Contrary to popular belief, emotions are good; it’s just how you handle them.
Emotions are part of our lives as human beings, and they play a role even at our work places. When the going gets tough, the truth is, the tough doesn’t get going; instead, the norm is to break down and have emotional outbursts – be it tears, anger or frustration. The ideal of a non-emotional workplace becomes unrealistic when expectations are high and resources remain low.
Although it is perceived as vital to put emotions aside at work, Anne Kreamer, the author of the book It’s Always Personal says an emotion-free workplace is not healthy for businesses. Even so, what is acceptable behaviour and what is considered as being too emotional? This matter seems to be more of an issue for women, with stereotypes about them being more emotional as compared with men resulting in them being called “weak” and “unprofessional” individuals at work. How true is that stereotype and is being emotional a bad habit to cultivate after all?
Big Girls Do Cry
As much as emotions are part of being human, they are predominantly a woman’s affliction. Women have been stereotypically defined as emotional creatures because in popular understanding, women are portrayed as being more “emotionally unstable”, perceived to be often going into fits of anger, sadness, despair or jealousy more frequently than men. Women have been blamed for being “unreasonably moody” or “exceptionally emotional during the time of the month” and as a result, often sidelined for promotions. This is proven by Today’s Workplace which indicates that “women still hold a very small percentage of top-level professional positions” due to this gender stereotype.
It is undeniable that women have the tendency to be more emotional than men and it is also true that some women do end up in a sudden outpour of emotions which may be due to dissatisfaction at work, frustration with clients, envy of colleagues and other domestic issues. Women overreact easily to issues as they take them very personally compared with men who will leave their feelings aside, especially when it comes to work. Also, women get more emotional and cry nearly four times as often as men because they are simply wired differently.
Scientifically, Kreamer adds that women have six times the amount of prolactin (the hormone which controls tears) than men. In addition, women tend to be more emotional because we live in a society that favours women that are nurturers and feelers whereas men are expected to be thinkers and doers. Having said that, it does not mean that men are not emotional; they just tend to channel their emotions to anger instead of sadness.
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Emotions Are Good
As much as society dictates that people should put on a mask at work, having emotions at work is not necessarily a setback. Dan Hill, author of Emotionomics: Leveraging Emotions For Business Success said that “emotions are signals that something meaningful is happening. To ban them from the workplace is just Orwellian (which also means destructive to the welfare of a free and open society).” The trick is really to understand our emotions and to harness and manage them appropriately.
Learning to differentiate between emotion, fact and professionalism will create strength in the workplace. Emotions from women can be seen as negative only when emotional situations are not handled properly. It’s not about hiding our emotions but being careful so as not to be completely emotionless. Being cold is an attribute that will bring about negative consequences as women are expected to be caring, sensitive and empathetic.
Transforming Emotions to Emotional Intelligence
Women are emotional beings but that is also an added advantage in the workplace if the emotions are well-managed.
Despite the daunting stereotypes of emotions as weaknesses in the workplace, emotions can be turned into emotional intelligence, which is crucial for business success. For instance, women are quick to react to emotions and that means they have to ability to detect their clients’ and colleagues’ unhappiness very quickly and take remedial steps to save the day. Also, when it comes to trusting and respecting professional relationships, women tend to be the ones sent for building networks as they are generally people-oriented compared with men who may be more task-driven.
Being compassionate and having empathy also enable women to deal with people better, hence the reason why there are more women in the Human Resources and Customer Relationships departments. As much as women are stereotyped as emotional creatures, they are also relationship builders and this is certainly a positive trait because in the workplace, relationships play a vital role in getting the work done. The attributes of women being more caring and sensitive become the edge to winning people over – it’s not all about logic for women, it’s about touching people’s hearts before the minds.
Therefore, we can discard the notion that all emotions are disruptive and illogical and should be removed from the workplace. Having said that, it’s important that women comprehend emotions to avoid being viewed as fluffy, irrational, illogical and unreasonable. For example, since women tend to get personal with situations at work, a better way for them to mitigate the problem is to avoid thinking too much about the issue or dwell on their feelings. Instead, they should ask questions to regain in control of the situation – “What do I need to do about this?” and, “What is more important?” Focusing on both the short-term advantage and the long-term outcome will be a better solution. In reality, every decision made is affected by feelings.
This is also a good thing because with emotion comes passion. With confidence there is success, and having pride in the work will bring about accomplishments. The only issue which women often get into trouble with is when they become unsure about how to handle emotional situations because tears, uncontrolled anger or emotions at work will eventually be a disadvantage for women in their career. Women, as emotional beings, do shed the occasional tears. This is simply because women are known to be caring and gentle compared with men who may be given more leeway to anger and outburst at work.
Hence, women should learn to understand that emotions that can be perceived as vulnerability and weakness should be saved for private occasions. Instead of exhibiting a meltdown at work, a better way would be to step away and take a breather before getting back to the issue. Imagine women and men having a “depression tank” but the women invariably having a smaller tank compared with the men. With every challenge, the tank slowly fills up until it is time to cry it all out. Once that is done, they are ready to do it all over again.
So having a “macho and robotic work culture” is not encouraged for long-term business success. It is important that emotions are implicitly translated into good feelings and there is a need to practise positive emotions which will be conducive to the organisational. When emotional intelligence is practised, it will bring about rapid career growth as it is a precursor of success in the workplace and, in our lives. So, in conclusion, emotions shouldn’t be shunned but seen as an advantage. It’s all about knowing how to use them.