How to Communicate Feelings... At Work

Do feelings and emotions belong at work?

Well, we're human (most of us).

And we work with other humans (even your boss).

Feelings and emotions are inherent to our human relationships in all aspects of our lives, including work.

For those of us who want to feel fortified with a bit more courage to communicate their feelings at work, here are three top tips to help ensure that you say exactly what you really mean so that your message has a better chance of being heard and understood.

1) Be clear about your intentions
Establish the desired outcomes of the conversation, up front, and agree the aim with your conversation partner so that you can both actively work towards the goal together.

For example: "I'd like to talk to you about the impact of the recent re-organisation. I used to feel more motivated, inspired and energetic than I do now. I think there may be a better way for me to contribute to achieving our goals. Is it OK if I share some thoughts with you?"

If, on occasion, you just need to vent (and we all do, sometimes) be careful who you vent to. Be aware that the things you say about issues and people, could travel and there may be consequences.

Whenever possible, communicate feelings face-to-face.

Be cautious of sharing feelings and emotions over email. They can be easily mis-read because without any other communication signals to give context to your message, such as facial expressions and body language and with no way to ask clarifying questions in real time, email can potentially backfire. Worse yet, your email may get forwarded to someone else without your permission or even attract a silent observer via the dreaded 'bcc button.

Remember, for some people, eye contact is difficult to maintain when they are listening to emotions. That doesn't necessarily mean they're not focused on the conversation. More than likely, they are simply absorbing the messages in their own way. Try to be patient and respect their boundaries.

2) Name it. Own it.
Be as specific as you can about labelling the emotions that you are feeling; being precise helps to reduce misunderstandings.

For example: "I feel really pleased to see teamwork starting to improve; it's really helping us break down silos. However, I feel frustrated that some of our projects are still late. I'm nervous as our final deadline is approaching and, quite frankly, I'm worried we won't meet our commitments."

Here are some words to help you get specific about describing feelings. You'll see them categorised into the eight, most common categories of feelings. Try to provide even more clarity for your conversation partner by using detailed language.

Happy: Pleased, Relieved, Proud, Satisfied, Confident
Unhappy: Hurt, Lost, Guilty, Regretful, Down
Angry: Annoyed, Furious, Livid, Irritated, Cross
Frightened: Uneasy, Insecure, Threatened, Trapped, Anxious
Negative: Suspicious, Denial, Pessimistic, Unenthusiastic, Cynical
Positive: Inspired, Motivated, Energetic, Hopeful, Supportive
Upset: Sad, Frustrated, Miserable, Unsettled, Troubled
Confused: Shocked, Nervous, Disconnected, Foolish, Lonely

3) Be professional.
Being perceived as unprofessional is probably the biggest concern when people consider talking about feelings at work. Many people think that being 'rational' and 'emotional' are mutually exclusive. They're not. Here's an example of how the two can be combined.

For example: "I've thought about the situation and the options. Based on our past performance, I feel proud of what's been accomplished. But, I feel troubled that we don't have the resources that we once did. I'm feeling a bit lonely because it seems I'm trying to carry the burden all by myself."

When talking about feelings at work, being prepared is key. Take the time to prepare and even rehearse your choice of words. Consider getting feedback on your planned wording from a trusted advisor. If you find yourself in an emotive situation, take the time that you need in order to compose your thoughts and feelings before communicating.

Taking a risk and communicating feelings is an important opportunity to connect, at work, human to human.

How do you describe feelings at work? When has it worked well? When hasn't it?