I recently interviewed David Heinemeier Hansson, co-author of the million-copy-selling “ReWork” for my podcast, Being Human.
David is a racing driver, entrepreneur, and multiple author. He’s a tour de force – it’s well worth a listen.
David rails against the current progressive injunction to ‘bring your whole self to work’.
He used the example of when two colleagues openly share opposing views on a contentious issue, it’s not likely to go well for them working together.
On this point, I agree. Businesses serve society best when they’re fulfilling some meaningful purpose in line with the public good. They do not exist as spaces for political discourse. We have other venues for that.
However, there’s a distinction to be made. There is a difference between political opinions and feelings.
Saying “I think Brexit was a good thing” is likely to invite an argument with a Remainer.
Feelings vs opinions
“I feel sad” or “I feel overwhelmed” however are statements of feeling.
Sharing a feeling is not generally contentious. Assuming the listener has empathy, it is more likely to help with bonding and can provide good data for management and leadership.
The exception is sharing a feeling that relates to a contentious issue.
“I feel excited about the prospect of Trump winning this year” clearly has the potential to ruffle feathers.
But sharing “I feel overwhelmed when faced with this plan” or “I’m feeling drained by working on this project” is useful data. This information can help the individual support his own emotional well-being and those around him.
The “bringing your whole self to work” movement is valuable in this respect. It’s a helpful corrective to the idea that emotional repression is somehow ‘professional’. Blanket statements such as ‘showing feeling is weakness‘ or ‘be positive to be professional‘ – are poisonous and harmful to the human spirit.
We need a corrective to that to build nurturing, healthy workplaces. This is not to say that it is not valuable to be Stoic in certain situations, or to actively develop a positive orientation to life and work. That is important, but not at the expense of acknowledging and sharing our truly held feelings when the space is there to do so.
We need leadership cultures that support people to be authentic – where people can speak up from their hearts.
The power of the “I” statement
And no, this doesn’t negate the need for people to take personal responsibility for their emotional state. Quite the opposite. When someone shares “I feel overwhelmed” about a work situation, they take the first step in owning their emotional state.
The “I” statement here is critical. If they say, “This job is overwhelming“, they’re putting the ownership outside of themselves.
If they say, “We’re all feeling overwhelmed, ” they avoid personal ownership by trying to collectivise the feeling.
The magic is in starting the sentence with “I feel…”.
Working with feelings
When someone opens up with full ownership, it allows colleagues or leaders around them to use this as a stimulus to either help them individually or to improve the workplace at large.
Firstly, at the individual level, a leader or colleague might be able to help the person sharing the feeling.
To help them find structural solutions, they might ask, “What is the cause of this overwhelm? What is going on in your life right now?”
To give them immediate relief, they might ask, “What is a tiny step you could take to move you closer to a better place?”
In line with growing embodiment movement, they might help them to embody that feeling, i.e. “Where do you feel that in your body? What sensations are you experiencing?”. It is often through embodying a feeling and its associated emotions and sensations that a person can get insights into why they might be feeling a certain way. It may also help them find access to shifting their state.
Secondly, at the team level, a leader might survey colleagues to discover if the undue stress is more widespread. They might even bring the team together for an open discussion on the current work set-up.
In conclusion, all the above stems from a single instance of someone showing some vulnerability and sharing their feelings. In this regard, bringing your whole ‘feeling self’ to work is golden.