Emotions at Work

By Davon Cook on June 30, 2017

During our work, we witness many emotional interactions.  Let me describe the when, how, and why of these interactions.

WHEN?  In family meetings discussing history and values of prior generations; in tough sessions managing conflict; in planning sessions expressing hopes for future; in one-on-one conversations when a family member needs to vent in a safe space....to name just a few.

HOW?  I've seen emotion expressed via crying, yelling, shutting down, having difficulty communicating what one intends, all sorts of body language, cursing, name calling, sarcastic language, anxious worrying, and numerous other ways.

WHY?  This is the most important question.  Expressing emotion is not necessarily something to avoid entirely.  It's usually a sign that one cares deeply about the topic or people at hand.  "Getting all emotional" (as I've heard it called in several families) makes some folks quite uncomfortable.  They hunker down in their chairs and hope it ends soon.  I try to knowledge the emotion rather than ignore it - acknowledge it as a sign of investment in the situation.  Others react with a counter emotion, which can escalate the situation, especially in conflict.  Whether your reaction is avoidance or counter emotion, see if viewing it through the lens of the other person's level of caring changes your reaction a bit.

Notice I said that expressing emotion is "not necessarily" something to be avoided.  Certainly, extreme behaviors on a regular basis can be counterproductive.  Frequent yelling outbreaks or cursing tends to shut down the productivity of an interaction!  Emotion intelligence as Lance discussed is an important skill to hone.

So, what can you do if your emotions, or your reaction to other's outbreaks, are hindering your ability to make progress?  Three suggestions.  As I have observed other families' emotional reactions, and participated in my own, perhaps the most valuable lesson is to ride the wave, meaning to let the wave of immediate, visceral reaction pass before you react visibly or verbally.  Just learning to outlast that immediate gut-clenching reaction is a huge first step.  Then take a moment to observe why the emotion is present and try to value the caring and commitment expressed through the emotion.

If you're involved in a family business, it's likely strong emotions from someone are part of the deal.  You can impact how you share, receive, and react to those emotions.