to be defensive, what's triggered the defensiveness, and then go and have another conversation. Maybe when we are feeling less defensive, one of the big challenges, and one of the questions I often get is, what do I do if people cry? Well, tears are a release. In fact, I love the Nancy Klein quote, crying makes you smarter. When we cry, we release the tension that's building up and we allow it through. When we finish crying, we offer to have a calmer, clearer mind in which to face the world, to have the conversations. So when you are with someone who cries, reassure them that crying is a part of us and get tissues. People feel so much shame around crying, so it's important to leave that space to reassure. Maybe ask them if they'd like to take a break and come back later, but just to help people to see that this is an okay thing to be doing. And that links to my last strategy. This is about showing compassion to yourself. Being emotional is a part of the human condition. We are all emotional, and so if you are feeling shame around it, just remind yourself that, no emotions are good or bad. They just are. It's about how we learn to live with them, how we learn to listen into them, to see the incredible wisdom that they hold. I believe strongly that our working lives would be better if we were more free to talk about emotion at work. And I encourage you to think about how you can model this in your own working life.