Something I see professionals struggle with every day is the concept of looking weak at work. It’s not something anyone wants to do. But like beauty, weakness is in the eye of the beholder.
Being “emotional” at work is assumed to be a sign of weakness. Sometimes so is asking for help. Yet, these are the very things we need to connect to others and grow at work (and if neither of those things are happening consistently for you right now, here’s some help).
Hiding your emotions at work is different than managing your emotions. When you hide your emotions, you hide ALL OF THEM. As an example:
They say you never hear anything good about yourself when you eavesdrop, and boy is that true.
If you’ve met me (or seen my video content), you’ll know I have a very expressive face (poker is not my game). But this conversation happened at a time when I was very unhappy at work and hiding it; it sends a really bad message when HR is unhappy at an organization, so I thought I was doing the right thing. But what I was really doing was making things worse by creating other unforeseen and negative consequences for me in my role. It felt like I just couldn’t catch a break.
So, what would managing my emotions (versus hiding them) have looked like?
The myth with emotions is this; if you let yourself go to the dark and scary place you’ll be trapped there feeling it forever. Not so. Thankfully emotions are not traps but weather. Like weather, emotions come and go; as long as you prepare for it, you won’t get soaked and it always changes.
If I’d let myself use my emotions as information, I would’ve had the grace to see my options, giving me relief in the short-term AND supporting my career desires in the long-term. I would’ve had a conversation with my boss about how I was feeling. Not a messy, overwhelming flood of expression that swamped them, but a considerate dialogue where my feelings and concerns could be stated, explored and understood by someone who was in a position to help me.
Which brings us to asking for help.
In my current work as a coach, I often hear how afraid professionals are to ask for help at work. Not just because it might make them look bad, but because they have reached an emotional point where they can’t trust themselves to have the conversation without a flood of emotion coming out unchecked. So, they don’t, and that circles them back to emotional hiding.
It's a vicious, vicious, cycle.
The move here is to have the conversation before you’re so emotional about something you can’t have the conversation. Seems obvious, right? Ever notice how obviousness is not especially helpful? I feel you. In most jobs we’re rewarded for doing work well, with expertise and little help. The message is you’re only successful if you can work independently.
This is actually a trap; one where you don’t build up your “ask it” muscle and so when you need it, it’s not there. It’s possible to be both independent in your work and a regular receiver of help.
Here's an exercise to strengthen your “ask it” muscle.
When you’re used to asking questions, and inviting the kind of dialog curiosity creates, it’s less intimidating to ask for help in other ways AND you’ve already set the expectation that you make requests (so this is less of a departure from your everyday way of working). With a well-developed “ask it” muscle, you’re more likely to ask for help before you get emotionally backed up. And if you’re deeply frustrated, using your emotions as information can help you discern who and how to ask for help.
It’s not a weakness to express what you’re thinking and feeling at work when done consciously (no hiding). It’s not a weakness to ask for help. If you’re worried about looking weak, be careful you’re not isolating yourself, creating the perfect conditions to oscillate between feeling too emotional to express yourself and not asking for help, sinking deeper into the fugue without being able to catch a break when you need it most.
Carleen helped push me to review my interactions with my peers, and like-minded leaders to be a more effective networker and champion for the cause behind which I now found myself leading."