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Most of us view expressing our feelings at work as a gross no-no. But that comes with a cost – and other options may be preferable.

In How We Work, Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Leah Weiss says we equate professionalism and leadership with emotional suppression, but it actually is the No. 1 barrier between us and our purpose. “Thinking the feelings themselves are the problem, we try to get rid of them or ignore them altogether, not realizing how much of our mental resources are burned up in the effort. And the effort is a fruitless one. We think that stuffing our feelings down is the best and only way to get by at work, but when we do that, we block the pathways to a vital source of information: our emotions,” she writes.

So emotions can be good and bad, and we need to handle them properly.

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Using an analogy from her yoga instructor, Ms. Weiss suggests that each of us is a balloon, and when we suppress our emotions on one side, they are going to stick out somewhere else. Suppression also saps our energy and is bad for our health. It damages relationships because it makes us seem inauthentic, turning every conversation into a minefield as we edit ourselves, and keeping us from relating to other people’s ups and downs as we don’t share our own. As we tamp down negative emotions, we tend to lose access to positive ones like joy, warmth, affection and connection to others. Finally, fighting against our feelings only makes them stronger.

Ms. Weiss notes that much of our behaviour is driven by our emotions or our reactions to our emotions, even if it doesn’t feel that way. She highlights “the ladder of inference,” the process by which we jump from observation of data to interpretation of that data. When this happens, it’s important to be aware of what is driving our conclusions, emotions and actions. While our emotions happen in response to situations, she stresses that the situations don’t create our emotional responses.

“Once we recognize that we are climbing the ladder of inference, we can descend back to less subjective information. For example, when a co-worker says something that upsets us, we can ask a question that will help us parse what that person’s motivation was,” Ms. Weiss says.

Instead of suppressing emotions, therefore, we need to be mindful of them and regulate them. Here are some options:

  • Reframe and reappraise: Mindfulness teaches us that you can reinterpret situations in a healthier way. Ms. Weiss gives as an example when your boss doesn’t give you the information to accomplish an assigned task. You can stomp around, complaining angrily, or you can approach him calmly and gain the desired info.
  • Accept: You can recognize, name and understand your emotions. For this, she says it helps to know how you are tuned – what your triggers are. She shares the three-step ACT system of emotional regulation: accept your reactions and be present; choose a valued direction; and take action. With ACT comes defusion, learning that our feelings are not factual truths carved in stone but sensations and reactions that will pass. “Feelings aren’t facts” is a common saying for AA practitioners.
  • Get moving: Find a physical action that helps to transition out of an emotional state, such as walking meditation or applying that technique of focused attention on workouts with repetitive motion, such as running, cycling or rowing.

So, don’t suppress your emotions at work. And don’t ignore them. Take note, and regulate them more effectively – like the professional you are.

How anger can help you stand up for what’s right

In a similar vein, the Notre Dame Center for Ethical Leadership says the right type of anger at work can help give you the courage to stand up and speak out about what is right, while the wrong type of anger can harm you and the organization.

Anger leads us to act – sometimes in bad ways, but other times in beneficial ways. That’s why psychologist Jonathan Haidt has called anger the “most underappreciated moral emotion.”

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The Notre Dame article points to a research study in which participants thought they witnessed somebody steal a cell phone. Only one fourth of the participants took action to stop the thief. It turned out the activists were the ones who reported afterwards that they had been angry about the theft, and who in videotapes of the experiment showed visible signs of anger. The stronger their feelings, the more decisive their actions.

“But anger also has a fundamental problem: it is unreliable,” the article continues. “Studies show that moral anger is difficult to predict. We believe we will be angry if we witness injustice. But when we actually face an injustice, we often don’t feel the strong feelings we predicted.”

When we feel anger at injustice, it may not be for the right reasons. Most of our anger may come from being personally affected or from sympathizing with somebody we care about, rather than the moral violation itself.

Here are some tips for spotting moral anger and keeping it focused on the right things:

  • Recognize your anger and identify the source: Naming the emotion we are feeling reduces our sense of distress and allows us to begin to regulate the emotion.
  • Moral anger leads to moral action: You want moral anger, since it helps to overcome fear and act instead of being silent.
  • Moral anger leads to moral action: You want moral anger, as it helps to overcome fear and act instead of being silent.

Don’t be afraid of anger. Get angry for the right reasons at the right time.

The greatest ideas conceived in sleep

Asked to determine which were the greatest ideas conceived in sleep, respondents to a survey of nearly 4,500 people in the U.S. and Britain gave the following ranking to a list supplied by the Calm meditation and sleep story app:

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  1. Einstein’s theory of relativity, 23 per cent
  2. The periodic table of chemical elements, 13 per cent
  3. The invention of the sewing machine, 10 per cent
  4. The model of the atom, conceived by physicist Niels Bohr, 7 per cent
  5. Yesterday, the Beatles song by Paul McCartney, 5 per cent
  6. Terminator, the movie and character, 3 per cent
  7. The principles of analytical geometry, devised by René Descartes, 3 per cent
  8. Frankenstein, the novel by Mary Shelley, 2 per cent
  9. I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, the Rolling Stones song by Keith Richards, 2 per cent
  10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1 per cent; Kubla Kahn, the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1 per cent; The discovery of the structure of the benzene molecule, 1 per cent

Quick hits

  • Each week, assign one “untouchable day,” when you are 100 per cent unreachable by anybody and focused on more intense and creative work, says Canadian entrepreneur and former Wal-Mart executive Neil Pasricha. Defend that day and only give it up for another untouchable day in the same week.
  • Instead of work-life balance, seek work-life blur, with less distinct target ranges rather than specific target points, says consultant Julie Winkle Giulioni. Instead of insisting on 30 minutes of exercise a day, go for 15 to 45 minutes. Track daily balance but only evaluate monthly, blurring the results, and cut yourself some slack if you’re not perfect.
  • There are four currencies in your clientele’s lives. They value money, time, feeling safe and feeling special, says consultant Donald Cooper.
  • People asked for advice penalize those seeking help if they then ignore the guidance, research shows. Expert advisers are even more likely to punish those who seek and spurn their wisdom. So don’t just ask for advice to be polite; be aware of the potential consequences.
  • Twenty-two years after her contract with Lancôme was terminated, actress Isabella Rossellini, now 63, has been hired to be the face of a skincare line targeting anti-aging concerns. The Trendwatching site calls it the “new normal,” in which once-marginalized people – in this case, older individuals – are being given the spotlight.
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