Accepting It: Emotion in Work And Business

A Prerequisite To Our Existence

emotions in business

Learning how to tolerate our feelings and manage their fallout and the distractions they cause will help us run our businesses more smoothly and successfully. We may just find that our energy swells, enjoyment increases and that productivity and everything in between functions more fluidly. Including our relationships with clients and customers. Because emotion in work and business is unavoidable.

[Tweet “Emotions are with us wherever we go.”]

They’re at home and in the workplace, intertwined with daily operations, incorporated into our labor and relationships. And yet, it’s not unusual for us to be uncomfortable with our first and second hand experience of them. We try to ignore or hide them, stuff them into oblivion and control them.


At the same time we’re opportunistic and eager to capitalize on them in branding, marketing and advertising; to influence or even use them to manipulate. So we seem to understand how useful they can be. Especially when they benefit us. 

We tap into, express our own emotion to evoke emotion in others. Foster and encourage empathy. We find we can unite people, inspire them, lead them when we’re in touch. Create change, invent solutions, improve conditions, nurture and love. Build connection. Develop bonds and grow relationships.

And we still somehow pay our admission to the speedway of avoidance when they come too close.


So which is it? Do we hate them or do we revere them? Are we interested in learning more about our own emotions and the emotions of others? Or do we just tolerate them haphazardly because we don’t think we have a choice?

We implicitly and explicitly enforce restrictions and construct expectations on how we should communicate what we’re feeling (not confined to) but particularly in the work environment. We’ve designated right and wrong places and times for it. It’s one of those odd elephant in the room things- everyone has them, everyone knows that everyone does, but our level of awareness and our ability to integrate and express them in ways that accomplish our goal for being understood and understanding others is lacking.

This is due in part to a shortage of basic comprehension of just what it is that’s going on. We are bereft. Impoverished in our emotional intelligence and emotional agility, even simple cognitive management of our emotions. Often, in relation to work, these are unfamiliar experiences occurring with people we don’t know as well as family and friends at home. The borderlines between people are more defined.

There are times when we lack sophisticated and sometimes even basic skills for navigating these messy, intrusive sensations and the thoughts that conspire to travel with them. Unless they are the so-called “positive” emotions we generally just want them to stop. Go away. We don’t want to know what they are telling us.

Things Have Changed

Luckily, the situation isn’t static. Expression and awareness of our emotions have become more of an integral part of our daily language, taken more seriously, offering a more practical and mature level of sensitivity and knowledge. Workplace and business acceptance is more common as long as the reveal occurs within the boundaries of propriety.

[Tweet “Really, there’s no good reason to avoid this topic.”]

Nor, would I want to. Yet, even as someone who firmly believes in the inescapable reality that our feelings are actively present and integral in our every moment, affect the success and well-being of our personal lives, our business relations, the workplace, productivity and marketing, it can still be tough material when it’s happening to us.

Emotion is potent because of its breadth, power and its potential to be elusive, mercurial. Especially when difficult emotions take over and run the show.

[Tweet “Aren’t you curious? I am.”]

Even if you are not familiar with the phrase coined by Carl Jung, “That which we resist persists” you may have noticed that when you try to avoid your feelings they not only return but they accrue force and meaning. It may have occurred to you that in situations at work, where you feel less able to confront your own feelings in relation to others, unless resolved, uncomfortable emotions will surface repeatedly like they’re looped on rewind.

Our Emotions

Indisputable, they are naturally occurring physiological responses to stimulus. They are never not real. It’s our reactions and relationship to them; the feelings, the conscious awareness we have about the emotions and where we let them take us. The thoughts and feelings about our feelings that can either offer useful insights we can learn from or turn them into imaginary pranksters or ghouls, transform them into mistakes, get us into trouble.

It’s all in the way we choose to experience them. What we do with them once they occur and register in our conscious mind that becomes especially important to notice. 

Emotions & Feelings: Similar And Different

Feelings are best understood as a subjective representation of emotions, private to the individual experiencing them. 

  • Cognitive appraisal: provides an evaluation of events and objects
  • Bodily symptoms: the physiological component of emotional experience
  • Action tendencies: a motivational component for the preparation and direction of motor responses.
  • Expression: facial and vocal expression almost always accompanies an emotional state to communicate reaction and intention of actions
  • Feelings: the subjective experience of emotional state once it has occurred

Does It Make Sense?

Logical thinking is rational, measured and sequential. Our feelings may not stem from rational thought, but there is often an emotional logic in the reactions to situations we encounter. Realizing this can help us towards understanding that acknowledged, accepted and approached with compassion, they can teach us. Naming them helps.

The so-called “negative” feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, fear- all help us to see what’s percolating internally and in our interactions with others. If we counter our longing to back away from them or blame others we can see that there is valuable information there.

Intelligence and Agility

Emotional Intelligence

It was as early as 1985 that the term Emotional Intelligence was first introduced but it became popularly understood in the mainstream with the 1995 publication and best-selling status of Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ”.

Perceiving and naming our feelings goes a long way to normalizing them. It makes them less baffling, dramatic with a minimum of catastrophic. More tolerable and by doing that we give ourselves a little gift of validation and understanding. Then, our strengths for impulse control can develop. Our abilities to adapt to circumstances, tolerate the feelings of the people we work with, practice empathy and move forward productively with others comes with less struggle.

