You’re in a conversation with your work colleagues or with your partner or children. How conscious are you of what you are feeling – or what you are sensing in your body? Is that awareness likely to make any difference to the conversation? Well… it turns out it will, but before we explore that let’s look at some common beliefs about expressing feelings – in the workplace and beyond.
Common beliefs about engaging with feelings in conversation
When I was growing up, my “head” (my thinking brain) was my safe place. It was where I escaped – where I experienced peace (mostly) and where I succeeded. It didn’t always feel safe to feel – let alone express the feelings.
While I was never explicitly trained to not feel or to not express feelings as a young health professional, I somehow absorbed the belief that connecting with feelings when working with individuals and families in crisis would not support my engagement with clients. While I felt some kind of compassion, I took this emotional “shut down” into my work. I withheld rather than engaged my heart.
I also encountered that other fear that many people face at work: fear of not being taken seriously or being labelled as “having a problem” if they show (or refer to) their feelings. We all know stories of both men and women who “steel” themselves against emotion … to succeed in a world where expressing feelings for so long has been a sign of weakness. Fortunately (and with much thanks to recent neuroscience research) the tide is turning and we are learning how important feelings and self-connection are to our connection and co-creation with others.
Feelings as a gateway to discovering what we need
One of my favourite parts of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication1 is this: When we identify what we are feeling we can more easily connect with what really matters to us, i.e. what we need, or are longing for. Here’s an example of how this works: Something happens and I realise I’m feeling uneasy. As I experience this unease I begin to see that I’d love some support, or maybe I’m needing information, or clarification. If I’m connected to my feeling of delight, perhaps it’s that my needs for connection have been met – for connection or contribution or …
What happens when we’re not connected to our feelings and needs?
When I’m not pausing to connect to what I’m feeling and needing, it’s likely that I “stay in my head”. I analyse, creating stories of how I believe the world to be – the “movies of the mind” as Judith E. Glaser2 describes them. Here’s a few examples: “S/he’s so ignorant!”; “They never listen!”; “I’m useless!”, “I failed again!”. Three things easily follow from this. Firstly, I fail to connect with myself and what matters to me. Secondly, I fail to connect with others (and they react with resistance or distance), and thirdly, the more I tell myself the stories, the more stress grows in my body with resulting compromises to my health and well-being.
It’s time to welcome all our intelligence into the work environment
Our feelings and sensations are an important source of information as we go about our daily work. We leave them at the gate at our peril. I often find clients saying: “Yes, but I will be overwhelmed if we are all talking about our feelings when we need to get work done”. Sometimes this fear is a fear of one’s own intense emotions.
I am not advocating that work become a therapy group or that we routinely share our most intense emotions at work. There are times to find outside supports to work through such intensity.
I am advocating compassionate inner connection to a large part of our intelligence (our feelings) so that we can better create enough connection with our work colleagues to get work done in a way that builds trust and supports creativity, innovation and completion of projects.
If you would enjoy exploring more about how to be emotionally connected while getting work done, contact me for a complimentary exploratory conversation.
1. Marshall B. Rosenberg. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. 3rd Ed. PuddleDancer Press. CA. 2015
2. Judith E. Glaser. Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Bibliomotion. MA. 2014.