I was at a Lean In event in Paris on Women’s Day. The presenter, a successful woman who had played “the male game” (in her words), and had spent a lot of her time “fighting for her corner” (also in her words), ended her speech with an advice I felt conflicted about.
“You can feel apologetic but don’t be apologetic,” she said, referring to the imposter syndrome. “Park the feeling.”
I started bubbling up inside. “Park the feeling?” I thought. “Like put it aside and ignore it?”
Her advice had a solid basis.
“How you feel is unimportant to business success,” she explained. “If you focus on definable and measurable business metrics, you will develop your business, and you will feel better because of it.”
Neuroscience supports this view. We might wait too long if we wait to feel motivated or confident enough to do things. The motivation and confidence comes after we do the thing. In other words, we will feel we are imposters until we don’t feel that way anymore.
So why was I bubbling with emotion?
I was bubbling because I had parked too many emotions during my 7 years in the business world. I had parked my sadness when someone was unfair or rude to me; I had cried in bathroom stalls so that no one sees my tears; I had concluded I was too weak, insecure, young or traumatized to be in the business world.
I had parked my anger when someone was out of line; I had been silent because if I talked I would talk with anger; I had written long emails I never sent because colleagues who read it had told me it was too emotional.
For 7 years, I had taken emotions out of my work, and now those emotions were boiling up inside of me at the slightest hint of parking them.
The direction of her advice was right: We often want to do things (ask for a raise) even if we have negative emotional experiences around it (imposter syndrome). But the application was very wrong. We never want to park, ignore, forget feelings.
Why? Because emotions show, even if we park them. Because the emotional brain was developed thousands of years before the rational brain, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
But more importantly, we don’t want to park emotions because emotions make us more intelligent. They tell us what matters and what doesn’t. They are crucial to business success.
Sadness tells us our needs are not met, frustration tells us we’re wasting time going around in circles, disappointment tells us trust is broken. How can you have a successful business if you’re not meeting needs, wasting time or breaking trust?
When you ignore and hide emotions, you are not only shutting the door on yourself. You are also shutting the door on that other person who needs to see your sadness, anger or frustration to understand that they are in the wrong.
What stops us from allowing emotions to come into play at work is this fear that we will act on emotions. But acting with emotions is possible, and it is a very teachable skill.
So, at that Women’s Day event last Friday, I found myself wondering:
What if the only important difference between men and women is that women are allowed emotions and are taught how to express them, whereas men aren’t? What if this means that in the world of business, which is run by men, our leaders don’t allow or express emotions?
What if men need help in naming, feeling and expressing their emotions? What would happen if we gave business leaders mindfulness and compassionate communication training, instead of, or along with, gender bias training?
Call me a dreamer, but I’m dreaming for a business world that talks about emotions before thoughts, emotions before goals, and emotions before frameworks.
I’m not dreaming of this because I’m boiling up inside, although that, I have to say, is a contributing factor. I’m dreaming of this because business with emotions would make more intelligent companies, achieve better results, feel healthier, and allow more women to enter the game.