Emotion is a touchy subject. It can be written off as too touchy-feely, it can get very personal, and it can create vulnerability that is uncomfortable.

The problem with underestimating emotion is that it is a significant determining factor of the behavior of colleagues, family members, and ourselves. It creates conflict we want to avoid, and behavior that brings us together.

When individuals experience unfilled emotional needs, adaptive behavior shows up:

  • An employee doesn’t get affirmation he or she needs from the boss, so inadequacy drives gossip and passive-aggressiveness.
  • An employee doesn’t get the raise he or she expected, so disappointment drives disengagement.
  • A boss doesn’t get buy-in from staff members and hears pushback, so fear of losing control drives ultimatums.

Fostering healthy emotional responsibility is valuable to organizations because it directly impacts relationships––the crux of the workplace. Waiting for a boss, colleague, or family member to directly meet our needs or to change before we can feel emotionally sound, doesn’t usually bode well for any of us in the long run.

How to Talk––Ways to Increase Emotional Responsibility

  1. Remove the stigma that emotions are soft.

Emotions are important because they impact behavior. I recently heard a CEO of a large engineering company share his experience of learning to be open with his colleagues. Despite the engrained belief he would be seen as weak and imperfect, a transformation began to happened within his team. As they grew closer, they became more effective creating twenty new implementations that enlarged their business exponentially over ten years. In his talk joked how he “struggles” with vulnerability, but even so he and his team share their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual state (MEPS) before every meeting.

  1. Model openness.

“Vulnerability is the at the core, the center, of meaningful human experience,” Brené Brown says.

Share your own emotional motives: Why do you wake up every day to do this job you do? Share your appreciation for your employees or colleagues: What do you genuinely appreciate about them? Disclose your fear and belief in upcoming changes: How will we face and succeed through this together?

Being open about emotion increases trust and connection that inevitably drives behavior in the direction we want to be headed as a group.

  1. Use metaphor when necessary.

If talking about emotion feels foreign or difficult, communicate what you feel through metaphor.

You know in Greek mythology when Zeus punished Sisyphus to push a boulder up a hill just to have it roll back down again…for eternity? That’s what it feels like for me to continue without a conversation with you about this.

Underestimating emotion––or writing it off entirely––leads to compliance over commitment, hidden truths, and pockets of adaptive behavior that weasel their way into subgroups creating dissatisfaction, discontentment, and disengagement.

When to Balk

When your personal emotion enmeshes with a colleague’s and an unhealthy attachment is formed, you’re no longer able to be objective and supportive. Balk when you can’t tell when a colleague, boss, or friend’s distressful emotion ends and yours begins because you’re too deep into their drama. Take a breather, get some space on the subject, and return with a clear mind and heart.

Learning to talk about emotion, even while uncomfortable at times, reveals values and drivers of decisions, actions, and behavior. When healthy communication is in place, individuals are empowered and teams unite.

  • An employee believes no one can make him or her feel emotionally good or bad feels secure, so collaboration occurs.
  • An employee who asks for what he or she wants without attachment to the outcome feels content, so conversation develops into more win-wins.
  • A boss who doesn’t take feedback personally and feels at ease, increases the trust of his team.

Reflect: What ways does emotion impact your workplace? What does emotional responsibility mean to you?


Rachel is a certified coach with a Masters Degree in Counseling. Leading people to greater mental, emotional, and spiritual awareness is a passion she’s felt since she was little. Learn more hereEmail Rachel directly or drop a note in the comments. Visit our INspired Leadership team website. Join our Facebook Community. Follow Rachel and INspired Leadership on Twitter. Network on LinkedIn.

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