Do Emotions Belong in the Workplace?

Do Emotions Belong in the Workplace?

If you’re like many leaders, your answer might be influenced by an incident.

Maybe you witnessed it – someone losing it – crying, raging or reacting in a regrettable manner. Even worse, maybe it was you who lost it. It may have been yesterday or 10 years ago, but it was enough to make you vow, consciously or not, to check your emotions at the door.

I hear you. I’ve got a few of those moments myself.

But what if, by locking away your emotions, you have also cut yourself off from one of the most powerful tools you have in your arsenal?


That’s what a client and I recently discussed in a session. Here’s a snippet of that conversation.

Client:   I let my emotions get the best of me.

Me: (picturing a blow-up):  What happened?

Client: I expect my reports to come to our meetings not just venting about what’s going on with their teams.  I want them to share how their mindsets might have contributed to the situation and ideas about what could have gone differently.

Instead, this manager just vented.  I was disappointed.

Me: So how did your emotions get the best of you?

Client: I shouldn’t feel disappointed or frustrated. 

Me: Because…

Client: It’s a distraction. 

Me: What if your emotions were a valuable source of information – what would they have told you?

Client: That I need to set better expectations. 


This client wasn’t the only client who has told me that they shouldn’t have let something get to them. Many of my clients have told me that emotions, particularly negative emotions like stress, anger, frustration, anxiety are a distraction.  They view them as potentially harmful to important relationships, unprofessional and for many, a personal failing. 

I hear them and I would argue that the opposite is true. 

When we suppress, repress, and negate our emotions, we are cutting off one of the most valuable sources of intelligence available to us – our emotional intelligence. 


Emotions are like a language, one that few of us are very fluent in.  When we learn to tap into our emotions, we can begin to use them to better our presence, our relationships, our influence, and our well-being. 

Here’s How to Start:

1. Emotions tell us what to pay attention to. We are ALL emotional beings. No matter how logical or intellectual we consider ourselves to be, our emotions are like a filter that focuses our attention.

Feelings are the original motivators…Feelings tell us what to think about, and then after all the thinking is done, they tell us what to do.   Over the history of our evolutionary lineage, thinking has played a larger and larger role in action, but the thinking has always had both its beginning and its end in feelings.” 

Robert Wright, Why Buddhism is True

2. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is more than just being people smart. It means being aware of our emotions, as well as the emotions of other and then taking right action.

“Of all the people we’ve studied at work, we’ve found that 90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence. On the flip side, just 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence.

Dr. Travis Bradberry and Dr. Jean Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0

“Without understanding how our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and each other.  When we don’t understand how our emotions shape our thoughts and decisions, we become disembodied from our own experiences and disconnected from each other.”

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly 


3. Understand the difference between feeling emotions and being emotional. When we are emotional, we feel something and then automatically react to it.

Someone isn’t listening in a meeting and says something that we believe is off topic. We feel frustration, so we snap and say something we regret later. Being emotional or reactive, in this way, is counter-productive and not helpful.


4. Pay attention to what your emotions are telling you. Become more fluent in your emotional vocabulary. Most people struggle to name what they’re feeling. They become stuck on ‘good, fine, happy, sad, angry.’ The more nuanced we can be in naming what we feel, the more we can glean valuable information from it.

  • What is it that you’re feeling?  

  • Who or what is causing the emotion?  

  • What is a wise response?  

When we pay attention to the emotion, we begin to understand more of what is actually happening. For example, you are frustrated by one of your reports who didn’t get something to you when they promised it.  As you explore your anger, you notice that, beneath it, there is anxiety about the upcoming deadline and a fear that this person isn’t taking it seriously.  Rather than reacting or just stewing on your anger and anxiety, the wise response night be to choose to talk to them later about your impression.  

Coming back to the conversation with my client.  At the end of it, she said, “Maybe it’s ok to feel bad.”

Perfectly put.

For more information, check out these resources:

Link to Feelings Wheel

Oren Jay Sofer Emotions series on 10 Percent Happier App

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

Starla Sireno specializes in Executive Leadership Coaching in NYC. She has helped develop leaders in some of the most recognized organizations ranging from Fortune 500 to fast-growth technology companies. Starla has partnered with more than 500 leaders in over 60 organizations around the world. Inquire how you can work with Starla or her team.

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