The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

May 8, 2013

What Matters About Workplace Emotions

By Steve Motenko

Our podcast episode, Emotions in the Workplace, was released this week.

We’re not supposed to show emotions in the workplace.

Bullcrap, I say.

Emotions in the workplace imply neither strength nor weakness. Emotions in the workplace are a given.  Our feelings are intertwined with all our motivations, our dreams, our life satisfaction.  Ignore them or suppress them, and life becomes flat and inauthentic.

In the workplace, what matters is not what emotions we experience.  Specific emotions aren’t good or bad, right or wrong.  Showing tears doesn’t mean we’re weak (though it’s often interpreted that way), and showing anger doesn’t mean we’re strong (though it’s often interpreted that way).

Only two things matter about workplace emotions:  (1) What we can learn from them, and (2) How we deal with them.

Anger, fear, frustration, hurt — they all give us clues about what needs to change in our work experience, in our approach to our jobs, or in our relationships with co-workers.  If we interpret their messages wisely, and we manage our behavior effectively in the presence of strong emotion, we become more successful. This is what great leaders do.

Martin Luther King was driven into his life’s profound work by the powerful emotions that came up when he was forced to move to the back of the bus as a high schooler. He got angry; really angry.  What did he do with that anger?  He could have become a serial murderer.  Instead, he channeled it into behavior that made him an international hero.

I often counsel my coaching clients:  In dealing with your own or a co-worker’s emotional display, don’t address the emotion.  Address the motivation that underlies it.  Only then will you begin to resolve conflicts – both inner and outer.


About the Author

Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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