Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Acceptable work emotions

Overheard in the elevator:
"Seriously.. they were waaaay too cheerful. Got to tone it down in the office."
"Someone around here was pleased?"
"Yeah. Really broke my concentration."

I'm not sure if the problem is that there are fewer acceptable emotions to show in a professional setting or that the voltage meter for any emotion is expected to stay in the middle. I'm not even sure when this crept in - possibly with political correctness?  By not truly expressing ourselves with what we're thinking, and naturally extending that to what we're feeling, work has become a grey zone of muted expression.

While I'm not advocating for Snoopy dancing in the hallways or screams of anguish over new assignments, we are human. It's a well-known stress contributor that swallowing emotion (of any kind) contributes to illness and unhappiness. Women especially are coached to 'tone it down.' For those of us who get teary when frustrated (an uncontrollable response), this can be intensely embarrassing and create more anxiety and frustration for us.

It's just as hard for men. I was out with a bunch of guys the other night who pointed out they were never really given a vocabulary for when sad. As one man put it "I have a the ability to express that I am pleased, horny or angry so by default I use one of those."  Another contributed "I punch things when I'm sad because I *think I feel angry about it, get embarrassed when I'm really happy and that makes me angry so I punch something. At work I just pretend I'm above it all."

There's probably no easy answer to relaxing the unspoken taboo about expressing ourselves more honestly. Perhaps the place to start is allowing ourselves to laugh - a good belly laugh when something is funny - since laughter is infectious. Thoughts?

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