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Is dealing with workplace emotion your Achilles heel?

Unfortunately, many leaders feel emotions have no place in the workplace, or they feel out of their depth dealing with emotions, so they are often swept aside with an increasing focus on delivering the month’s numbers. Sound familiar?

I’m seriously shocked at how often I see this being played out in businesses. Where employees are frustrated and feeling undervalued, merely because their leaders are seemingly not hearing their concerns. Yet when I talk to organisational leaders about this, they seem oblivious to the issues or believe they have listened and addressed the concerns so why aren’t people moving on?

To me the answer is multi layered but comes down to the quality of listening, validation, empathy and action.

I think one of the biggest issues I see is with remote sales teams. Often, they are only coming together on a call once a week, and together as a team either monthly or quarterly. In the meantime, they are experiencing dozens of little issues every week and naturally need an outlet to express them. But with so few leadership interactions, this is often perceived as 'always complaining, never happy…' So instead, leaders hone in on sales performance, compliance issues and upcoming execution objectives. 

The result: sales reps and teams leave feeling increasingly frustrated, undervalued and slightly less engaged.

In comparison, in an office environment, people have multiple opportunities and outlets in which to off load. Not that off-loading necessarily resolves the issues and often just contributes to a toxic culture - unless the right people are listening and validating concerns.


You have a bucket and it is fill to the brim with water. 

What happens when you try to add more water?

It overflows. 

And will continue to overflow unless you take action to empty the old water before you add more. 

If you don't empty the old water, it starts to turn green and increasingly toxic...

Now imagine your emotional tank is like that bucket of water. Everyday hundreds of little things happen that create moments of stress and cause your emotions to rise. For the most part, we adopt little strategies to manage our emotions such as talking through our day with a partner, going for a walk, run or doing other exercise, journaling, meditating…

But what happens when our emotional tanks are full? Like the bucket of water, they start to overflow. We start to feel stressed, and are less able to cope with the everyday challenges coming our way. When our emotions are left invalidated and unresolved, our emotions start to sour.

An important distinction to make, is that validating someone’s feelings or concerns does not mean you have to agree with them. But by simply acknowledging their feelings, you accept how they’re feeling - which is like releasing a chunk of the emotional volume. 

In an endeavour to explain it better I came across the description below in an article on ‘Communication Skills – Don’t be Invalidating’ 

To validate someone's feelings is first to accept someone's feelings - and then to understand them - and finally to nurture them. To validate is to acknowledge and accept a person. Invalidation, on the other hand, is to reject, ignore, or judge.

It's ultimately about being emotionally present. 

If you are one of those leaders who is acknowledged by your people as someone who is emotionally connected and in tune with your team - then fantastic! But the reality is, the majority of leaders find dealing with emotions way out of their comfort zone. 

Understanding human behaviour, and the needs of different personalities, is key to creating a connected workplace. Being comfortable with emotion and hearing people out, needs to become part of our everyday practice. If this idea feels exhausting to you, you’re not alone. But knowing it’s power, when mastered, you’ll never look back.   

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

Viv Kohlenbach-Wilson is a profit architect (incorporate pricing strategist and leadership coach) who is passionate about helping grow businesses, and leaders, people love. With a unique mix of analytical insight and as a student human behaviour, she marries data driven insights with emotional currency, to win both head and heart. Connect with Viv on Facebook or LinkedIn.


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