Emotions At Work

Topics: Heather Bussing, HRExaminer, by Heather Bussing


My friend Melinda Guillemette has a great piece called Come Out of the Emotional Closet. It’s her response to managers who say: “Oh, I don’t have time to worry about that touchy-feely crap. That’s why I have HR people.”IMG_2792-001

She gives great constructive advice on how to work with your own and other’s emotions at work. She focuses on what you can do, because that’s where you have the most power and control– with yourself.

If you can’t handle emotions at work, the problem is you.

It’s understandable. We are scared of losing control, or looking bad, or making things harder than they already are. We don’t like drama or conflict. We need to focus on the work. All of those things are worth considering. It takes practice to use emotional energy constructively. (This may be my biggest understatement ever, but I’m trying to point out that it’s possible.)

Expecting people not to feel or show their emotions at work is crazy. As another friend, Paul Hebert, pointed out: “Why do we hire people then ask them to . . . wait for it. . . not be people?”

We can’t. It eventually leaks out one way or another. It always shows in the work.

So instead of denying emotions or worse, trying to fix them, consider emotions as energy you can use to change things. Emotions can be superpowers. Here are some of the negative emotions that we typically shun at work, and the positive aspects of moving through them.


Increased awareness of everything around me
Heightened senses
Precision focus
Sometimes excitement
Can be a portal to a flow state once I know I’m not in danger


Crystal clarity about other people’s role in what happened (less so about my own).
Burst of energy
Can create a long term commitment to change or righting a wrong–passion- that lasts longer than just a good idea
Can be convincing to others (up to the point that you create fear in them)
Can protect me from further hurt or repeating the situation

My heart is broken, so I am open to feelings and insight that I don’t see other times.
It brings reflection on what is important. And what’s not.
Grief often brings clarity and renewal after the tears.


Giving up can be a wonderful thing.
Not giving a shit can also be a wonderful thing– the point of no concern.
Going within to heal is essential to working through difficult issues. In other words, it’s not a problem, grief is a sign of healing.
My resources are limited so I choose carefully where to spend my energy. This helps me understand what matters and what doesn’t.
When my worst fears come true, then there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Giving up all hope is one passage to freedom.


Loneliness forces me to make friends with myself.
Missing people allows me to see how much I love and appreciate them.
There’s a kind of insanity that comes with intense loneliness that’s sort of fun once I realize there’s nobody around to judge me.


Hatred helps me find exactly where my boundaries are or need to be.
Hatred gives me clarity.
Hatred helps me insist that something change or that something happen.
Hatred gives me courage to get rid of people and things that should not be in my life.


Shame shows me where my wounds are and points me in the direction of healing.
Shame helps me see my mistakes. It’s a highlighter for things I need to examine to find my part or let go. It forces me to reexamine the stories I tell myself and decide what’s true.
The pain of shame has pushed me to find tools to deal with both the feeling and the people who use it to manipulate me.
These days, shame takes me to anger.


Brene Brown has a great quote about vulnerability being the most accurate measurement of courage.
Vulnerability brings me closer to myself and others.
It creates a safe place for other people to get closer, even though I don’t always feel comfortable there.
Vulnerability may not be the right word, because it implies a fear of being hurt, or at least a risk. Sometimes just feeling curious or open feels like there is risk of being wrong or judged.
I’m learning how to be comfortable with uncertainty, which is another flavor of vulnerability, and the way everything is, pretty much all the time.


I learn my limits.
I break. Which is often part of a break-through.
I am forced to rest. And rest and time are essential elements to almost all creative processes- ones that are not optional, but we always try to take shortcuts in the name of “efficiency.”

All emotions are powerful energy that bring us important information. It’s time to bring our humanity to work.

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