There are three models of emotional intelligence, Ability, Trait and Mixed, (or EQ as it’s often referred to). 

Emotional intelligence is evident and crucial in leadership as Daniel Goleman says,

“Great leadership works through the emotions.Even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.”

“While most people recognize that a leader’s mood—and how he or she impacts the mood of others—plays a significant role in any organization, emotions are often seen as too personal or unquantifiable to talk about in a meaningful way.”

“But research in the field of emotion has yielded keen insights into not only how to measure the impact of a leader’s emotions but also how the best leaders have found effective ways to understand and improve the way they handle their own and other people’s emotions.”

“Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the workplace sets the best leaders apart from the rest—not just in tangibles such as better business results and the retention of talent, but also in the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation, and commitment.”

The Agility Model developed by Solovey and Mayer includes 4 components defined as the individual’s ability to process emotional information and use it to navigate the social environment. (It has been criticized for not being practically applicable in the workplace, but I’m not sure I would agree.):

  1. Perceiving emotions
  2. Using emotions
  3. Understanding emotions
  4. Managing emotions

The Trait Model is based on an individuals self-perception of their emotional abilities.

“…encompasses behavioral dispositions and self perceived abilities and is measured through self report.”

“An alternative label for the same construct is trait emotional self-efficacy.

Goleman’s Mixed Model is a combination of both the Ability and Trait models and is variety of skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance. It is based on these 5 qualities or skills:

  1. Self-awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
  2. Self-regulation – involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
  3. Social skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction
  4. Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decision
  5. Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement.

“… Emotional competencies are not innate talents, but rather learned capabilities that must be worked on and can be developed to achieve outstanding performance. Goleman posits that individuals are born with a general emotional intelligence that determines their potential for learning emotional competencies.

Emotional Agility

 All healthy human beings have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings that include criticism, doubt, and fear. That’s just our minds doing the job they were designed to do: trying to anticipate and solve problems and avoid potential pitfalls.”

“…Effective leaders don’t buy into or try to suppress their inner experiences. Instead they approach them in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way—developing what we call emotional agility.” Susan David and Christina Congleton

Emotional agility is similar to mindfulness in that it doesn’t instruct us to change or fix anything. What the system seems to recognize is that if we don’t struggle against the force of our emotions we can acknowledge and gently observe them with curiosity. We often find, then, that our feelings have a way of calming enough on their own to allow for some breathing room, space and perspective. It gives us a chance to glean some gems of wisdom. Or simple acceptance.

The four practices adapted from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), originally developed by the University of Nevada psychologist Steven C. Hayes, outlined and described by Susan David and Christina Congleton help us to “unhook” (or getting “unstuck” if we were speaking to Pema Chodrin) from the challenges of difficult emotions, particularly in the workplace and the position of leadership.

  1. Recognize your patterns – notice when you’ve been hooked by your thoughts and feelings.
  2. Label your thoughts and emotions – uncrowd your mind to allow yourself to see them for what they are.
  3. Accept them – respond to with an attitude of acknowledgment, curiosity, openness and compassion
  4. Act on your values – focus on the concept of workability

Building Toward Emotional Fluency

Emotional intelligence, emotional agility and general emotional awareness alleviate stress and anxiety. They improve job performance, increase potential for innovative action and leadership.

Building our vocabulary and practicing awareness of our emotions and feelings makes them less threatening and overwhelming. That, in turn, helps us to avoid being reactive in tricky or difficult situations and with people we have challenges communicating clearly with. It also creates more compassion and empathy for ourselves and for others. It’s always an additive process even if not always a linear progression.

~ ~ ~ ~

Helpful Additional Resources from Ed Batista, an instructor and Leadership Coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in a piece called “Comfort With Discomfort“.

Cognitive appraisal: James Gross and Rebecca Ray at Stanford and Kevin Ochsner at Columbia looks at how our conscious thoughts have impact on our emotional experience.
Physiological modification: Also called self-soothing. Taking active steps to change our emotional state.
Response modification: Making conscious choices in how we express ourselves.
Affect labeling: Talking about our feelings (similar to the “naming” I mentioned above)
Meditation & mindfulness practicesThese need not be formal. Even a walk outdoors or journalling can help us to reflect. But a regular sitting meditation practice tends to yield the most benefit.
Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: Neuroscientists and psychiatrists are finding through research that consistent meditation causes changes in brain structures associated with emotion. You can look into the work of Richard Davidson of the University of Washington, and Jeffrey Schwartz and Daniel Siegel of UCLA to learn more. 


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    By: Gina Fiedel

    Gina Fiedel is the co-founder/owner of Fat Eyes Web Development. After a successful career as an artist and transitioning into electronic media in the early 90’s, she then founded Fat Eyes in 1998 to bring those skills to the web with her husband, Doug Anderson. Being engaged in business has created gratifying opportunities for communication and new inroads towards making a contribution that counts. You can learn more about Gina on the Fat Eyes Who Are We? page and Gina Fiedel Story.

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