July 23

Ignoring personal feelings in the workplace is a big mistake. Here’s 5 reasons why.

Introduction

I read the email from my manager.

Instantaneously, I feel the blood rushing to my head.

My eyes close in on the phrases,

I want to put this on the record that this is the second time that we have made an exception for you…

this is also the 2nd time that you had failed to pass…

as you gave the same reason as the last time…

I look again at the recipient list. There’s my supervisor. Then the administrative staff. Then the director. And assistant director.

I found myself asking,

Did my manager even know how to manage millennials?

This was no way to manage them!

I want to dig a hole in the ground to hide my face in, but there’s nowhere to hide. I feel shamed. I haven’t just done something bad. I’m the bad one.

I also feel angry. Was this warranted? For an acknowledgement form?

The blood starts rushing to my head again. This time I feel a strange sense of peace. I know what I need to do.

I’m going to settle this.

I walk out of the office, and into the other office where the manager sits.

There’s a purpose in my stride.

When I walk into the office, my colleague is talking to my director. She catches sight of me. She stops her conversation and walks out to talk to me.

I hold the form up in my hand, as if saying,

This is the form you were looking for?

It’s not respectful. And over the next few minutes, we have a ‘discussion’ over what the process was.

And what I thought it should be. In front of 2 other colleagues.

Thank God for social distancing and restrictions in the office. Having this play out in front of a full office of 14 staff would have been ugly.

Discussion is a gentle word. Debate might be more accurate.

Then she walks away, saying that she has a discussion to return to.

I walk away.

There’s a mix of emotions within me. In my mind, I’m probably dead.

This is going to be seen as a fight, between a junior worker and a manager. A manager!

Of all the people I chose to fight with, I chose to quarrel with a manager?!

Having a fight with your manager might be a reason why you want to stop ignoring emotions in the workplace.
Having a fight with your manager might be a reason why you want to stop ignoring emotions in the workplace.

Being professional is not always helpful to teamwork.

Ignoring personal feelings in the workplace is a big mistake. I should know this. After all, I spent 3 years in university learning to be a social worker.

I’m trained to understand people’s emotions, probe, and help others feel.

But if I realised something in the workplace, it’s that we are often told to be professional. We are told to hide our emotions, and be professional about the work.

Get the job done, like a clinical professional. Cold, detached, and cool as a cucumber. Any emotions you bring in is a sign of weakness.

Sure, there are times when you have to be professional, put aside your emotions, and focus on the job to be done. But there are other times when you have to work closely with teams. Your emotions count much then.

How are you going to build great work with a team if you are unhappy working with a certain member of the team?

You may think that the tension is something that only you feel. But that’s not entirely true. From my experience, I’ve seen how a tendril of tension can end up affecting the whole team. Teammates start to notice the tension. Why?

Because the micro tension reveals itself in small actions. Teammates pick up on these small actions.

For example,

  • the silent pause when a barb is felt
  • the lack of initiative when the team leader asks for volunteers
  • the awkward silence between conversations
  • the micro shift in facial expression when a teammate says something (such as a slight frown)
How do you water your workplace relationships?
How do you water your workplace relationships?

Eventually, the work feels the effects of these tensions.

Therefore, ignoring your emotions and failing to bring up your disagreements, or your negative emotions end up affecting the quality of teamwork.

Ignoring emotions, ignores the lead ups to every explosion.

There were tell tale signs to the point where I snapped.

I stopped being able to sleep well. I was beginning to fear work, fearing the next call I would take. I was afraid that I would get into trouble again.

But I thought,

Nah, I’ll be strong, keep ignoring my emotions, and charge on!

There’s a lead-up to every implosion. You don’t wake up one day and suddenly decide,

I want to have a fight with a colleague!

Knowing your tell-tale signs helps you to be aware of your level of stress to the situation. It ensures that you’re acutely attuned to your level of distress, and take active efforts to resolve it.

It’s the familiar traffic light system used in emotional counselling.

What are the signs when you are green, amber and red?

traffic light of emotions
What do you feel as varying points? How can you cope with them?

Ignoring your emotions keeps you from seeing your qualities

I grew up in a culture which repeated the message.

