Behrman House Blog

Just Tell Me How You Feel


“We value full and straightforward communication and clear-eyed assessments, including delivering good news and bad whenever it is important.”

That’s one of our core values here at Behrman House.

It’s not always easy. I was intrigued by this article stating that the conventional wisdom about business leadership encourages people to suppress their emotions. “Suppressing our emotions is a dangerous game because it’s an illusion. We think the emotion isn’t there anymore, but it’s just gone into hiding. And now, forced to hide, it becomes petulant. If we don’t admit our feelings — at least to ourselves — they will seep out in unproductive, dysfunctional and hurtful ways.”

Here are 3 key factors I have found helpful in dealing with emotions at work or in any other interaction:

1. Recognize the emotion. Is it anger, hurt, defensiveness, intimidation, exultation? The emotion will often reveal itself in a physical reaction (a flushed feeling, a knot in your stomach, sweating, sitting forward in your chair).

2. Decide how you will react. Will you pause to collect yourself? Take a deep breath? Excuse yourself from the room for a moment? Remember only you can determine how you will act next. You control the direction the interaction will go.

3. Express yourself. Quietly and calmly tell your colleague(s) how you are feeling. You will feel the tension reduce (for all parties) and you will help establish empathy and rapport.

I saw this happen in a Leadership Group meeting here at Behrman House last week. The particular subject (it had to do with staff management) got me agitated. It came time for my opinion. First I got up to open the window. I told the group how I was feeling (rising anger, starting to sweat). I explained that the subject felt personal for me and I described an incident that led to my reaction. I saw my colleagues’ faces open up; they were ready to listen. Afterwards, one of them came to me and thanked me for the full and straightforward communication.

Says Sigal Barsade, a Wharton management professor who studies the influence of emotions on the workplace: “Everybody brings their emotions to work. You bring your brain to work. You bring your emotions to work. Feelings drive performance.”

What emotions do your staff bring to the workplace? How do you address them? Let me know and I’ll share responses (anonymously!) with others.

A lesson for us all: Just tell me how you feel. It is, I think, a sign of being a grown-up.

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[...] Success Is My Success January 17, 2011 7:41 am Terry Kaye Behrman House News I recently wrote about the value of full and straighforward communication (one of our core values here at Behrman [...]