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Leaks or Bursts: Managing Feelings in Workplace Communication

by on October 6, 2015

In this post (the second in a series) I am focusing on communication via the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most  by Stone, Patton, and Heen. The authors do an incredible job of breaking down the elements of difficult conversations and offer some very practical steps on how to approach all types of conversations. I will focus on Chapter 5: “Have Your Feelings (Or They Will Have You).” I should admit I chose this topic to purposely challenge myself. The Feelings Conversation is not an easy one to have. Talking about feelings while I’m supposed to be working goes against my nature. This book helps.

Leaks or Bursts
Feelings are going to come out whether they leak out or burst forward. Some of us keep feelings inside and they leak out in other ways. Some can’t help but burst with emotion at times, which isn’t always helpful. The Feelings Conversation is designed to prevent the leaks and the bursts. By following the techniques, you will find value in examining, assessing, and expressing your emotions.

You’re talking to a direct report about a change in procedure. This change will help save time and money, but your direct report isn’t into it. Instead of talking about the feelings behind the conversation you walk away. Now you’re annoyed your colleague doesn’t want to change and your co-worker’s annoyed you don’t care about her point of view. While we can easily focus on the business side of this–you want the change and you know it will work out–we have to change our focus in order to help the organization.

What’s the worst could happen? So, I hold in my emotions. Who cares? The pitfalls of holding your feelings in are:

  • detachment from coworkers
  • tension throughout the workplace
  •  aggression in tone, body language
  • hindrance of your ability to listen
  • misdirected aggression can be perceived as sarcasm

What’s the best that could happen? You begin to create a culture where feelings are expressed without judgement. BUT you can’t just start going around dishing it all out all the time. Follow these steps:

Sort out your feelings  (Protip – Use a feelings inventory to help).

  • Accept that feelings are normal and natural and everyone has them (this can be very hard for some)
  • Don’t be a speedbump, allowing other people’s feelings to always go before yours
  • This is about you, and shouldn’t be a blame game

Negotiate with your feelings (my favorite part!) (Protip – The authors compare this to walking around your feelings as if they are sculptures in a museum.)

  • Your feelings follow your thoughts, so be clear on what you are thinking and why.
  • Ask some questions: What is my story missing? What is another explanation? What is motivating me? How did I contribute to the situation

Describe the feelings (Protip – Start a lot of conversations with “I feel”)

  • Hopefully, negotiations went well and now you can talk about your feelings in the context of the problem/situation
  • Establish a judgement free zone – don’t evaluate each other’s feelings!

Stone, Patton, and Heen end the chapter by talking about acknowledgement which is an important concept – read the chapter for more information!

More Resources:

Needs inventory: https://www.cnvc.org/sites/default/files/feelings_inventory_0.pdf

Free course on emotional intelligence at Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/course/lead-ei

Stone, Patton, & Heen (2010). Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most. Penguin Books.


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