“Ok, let’s finish with a ‘one word check-out’. How are you feeling? ” It’s the end of a two-day workshop for a client and we are all standing in a circle. “I am feeling really good. That was a good session,” somebody says. “What do you mean by ‘good’ exactly? Could you try to be more specific?” I was digging deeper. “Well, I feel like we achieved a lot.” “And what emotion are you feeling that goes along with this sense of having ‘achieved a lot’?” I gave it a third try. He became somewhat impatient, “Well, it just feels nice. What do you want me to say exactly?” Another participant joined in, “I agree that we achieved a lot. I’m feeling really content and satisfied.” There we are, these are emotions.
Does this sound familiar to you? This is a very common experience I have when working with clients — they are having a hard time verbalising their emotions. I mean many of them don’t even want to broach the subject of emotions.
The attitude that emotions don’t play a role in the workplace is still widespread. Many believe it’s not professional to get emotional.
In my eyes, such statements are not helpful. We are emotional beings. Our emotions are present, whether we want it to be the case or not.
You can either suppress them, or listen to what they have to say as they are an important source of information when making decisions.
If you listen to them, they come offering their wisdom before going away again without any major uproar. If you try to suppress them they tend to return through the backdoor, taking control over us in one way or the other in order that their message gets heard.
We bottle up our emotions, make ourselves numb to them before finally losing access completely. People who go down this path are mistakenly recognised for their professionalism and it’s presumed they have everything under control. Another possibility is that those who attempt to suppress their emotions manage to do so for a while but, at seemingly random moments, they overreact and take their mood out on others. Either way, people often don’t channel their emotions healthily.
What’s more, in both instances you forego an opportunity to be empowered by your emotions and make better decisions.
I recently led a guided visualisation with a young team of leaders in order to connect them with their emotions. I asked them to visualise moments during the week we spent together in which they felt a particular emotion (joy, sadness, fear, contentment, anger, etc.), and sense where exactly in their bodies they were feeling said emotion. When we debriefed the exercise, all of them fed back that they had difficulties relating to the exercise as the only emotion they felt this week was ‘joy’. Wow! I hadn’t exactly expected that reply when I came to look at myself and all of the different emotions that ran through me in on any given day of that week.
From what I observed in their behaviour there were a couple of other emotions at play throughout the week, they just weren’t aware of it.
I wasn’t really surprised, though — their experience sounded very familiar to me.
A couple of years ago a client wanted to his leadership community to ‘emotional intelligence’. This gave me the opportunity to dive deeper into the theme and I even got myself a certificate of facilitation to be able to debrief properly and work with my clients on their progress. The first thing I had to do was conduct an emotional intelligence test on myself. It showed me how I was handling my own emotions at that point and the test results came somewhat unexpectedly.
There was quite a bit of room for improvement when it came to one of the fundamental skills; namely, noticing my emotions and naming them.
So here you go. I was exactly in the position of many of my current clients, including those I described above. There were some emotions which I suppressed and, as such, I literally hadn’t noticed them. Some I did notice but I couldn’t really read them properly let alone give them a name. After the initial shock, I must admit that the results of the test really resonated with me.
I decided to take it as an opportunity to grow and work on it. I mean, I wanted to work with my clients on this after all so I’d better know what I am talking about.
One exercise I started with was extremely powerful. I got a list of vocabulary to do with emotions and carried it with me wherever I went. I took a short ‘time out’ at a couple of points each day, closed my eyes and sensed into myself. What did I feel? Where did I feel it? At the beginning I didn’t have very much to say, then I took out my list of words to do with emotions and went through them until I found the one which literally felt appropriate for that situation. I did this for quite a while and after a some time it almost became habit.
My emotional vocabulary has expanded enormously ever since, yet I still use the list on a regular basis. I realised that the larger my emotional vocabulary is the better my decisions become.
Seeing emotions as useful data that helps in the making of decisions is where many clients become somewhat clairaudient. Quite often this has been the entry point to a very fruitful discussion and some first steps of exploration around emotions.
I always have the emotional vocabulary list available when working with clients and, when the situation allows for it, I introduce it to them and give them the same homework I started off with.
What is your experience with emotions at work? Share with me on Facebook or Linkedin, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you.
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