You’re not good enough.

You’re not smart enough.

You’re not doing enough.

Growing up in an ‘elite’ school that housed the smartest boys in Singapore, we would see achievement after achievement paraded everyday. Students would win international awards for math. Students would compete in sports internationally, and win.

Against such a backdrop, you felt that you were never good enough.

When you ignore your emotions, you ignore an essential part of you. Growing up in such an environment, I neglected my own emotions of inadequacy and poor self-esteem. I kept trying to keep up with everyone around me. I brought it to me into the workplace.

I looked around me, and friends were becoming millionaire entrepreneurs, having high paying jobs, and succeeding in their careers.

It's easy to listen to all the labels of you, ignore your emotions, and end up forgetting your own qualities.
It’s easy to listen to all the labels of you, ignore your emotions, and end up forgetting your own qualities.

Here I was in the workplace, not liking my job, not liking my clients, and I simply thought,

Well, who cares about those emotions?

I’m just going to keep chasing after fame and glory. I’m going to set up my company and be famous!

Eventually, I crashed and burned with depression. I binged on food to cope with the anxiety of not measuring up.

Ignoring your emotions can keep you from seeing your qualities. You end up chasing after the things the world wants, living up to the world’s standards, rather than your own standards.

Life is a daily race with yourself. There’s no one else on that racetrack. It’s just you. And you alone.

Not showing your emotions prevents you from building a solution

Don’t think that time will heal all wounds. That’s a lie.

It doesn’t work that way.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Talking will heal more wounds.

When you keep your emotions to yourself, keeping quiet about things you’re displeased about, how do you expect people to know what you’re thinking? How do you expect people to understand how best to adjust to you?

As John Townsend and Henry Cloud share in their great book, Boundaries, having healthy boundaries are like building fences.

Boundaries are like building fences
Boundaries are like building fences

It’s about making what’s okay and not okay, clear for the other party. You don’t expect someone to know when he has crossed your line when he doesn’t even know where the line is!

If you want to resolve the problem, keeping quiet, and expecting the other party to read your mind is not the way.

Talking is a better way.

Ignoring your feelings builds a psychologically unsafe culture.

Google tried to understand what the features of the best teams were. They found that the key feature was psychological safety. It was whether people felt safe to make mistakes in their teams. It was whether they felt safe to see mistakes as learning opportunities, rather than shaming opportunities.

Look back at the best teams you’ve been a part of.

Chances are, you’ve felt welcomed, embraced and accepted for who you are, rather than what you’re expected to be.

You feel able to bring your fullest self to work. All of yourself. Not just the professional, sanitised self. But all of you.

In teams like that, you feel able to talk about your feelings towards a certain idea.

You don’t sit there thinking,

What if I look stupid for saying this?

Psychological safety is built one person at a time. When someone is willing to take a risk to share their feelings, others feel safer too.

Let it start from you.

How do you stop ignoring your emotions in the workplace?

Realise that it has its place.

Emotions are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of strength. Each day, tune into yourself and what you’re feeling by putting a finger on your emotional pulse.

Asking yourself at the end of each day,

How am I feeling today?

Why?

This helps you to grow in being attuned to yourself.

Whenever you feel negative, take a rain check.

Ask yourself why you feel that way, rather than reacting to every emotion you feel.

So often, you may want to get rid of the emotion. But your emotions are by themselves neutral. It’s you who gives it power through your actions.

It starts with you being open.

Don’t expect your boss to be emotionally attuned to what you’re feeling and reach out all the time to ask you how you feel.

That may work… but the more important thing is for you to start being open about your emotions.

Talk about how something is making you upset. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Build circles of trust where you share with colleagues you trust about things that are troubling you.

Don’t keep your emotions locked within you.

Conclusion

I stared at myself in the mirror, with my eyes bloodshot, my shirt hanging limply on my shoulders, and my lips turned down.

I was not happy at work at all.

I had lost my passion for work.

I had tried ignoring my emotions for the past 4 months, telling myself that I could push through this.

But it hadn’t worked.

I now knew what I had to do.

I pushed open the door.

It was time to let my emotions have a place in my life.


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