If, like me, you watched in horror, as the events unfolded in Manchester last Monday, you may have felt an incredible sense of sadness and fear for the future. I was stood in a hotel lobby in Cyprus, surrounded by other people, watching the aftermath on the news. There were many different people there. People from all over the world. But right there, at that moment, we had one thing in common. Human beings, united in our horror and disbelief.
I happened to glance around me and watched with interest how people were reacting to it. Some were wiping away a tear, some pretending to cough to mask their emotion, and some noticeably pulling their children a little closer.
It made me think about how we handle really difficult situations, and specifically how we manage our emotions. Showing emotion in front of others, especially at work is almost always seen as a failing. Is it really such a bad thing to show it, reveal your true self? Not in my book.
Its genuine, its honest, and its human. Everyone in that lobby felt it regardless of where they were from, and showing emotion seemed to help a little, probably because tears release endorphins that make us feel better.
So if we know it helps, why is there still a big stigma around it? Showing emotion at work is often associated with a loss of control, especially when we show anger. When men show anger it’s perceived as asserting their authority. When a woman shows anger she is just plain crazy! I’m firmly in the camp of showing your true self is a justifiable response, not a character flaw.
A recent US survey found that 43% of women (compared to 32% of men) consider people who cry at work “unstable”. We are our own worst enemies!! If this is true it seems to suggest that we should try to hide our emotion, especially in front of other women. According to Dr Sandi Mann, senior lecturer in occupational psychology at the University of Lancashire,
“The effort it takes to fake or hide emotions can be compared to physical labour and it causes huge mental stress – it can make you lose your sense of identity, as if your employer ‘owns’ your emotions.”
So what the heck to do?
A big dose of emotional intelligence – that’s the answer! EI is the ability to understand our feelings and how they affect our behaviour. Being able to spot our emotional triggers, before and when they are hit, and controlling our response to them. It’s emotionally intelligent to understand how our behaviour impacts those around us, either positively or negatively and make a choice to continue or change. Our behaviour is like a window in to our thoughts so people are bound to interpret and judge us on it. We create our own work persona and reputation thorough it. I had a manager once who upon seeing me, would scurry past with her head down, pretending she hadn’t. My opinion of her? You don’t want to know. My point is our behaviour says a lot without saying a word but unless we take time to understand it we’ll never truly know what impact we have on others. So it’s critical not to ignore it. Once we understand it we can make a choice whether to continue behaving in that way or change it.
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