Expressing Emotions

Expressing Emotions

  • Are you uncomfortable expressing emotions?
  • Do you find it challenging when other people express theirs?
  • Do you believe certain emotions shouldn’t be expressed in public?

I was working with a group of public speakers last week and the topic of expressing emotions came up. We broadly fell into two camps:

  1. The first group argued that expressing emotions in most work situations (public speaking or just interacting at work) was unprofessional and likely to get you labelled as highly-strung or volatile.
  2. The second group countered that judicious use of authentic vulnerability—allowing others to see their true feelings—could help to win over an audience or work colleague.

Then we went on to discuss which emotions were deemed most socially acceptable to express. The general consensus was that a certain amount of anger, frustration or pride were ok, but that fear or sadness ‘should’ only be expressed with close friends.

It seemed there was some gender bias in there, because emotions traditionally seen as ‘masculine’ were considered more acceptable than those that were traditionally seen as ‘feminine’. There was also a gender divide in terms of how the emotions were expressed: given the right circumstances shouting and fist-banging were ok, but crying not so much. Evidently expressing joy, sadness, frustration or anger through tears is off the table.

It got really interesting when I suggested that, as an audience, we want to see the real, authentic, gritty reality—whether that includes shouting, fist-banging or tears. We explored the courage it takes to show that sort of vulnerability and agreed that we’re more likely to trust someone who’s able to express themselves ‘warts and all’.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but with each speaker more connected to their feelings, the next round of speeches was much more powerful. With topics like politics, charity fund-raising and emergency care—when you might expect people to be ‘more professional’—the genuine, authentic emotions expressed took things to a whole other level.

Please note, we’d created a safe place to experiment and explicitly granted each other permission to ‘go there’. I’m not suggesting we ‘let it all hang out’ and start sobbing during the next board meeting. I’m just posing the question: where might a bit of authentic self-expression add to our power, impact or influence?

Your assignment

Explore these questions:

  1. Where might a bit of authentic self-expression add to my power, impact or influence?
  2. In which situations (or with which group of people) might it be helpful to un-mute myself?
  3. If I showed even just a chink of genuine human emotion, might it result in a better outcome for all?
  4. With authentic sharing, might my relationships (professional and personal) improve or deepen?

Give yourself a chance to do some low-stakes experimenting. Do let me know how you get on.

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