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Communication and BehaviorCultureManaging Emotions

Expressing Emotions – why, in the workplace, is it so hard to talk about feelings?

By November 29, 2011 No Comments

Emotions can be defined as a spontaneous rather than conscious feeling. They can be feelings of joy, sorrow, reverence, hate and love. Emotions are an unavoidable part of being human.

When we recognize that someone else is preventing us from achieving our goals or preventing us from getting what we want, emotions often heat up and conflict becomes the inevitable result. Apparent threats or signs of disrespect may cause emotions to seethe. The intensity of the emotion signifies its importance to us. Therefore the more important the situation and the stronger we feel about it, the more likely the conflict can turn destructive.

Emotions play a role in helping us make sense of our world. People repeatedly review events to determine if they are personally pertinent. Emotions are not just a side-effect of conflict, but also the structure out of which each party understands and defines the conflict. Generally, the common negative emotions that influence constructive conflict resolution are anger and fear. Anger disrupts discussions in three fashions. Anger causes a loss of trust which clouds our impartiality. Anger can constrict our focus, and lastly, it can lead the discussion away from reaching agreement, to getting even.

For many, expressing feelings and emotions, especially at the workplace may prove not only difficult, but uncomfortable. Perhaps we aren’t sure how to express how we feel or maybe expressing emotions at work may be frowned upon. Emotions play a role in how people deal with their workplace relationships. People constantly evaluate their feelings to determine if they are relevant to a conflict. Emotions can make us sizzle.

What happens when these emotions are suppressed? According to the authors of the Conflict Dynamics Profile, they don’t go away. Instead they fester and come out in ways that can negatively affect performance and relationships with co-workers.

Unexpressed emotion can come out a number of ways. Instead of openly discussing the feelings of hurt or anger, the person wants to “get even”, or put the other down, or even yell at them. It is important to deal with emotions directly and constructively. Responding to anger with anger will not produce a positive result. We need to learn how to express our feelings. We do this first by approaching the conflict partner, and clearly describing the specific situation where the behavior occurred. By recounting this situation, you want to describe the behavior, not attack the other party. Lastly, you want to share with them the impact this behavior had on you. This is all communicated in a non-defensive way. This allows the other party to understand the impact this behavior had on your internal feelings and emotions. When you meet head-on with strong emotion and feel off balance, try taking a “time out” to let yourself cool down before talking further.

Learning how to express emotions in the workplace and become “the bigger person” takes practice and confidence. The rewards may just surprise you as you learn that, when done right, expressing of workplace emotions isn’t as scary as you thought.