In a business setting, just as in the rest of life, we neglect or suppress emotions at our peril. Therapy can provide a space for emotional intelligence in the workplace to develop and flourish.
You already know that success is driven by ambition, talent and hard work. You also know that in any business it is not easy to handle the challenges and expectations you face on a daily basis. There is a lot to deal with, and seemingly never enough time. There are schedules, deadlines, bosses, co-workers — and if you are in an executive position, the pressures of leadership and performance. And what about your personal relationships? They need attention too, and unfortunately they often fall to the bottom of the priority list. So, how do you cope with the immensity — and intensity — of the life you live?
Human beings are “emotional beings.” Emotions are a part of us — an important part, which can’t be left out when we go to work each day, even if we try. But in business, the emotional dimension is often minimized or not acknowledged at all. Is there a tacit agreement in your business that there is no place for certain feelings? Is the unspoken message that you have to be tough, or “positive”? What about the not-so-positives like fear, jealousy, shame, hurt, anger, disappointment, depression, injustice — is there space for those to be expressed? When disallowed, feelings are forced underground. Suppressed emotions become “stealthy” — working behind the scenes, causing internal as well as external tension and conflict.
When you have a problem involving your feelings, or the feelings of someone else, who do you talk to? Whether you are in a small company, a large company, or a company of one, I think you need a confidential space to discuss problems, sort out feelings, and find solutions. Where is that space? One answer to the question is therapy. I believe a good therapist can help you to see yourself more clearly and objectively, help you to trace the sources of emotional sticking points, and move through them. Your sensitivities in the office are not simply created by current circumstances. We are all products of our genetics and our upbringing, whether we like it or not. Each individual has his or her own “triggers” — events or interactions causing big internal reactions which can be confusing and overwhelming, sometimes even paralyzing. Life has a way of re-creating our most difficult emotional challenges. In therapy, you can better understand what is occurring and find the freedom to handle situations differently.
Here are some common emotional challenges which can arise in a business context and which can benefit from the kind of space I’ve described above:
- Do you have unrealistically high standards for your own performance? A high standard of excellence is an asset, but high standards often lead to perfectionism. Perfectionism is actually detrimental to performance, because it is only achievable momentarily; ongoing perfection is impossible and therefore unsustainable. Perfectionists have a harsh inner critic that relentlessly pushes and punishes, which is very painful. Sound familiar? The feeling of missing the perfect mark is too discouraging, and it can result in a backfire of procrastination and self-sabotage.
- How well do you handle decisions? Decisions involve risk, including the risk of making a mistake. Timing is important, and people tend to fall into two kinds of traps. Some are too quick and impulsive, which they may regret later. Others struggle with indecisiveness, delaying the inevitable, causing frustration and confusion for themselves and others.
- Whether you are in a leadership or a supporting position in a business, the feeling of being treated unfairly is common. Maybe someone else got a raise or bonus and you didn’t, but you were equally or more deserving. Maybe you aren’t given the verbal appreciation you wish for, or you are criticized harshly and unjustly. Possibly you feel there is a gender bias. These situations can evoke hurt, confusion and rage at a very primitive level. If there is no outlet for those feelings, they can erode your self-confidence and motivation.
- If you have employees, are you successful when it comes to getting results from them, but disliked for your aggressive style? Neglecting the feelings of others while pushing for results alienates people, fosters hidden issues of control, and undermines your business potential. Or, maybe you are the boss who cares so much for his employees that you can’t have necessary tough conversations or confrontations for fear of upsetting them? Maybe you can’t bring yourself to let someone go even if you know it is the right decision for the company? It is in everyone’s best interest to face and articulate shortcomings — but it’s not always easy to do. I believe that in therapy you can learn to identify your emotions and better understand the emotions of others. In therapy, I believe you will be able to communicate more skillfully, face and resolve conflicts, and support productivity. With help you will be able to change self-defeating attitudes and behaviors, learn to accept your strengths and vulnerabilities, and recover from setbacks with confidence.
- Work/Life Balance
- And finally, your personal life: does it seem as though you just don’t have time for it? Therapy can enhance your capacity for emotional connection and communication in relationships. Without an understanding of feelings, and the ability to express them, you may have frequent fights or experience increasing distance. With understanding, however, you will be able to discuss problems calmly, sustain a loving connection, and make more of the personal time you have available.
No matter how hard you try to bypass emotions, they cannot be ignored indefinitely. Neglecting emotions causes consequences like depression, anxiety, fatigue, anger — even physical symptoms.
Have you considered therapy yet? If not, why not? If you are still thinking that therapy is only for people who are sick or weak, it is time to update your beliefs. We are humans in body, mind, and emotion. Just as we now know that our bodies need good food and exercise, and that our minds need to be trained and alert to function properly, our emotions also need attention and care. Emotions are a dimension unto themselves, a whole complicated and finely-tuned system of processing information. I believe our feelings are just as important as our thoughts, and we need both systems to be in balance if we are to maximize our potential at work and enjoy life at the same time. Emotions play a far greater role in business than most people realize. Developing “emotional intelligence” is an asset you can’t afford to miss.
My book Someone to Talk To: Understanding How Therapy Heals offers an insider’s view of the process of therapy itself.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by