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Embracing Emotions at Work

30 April 2019

Janie read No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy and was excited to read a book with so much excellent practical advice about how to be selectively vulnerable and show emotion in a healthy way at work.   

Tags: communication, janie read, the next big idea club

No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy (or, as they introduce themselves, Liz and Mollie) was one of our Spring Next Big Idea Club book selections. Right away, I could tell that this book might be different than many ‘typical’ business books; it is filled with clever sketches and humorous illustrations to help the authors expand on the points they are trying to make. These illustrations bring levity and insight to the often squishy and difficult topic of emotions at work. (They also made me laugh out loud several times while I was reading. I don’t know about you, but I always find a book sticks with me more when the stories make me laugh.)

No Hard Feelings is filled with useful advice about how to be “reasonably emotional,” which means matching how you communicate your feelings to a certain situation. Liz and Mollie call this “emotional fluency.” They share that “effectively processing what you feel gives you the power to do more than bring your whole self to work: it enables you to bring your best self to work. By ‘best self’ we don’t mean ‘perfect self.’ Your best self might still become hotheaded… but your best self knows which of these feelings contain important signals and which are just noise. Your best self knows how to learn from and talk about these emotions without becoming emotional.”

I don’t know about you, but this description got my attention right away. I think we all strive to be our best selves every day and some days we are more successful at this than others. (I know that’s true for me!) Liz and Mollie share seven rules for handing emotion at work:

  • Be less passionate about your job
  • Inspire yourself
  • Emotion is part of the equation
  • Psychological safety first
  • Your feelings aren’t facts
  • Emotional culture cascades from you
  • Be selectively vulnerable

They devote a chapter to each of these “rules” and share practical advice and examples (including their hilarious illustrations) to explain why each of these new rules is so important if we want to be our best authentic selves each day. My favorite chapter was about their rule “your feelings aren’t facts.” At first when I read this rule, I had a bit of a negative reaction to it. I am someone who has spent a lot of time in my life and my career trying to distance myself from how something makes me “feel” so I can move forward. I have been accused of being “too sensitive” by colleagues and by friends and family and I have worked to try to identify the difference between my hurt feelings and real feedback that I need to improve. Liz and Mollie address this conflict that I think many of us feel beautifully. “Effective communication depends on our ability to talk about emotions without getting emotional. We often react to one another based on assumptions we never bother to look at more carefully. But the words people say are not always what they mean.” Liz and Mollie encourage us to have the difficult conversations, but to wait until we can do the following before sitting down with the other person.

  1. Label your feelings (“I’m hurt”)
  2. Understand where those feelings are coming from. (“I’m hurt I wasn’t included on the email about Evan’s birthday celebration.”)
  3. Feel calm enough to hear the other person out. A good rule of thumb is, if you think you have all the facts (“You didn’t CC me because you hate me”), you’re not ready to have a difficult conversation.

I found these three steps to be extremely helpful. Liz and Mollie also share several examples to help illustrate what they mean by “feelings aren’t facts.” One of my favorites was a personal example from Liz. She shared that she once had a coworker who spoke very slowly whenever he was answering one of her questions. She found this very condescending and finally forced herself to calmly ask him why he did this. She found out that he spoke slowly because he was afraid to sound dumb in front of her! I thought this was an incredible example of how we can do ourselves a disservice when we rely too much on our feelings.

Liz and Mollie shared a quote from philosopher Alain de Botton that I found very powerful, “Every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us. And we will (without any malice) do the same to them.” We are all going to get frustrated with each other from time to time, but if we can talk about what we are feeling productively, difficult conversations can be the catalyst that move our relationships forward instead of holding us back. I know that I will be referencing this book over and over again as I continue to work on my “emotional fluency.”   


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