How Are You?
Justin worked in a field in which client interactions often triggered high emotions in his team. It was not unusual that one of his team members would come to his office to talk and end up crying.
Unfortunately, Justin was very uncomfortable with crying and always had been. He suspected his reaction to tears was causing distrust and distance between him and his team because they didn’t feel he cared about them. He didn’t know how to bridge the gap. I suggested he begin by simply sharing with his team about his discomfort with crying. After quite a few conversations in which Justin answered his team’s questions and verbally reassured them that he truly cared about them despite how he may look when their tears began to flow, his team decided that his fear of crying was not cause for distrust.
In fact, Justin wasn’t at all afraid of crying. Rather, his apparent lack of emotion had everything to do with cultural-display rules.
Every organization, family, group, and individual has cultural-display rules. These unwritten rules outline the emotions with which we’re generally comfortable and tell us how we appropriately show them. In Justin’s case, his team had made a cultural-display rule that it was acceptable to cry when sad or angry. The obvious difference between their shared rules and Justin’s personal rules was what created the tension.
In the United States, we typically greet one another by asking, “How are you?” And the typical responses we share are, “OK,” or, “Fine.” If we answered truthfully, what we might say is, “I've got a lot of deadlines. I'm looking at the clock; I have a meeting at 3:30 p.m. so I hope this is not a waste of time. I'm not feeling well. Thanksgiving is coming up. So that's how I feel, Susan. How are you?” And my answer might be, “Frankly, I woke up at 2 a.m. My water softener just busted. And I’m slightly concerned about my mother’s health. So, I’m a bit anxious today.” Our current cultural-display rules propel us to either demonstrate a relentless drive to mask the expression of our true underlying feelings when face-to-face or an equally relentless drive to let them all out on social media. (But, that’s another post for another day.)
The emotional intelligence skill of emotional expression helps us constructively express our emotions. It is the ability to say how we feel with dignity, respect, and consistency in body language, physical presence, and facial expression. When we use emotional expression well, we are better able to manage our emotions and express our feelings in a way that sends an accurate message. This enables clean and clear communication and decision-making. Further, it builds trust, authenticity, and engagement in our teams.
Here are a few questions to help you explore your own usage of emotional expression.
What emotions do you feel more comfortable expressing than others? Why?
In general, do you find yourself bottling up or uncorking your emotions? How does this affect your ability to get your work done?
What are the consequences (positive or negative) of NOT expressing your feelings? Is that true in EVERY situation?
We all have emotions and they can be surprisingly strong at times. Regardless of whether we’re at home or at work, with one other person or in a crowded room, the key for us as emotionally intelligent leaders is to learn how to accurately and appropriately express our emotions. Learning how to do so will help us be even more effective leaders.
Need help developing your usage of emotional expression? Contact me and we can discuss ways I can help.
Susan Rozzi is the president of Rozzi and Associates, a leadership and organizational development company helping good leaders become great! Our programs start with the premise that great leadership skills are a product of time, practice and focused development. Our leadership development, emotional intelligence insight and career management programs can be customized to meet your desired outcomes and needs. Contact Susan at email@example.com.