The etiquette of emotions in the workplace

Humans are a series of emotions, and habits. Our emotions can drive our commitment to well-serving habits and our habits can either quell, or enhance our emotional states in reaction, or response, to people and situations. What happens when emotions are presented at the office, on Zoom/Teams, or with clients, and colleagues in a way that creates discomfort? Can anything be done or do we simply wait and hope for it to pass?

The answer is yes, you can do something and there are approaches that can be emotionally intelligent, kind and considerate. Much of these actions take place far before an incident and others are for in the moment:

• Instead of creating an environment of emotionally-based questions, or requests, such as “Do me a favor and get this report to me by noon tomorrow” or “Don’t get mad at me but … I need you to get the data regarding the XYZ widgets by noon tomorrow,” ensure your language is focused on work and appropriate in requests for the role, and responsibilities, someone has. State requests such as “Because you are responsible for the data regarding the XYZ widgets, please share the ROI on the sales for 2022 by noon tomorrow” and “Respecting you have a lot on your plate, is it realistic to expect the data regarding the XYZ widgets by noon tomorrow?”

When someone says something like “I don’t think ‘so-and-so’ likes me” or “I think ‘so-and-so’ has it in for me,” reply not with “Why is that?” which can start innocently and then end in gossip and positioning; instead, shut down that language while being open to ensuring a safe workplace by stating “While ours is not a culture about liking and not liking, having it in for someone or blame, what specifically has happened that makes you feel uncomfortable with ‘this person’ when working together?” The difference is subtle, and yet you are not allowing it to subtly be acceptable that there can be people “out for others.”

• Should someone say, “I feel like you don’t trust me” or “You dismiss me all the time,” or “You never let me finish an idea in the meeting,” rather than get defensive or tell the person, “That’s not true” or “I don’t do that” or “You’re too sensitive” or “Calm down,” say sincerely, “You have the right to feel that way. Please walk me through the last time this happened, for clarity, and get us back connected positively and productively” or “Please forgive me for not being aware of that, I am open to hearing what you experienced.” Then, listen and strive to relate with empathy rather than react with heightened energy. You want to avoid arguing or countering emotions. People’s emotions are not right or wrong they are theirs, and working through them to an outcome and agreement is best.

• If you have gossip and bickering in the workplace, shut the action, and activity, down without shutting people up. Share that your workplace, organization, team or group is not only a safe place, but also a space for support and collaboration and that there is no room for gossip. Share that if there is something factual to address, you will listen and the situation will be worked through by those involved directly. You are there to be supportive and to moderate, if need be, and such engagement is to happen long before others are involved or told what has been occurring. This will garner openness and respect to keep alliances and cliques from forming. 

Ultimately, you want and you likely want your team members, to feel and engage rather than get emotional and blame.

Know that we are emotional beings. Let people have habits, and emotions, and at the same time, let’s get in the habit of emotions being part of our experiences and not part of emotionally driven taking of sides, or dragging down culture, in the workplace. ♦

Debbie Lundberg is the founder and CEO of the Florida-based firm, Presenting Powerfully. She is a 12-time published author, certified virtual presenter, certified life coach, certified leadership coach and certified image consultant. She co-hosts the Business of Life Master Class podcast. Her book, Remote Work Rockstar, has become a guide for working and leading virtually.

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