Remember the last time your flight was canceled and you tried to speak with a gate agent who acted as though she were holding onto secret information about the flight that had to be guarded with her life? Just recalling it can create instant emotion. Can I get some folks in my corner who have spoken with “customer service” agents in a call center who clearly do not grasp the meaning of the job title? You want to rip the phone right out of the wall. And speaking of the phone, I don't even have to ask how you feel about telemarketers who won’t take no for an answer and keep right on reading that script. And these are people you don’t even know!
On the flip side, how about going on an interview, filled with nervousness and that inexplicable dark cloud that tells you, “They won’t like you,” and finding a hiring manager who is kind and has a great sense of humor? You leave feeling like a million bucks, all because someone brought a bit of emotional lightness to the interaction. There’s not a person reading this who hasn’t been a witness to a coworker or acquaintance (or even strangers) being raked over the coals by some superior throwing their authority around like a hammer. You know what happens: sympathy and empathy rise up in you and, if you’re like me, you rise to the person’s defense. I used to work for a university president who could slice and dice her employees into utter self-doubt and despair. She’d end by saying, “That was just direct communication. Don’t attach any emotion to it.” Yeah, right. “I pride myself on being unemotional,” people say, clearly very proud of their pride. While I understand such a personality, my thought is, “Why?” What’s the payoff?
To be sure, we cannot walk around at work with our hearts on our sleeves, and I’m not suggesting we do. After all, corporate life is about business, not therapy. But if we ignore the fact that all relationships are emotional we will create unnecessary roadblocks. We will not communicate our wishes and expectations effectively. We will not understand why no one cooperates with us, or why people respond with silence or irritation or even hostility. We’ll wonder why our suggestions fall flat. We will create resistance because we are blind to the role and effect of emotions in every interaction.
There are emotions in the workplace. You know there are. Do you know how to identify them and deal with them skillfully? Because they're not going away.