Feelings. Emotions. Being touchy-feely. Being sensitive. Having feelings… and dealing with feelings can be a little woo-woo, a bit Californian hippy, can’t it?
It’s commonplace in business for the expression of feelings to be deemed unprofessional. Even in agencies, having feelings is often discouraged (hmmm… possibly excluding the Christmas party).
But, the reality is that expressing feelings makes commercial sense (even in agencies).
Here’s one stat: Daniel Goleman in ‘The New leaders’ says that: “… our analyses suggest that, overall, the climate – how people feel about working at a company can account for 20% to 30% of business performance. Getting the best out of people pays off in hard results.”
Employees that feel positive make you more money. So help them feel positive.
THE STATUS QUO (IN SOME ORGANISATIONS)
Let’s go back a step.
Where feelings are considered irrelevant, unhelpful even destructive to share, often the goal here is to avoid talking about feelings. (Or indeed, my feelings are theirfault and by golly they need to hear about them! But let’s save that for another blog.)
So, we try to frame feelings out of the problem. But the feelings are still there underneath the surface and so potential negative damage could be being done.
Regardless, feelings can still leak out into the conversation anyway through body posture or facial expressions, impatience or sarcasm. Or even burst out in ways that are embarrassing or destructive! This negativity can impact employee morale, staff retention, and cost the business a lot of time and money. Yikes!!
Any of this sound familiar?
To make matters worse… unexpressed feelings make it hard for us to listen to others because we’re focused on ourselves. We’re not being open and curious about the other person. So it’s difficult to absorb new information that might be helpful in understanding them. Ultimately it limits our ability to create, innovate and change.
The simple reality is that unacknowledged feelings are going to have a negative effect on communication and relationships and thus impact the business.
So, what I propose is reframing how you think about feelings.
You see, feelings are often at the heart of the situation, especially difficult conversations. They’re often at the centre of what’s wrong. (If you think about a previous challenging situation in the workplace, you’ll probably agree.)
Be curious about your feelings and also the other person’s feelings… what’s underneath them, what’s driving them? The goal here is to address feelings (yours and theirs) without judgements or attributions and thus increase positivity.
As a leader, you want to get those feelings out. Not suppress them.
EIGHT STEPS TO SKILFULLY MANAGE FEELINGS*
- ACCEPT THAT FEELINGS ARE NORMAL AND NATURAL. The feelings themselves just are. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them. It’s how you handle them that’s important.
- RECOGNISE THAT GOOD PEOPLE CAN HAVE BAD FEELINGS. There will be times when we feel irritated, resentful or ashamed. Everyone feels angry or wants to cry sometimes.
- LEARN THAT YOUR FEELINGS ARE AS IMPORTANT AS THEIR FEELINGS. Some people have learned along the way that others’ feelings are more important than their own feelings. The implicit rule they’re following is that one should put other peoples’ happiness before their own happiness. The thing is they’re teaching others to ignore their own feelings.
- FEELINGS ARE COMPLEX. Find the bundle of feelings behind the simple labels. For instance, you could feel liked, respected and cared-for by a supporting colleague – yet at the same time feel frustrated, angry and embarrassed for them getting involved in something that’s beyond their remit. Consider what might be your bundle of feelings on the situation?
- NEGOTIATE WITH YOUR FEELINGS. You do this by examining your story. What might be missing from our story? What might be the other person’s story? What are our intentions, really? How might you have contributed to the situation? Get curious.
- ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FEELINGS FIIRST. They might find it too challenging to listen to you properly without their feelings being acknowledged. So, ask the other person to express their feelings, what’s going on for them? Then acknowledge their feelings without judgement, for example: “Wow, I never knew you felt that way.” Or “It sounds like this is really important to you.” The purpose is to let the other person know that they have been heard, that what they have said is important and has made an impression on you. They will help them feel more positive.
- NEXT EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS. Calmly and carefully express the full spectrum of your feelings so the other person knows what’s going on for you. Do not vent. Again, this will help increase positivity.
- ONLY THEN START PROBLEM-SOLVING. Now that peoples’ feelings have been recognised, people are more positive and able to fully access their internal reasoning and creative resources. Essentially, only then can you get the most out of your people. Only then can they be more positive and more productive. Happy days.
*With massive thanks to a fantastic book called ‘Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most’ by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen.
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