3 myths about being sensitive and showing emotion in the workplace

insecure at work
Showing emotions at work can actually make you a more powerful leader.
  • Melody Wilding is an executive career coach who helps people navigate their careers confidently and find lasting work-life balance.
  • She says common myths about not expressing emotion at work may cause you to minimize your thoughts and feelings and stifle creativity.
  • Ignoring your emotions can backfire. Instead, learning how to express your feelings with intelligence and depth will make your colleagues feel safe to express their own, and create a more inclusive work culture.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Emotional depth is not something to be resisted in the workplace. It's a trait that makes you powerful. Consider this: 

  • Research by Google shows that teams where the leaders and team members feel free and safe to express their emotions, fears, and concerns are more innovative and productive. 
  • Being emotionally aware can put more money in your pocket. Some research indicates that people with higher EQ earn on average $29,000 more than people with lower EQ. 

Put simply, embracing all of these skills and qualities — your emotional sensitivity, depth, and intelligence — can make you richer, happier, and more effective all-around. 

Let's bust three of the most common myths about emotions in the workplace and replace them with facts. 

Myth No.1: Emotions have no place at work. 

You may have heard some variation of this belief pop up before. Sometimes you'll be told to take your emotions out of a situation. Or you have said to yourself that you don't want to come across as "too emotional" when giving someone feedback, for example. 

However, ignoring your emotions is a mistake. There's a wealth of psychological research that points to the fact that suppressing your emotions isn't helpful and can backfire in a big way. 

The easiest way to think about it is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater — when you try to hold the ball underwater, the surface of the pool is smooth and serene. But you're putting all your energy and effort into holding it down. And with only one hand free, your action is limited. 

Then when you loosen your grip, the ball comes rocketing to the surface, making a big splash and smacking you in the face. 

In the same way, pushing down your emotional reactions can be exhausting. It wastes valuable mental resources and energy you could be using in other ways. It also makes those negative feelings stronger and more influential. Most importantly, trying to tamp down your negative emotions also tends to mean losing access to positive ones like joy, excitement, and connection as well. 

Fact: Your emotions are messengers. They give you important information about our needs or actions we can take. They are signals that indicate what's important to you. They're a valuable source of intelligence and insight.

Read more: Women executives at major companies like Intel, Unilever, and McKinsey share their best advice for advancing your career and coming out as a leader while working from home

Myth No.2: Emotions dictate your actions. 

At times, you may have felt like you were at the mercy of your feelings and felt like you had no control over them. What we sometimes forget is that our feelings don't always tell the entire truth. Sometimes our emotions get out of sync with reality. 

Think back to your school days: did you ever have that experience where you took a test and felt certain that you bombed it only to find out later that you actually did okay? 

When your feelings are especially strong, as they often are in the workplace, you can operate from old, outdated stories and beliefs that warp your ability to see the situation clearly. Your thinking gets distorted, and you have a hard time staying grounded in objective facts about the situation. 

Fact: While it's true that you can't help how you feel and that your emotional experiences are 100% valid, you can control how you choose to respond. In other words, feelings are not facts. Your emotions are directions, not directives. Emotions can certainly influence your behavior, but they are not the total story. This is why it's really important to evaluate your feelings objectively and to curb the tendency to make negative mental jumps. 

Read more: A headhunter who's helped execs at Morgan Stanley and Facebook break the glass ceiling shares the 3 strategies women and people of color should use to land in the C-suite

Myth No.3: Crying will ruin your career.

Many of my clients are sensitive people that put a lot of pressure on themselves and fear that crying will decimate their reputation. It makes sense because for decades emotional expression has been stigmatized in the workplace. But holding yourself to the standard of never getting emotional is unrealistic, and as we've talked about, it can also be damaging. 

Fact: Full on sobbing regularly will not help your career, but breaking out into tears during the occasional emotional meeting or after getting harsh feedback isn't as career-damaging as you might think. Approximately 74% of CFOs who were surveyed in one study think that crying every so often is normal.

If you do get emotional, acknowledge it. You're usually better off acknowledging your reaction rather than trying to pretend it never happened. So in the moment, you can say something like, "As you can see, I'm feeling pretty invested in this," "This is hitting me pretty hard. Would you mind if I stepped out for a moment to get some water?" or "I realize I had a strong reaction while we were talking. I wanted you to know that I really appreciate the feedback you shared with me and I'm working on implementing it."

You don't need to — and shouldn't — apologize about your reaction. 

It's human to have emotions. But what makes you a great leader is how you choose to respond and communicate when those emotional reactions do arise. If you take ownership of your feelings and reactions, it conveys strength and confidence that other people will respect.

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