I See You and I Hear You: Valuing Emotions at Work

emotions at work

By Yvonne Milosevic

The days of checking your emotions at the office door are firmly in the rearview mirror. Global pandemics have a funny way of reminding us that we’re only human—and that life is often messy. Now, recruiters are going out of their way to find candidates with high emotional intelligence. These folks have the gift of knowing how to manage their emotions and show empathy and compassion for others. But, exactly why is it essential to notice emotions at work? These researchers have the answer.

Stanford GSB doctoral student Alisa Yu recently co-authored a study on this topic with the GSB’s Justin Berg and Harvard Business School’s Julian Zlatev. The trio wanted to explore whether acknowledging employees’ feelings had practical implications for leaders.

It turns out, managers can better develop that all-important trust with their staff simply by noticing their moods.

“A leader could very easily see someone in distress and choose to ignore it,” Yu explains in Insights by Stanford Business. “But only a leader who truly is benevolent and cares about employees would risk getting involved by voluntarily acknowledging the distressed employee. Thus, employees might take this as a signal that this leader is someone who can be trusted with their well-being.”

“There’s just something special and unique about emotions — they are really core to a person’s inner experience and sense of self,” she adds. “When we acknowledge emotions, we humanize and validate the person.”

3 Ways to Get Better at Managing Emotions at Work

emotions at work

Aim for authentic perspective-taking.

To understand why a colleague or employee behaves a certain way, you need to put yourself in their shoes. With perspective-taking, you attempt to understand their experiences, beliefs, and point of view.

“Emotional intelligence might help you recognize that an employee is frustrated and upset,” writes Lewis Johnson, CEO at Alelo Inc., on LinkedIn. “Perspective-taking can help you understand why that employee is upset or, even better, avoid taking actions that can cause upset in the first place.”

You may not get it 100% right every time, but that’s okay. Appreciating what another person is going through can increase trust and lay the foundation for stronger workplace relationships.

Become a good listener.

Everyone wants to feel heard. A manager with top-notch listening skills can better understand the intentions and feelings of those on their team. Employees will feel more open, positive, and motivated, and will strive to do their best.

emotions at work

As Kate Murphy, author of You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, explains in The New York Times, “Listening goes beyond simply hearing what people say. It also involves paying attention to how they say it and what they do while they are saying it, in what context, and how what they say resonates within you.”

Listening is not about merely holding your peace while someone else holds forth. —Kate Murphy

Show interest in employees’ lives outside of the office.

Our personal lives have a significant effect on our professional performance and development. Consequently, more organizations have recognized the value of bringing your whole self to work. That means showing up to the workplace with all components of what makes you “you.”

emotions at work

You can build trust with those on your team by showing them you care about their personal lives, too. Ask about their families, hobbies, etc., and remember those details to follow up in the future. Mike Robbins, the author of Bring Your Whole Self to Work, explains why it’s vital to show appreciation for employees—not only performance-based recognition.

“To connect with people in an authentic way, we have to see and acknowledge who they are as humans, not just what they do as workers,” he says in this Forbes interview. “When we do both of these things and we separate them out, people feel valued, appreciated, and seen – which allows for greater trust, connection, and performance.”

Given the current global upheaval, there’s no better time for managers to prioritize noticing emotions at work. “The worst thing leaders can do when employees are feeling badly is to do nothing,” Stanford’s Alisa Yu says. “If leaders want to signal care and build trust, they need to meet people where they are.”


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