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How to Use the Data of Emotions in the Workplace

Anyone who says feelings have no place in the workday might as well say that breathing has no place in the workday. A human without either one is a corpse.

The ability to use emotions as data — as triggers for assessment, opportunities for creating better teamwork, and levers for cultural change — is necessary and valid in today’s workplace.

People are awash with emotion all day long. They bring their feelings with them and experience even more of them at work, where they are constantly confronting aspects of their humanity like authenticity, autonomy, security, and efficacy. It’s normal for people on the job to wonder things like: Can I be myself on the job? Will I be able to keep this job? Will I be treated fairly? Will I have friends here or will I feel alone?

Feelings Are Data

Since feelings are so present and prevalent on the job, why not seek their value intentionally? You can use actual work situations to help the people on your team identify their emotions and practice their self-regulatory and outreach skills. For instance, can individuals express their own reactions as well as identify the impact that their reactions have on others?

Do employees see ineffective patterns of behavior or automatic responses clearly enough to consider changing them? Can they tell when they’re about to be triggered? Learning to read emotions provides an excellent opportunity for everyone in the workplace to practice self-regulation.

Keep Curious

Why shouldn’t you just suppress or bury your feelings to get along better at work? Wouldn’t that look more professional?

Self-control is a good thing, but not when it’s only about reining yourself in. Self-management that comes from self-awareness is much more effective. If you’ve been trying to get by on suppression alone, you’re more likely to overreact or behave impulsively in other ways — abusing snacks, distracting yourself with social media or other online amusements, procrastinating, even lashing out at others — trying to avoid situations you’re not ready to face.

Curiosity about your feelings is a smarter response because it puts you in charge of your emotions instead of the other way around. Being curious provides detachment. It lets you step back to view the situation and see what your options are; it gives you room to figure things out and then choose your plan of action. And it helps you avoid the potentially harmful effects of overreactivity.

So long as it’s not intended to maintain distance or suppression, “Keep calm and carry on” is a skillful approach. When you’re in a more neutral, relaxed frame of mind, you’ll do a better job of taking care of yourself, and you’ll be more productive too.

Once you’re used to the idea of noticing and responding to your own emotions in the workplace — seeing them not as problems to be suppressed or acted upon, but as data about what’s really going on — you have options for responses that you didn’t have when you were flooded with feelings you were trying to subdue or ignore.

Onward and upward,


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