It’s not personal (or is it?)

Cartoon businessman reacting emotionally to an emailIt’s not personal.

The employee who resists doing what you ask. The boss who “borrowed” your idea. The customer who won’t sign off on the project.

It’s not personal. After all, emotional reactions don’t belong in the workplace, right?

That, at least, is what a lot of career and leadership advice says.

But guess what: it IS personal.

We can’t leave who we are – including our emotions – at the office door. And resistant employees, bosses who take credit, demanding customers, and all the other frustrating behaviors that crop up in the course of a workday – they have an impact on us. A personal impact.

It’s more than just stress. Dealing with it all is what’s called “emotional labor.” It takes effort and energy to coach the resistant employee, confront the sneaky boss, cajole the demanding customer. Emotional effort and energy, which by definition is personal.

When we don’t acknowledge the personal impact and the emotional effort, we can drive ourselves into exhaustion. Instead, we need to recognize that emotional effort, just like physical or mental effort, is work – work that takes energy that needs, then, to be replenished.

And if we think there’s something wrong with us because we feel the emotions – anger, hurt, frustration, sadness, anxiety, and even fear – that come with dealing with these situations, we only compound the problem.

There’s nothing wrong with you because you feel a personal, emotional impact from other people’s behavior.

I hope it’s obvious I’m not advocating for any type of emotional meltdown in the office. But telling that resistant employee that you’re frustrated is both okay and constructive – as long as you’re clear that your frustration is about their behavior, not them. Letting your boss know that it bothers you when he claims your idea as his is a trickier situation, but there too, handled correctly, it can improve the relationship (not to mention boosting your career when you start getting credit for your work!).

And back in my corporate days I once told a client, in so many words, that he was free to yell at me after we got the problem solved, but that right now all he was doing was upsetting me and preventing progress. (It worked. And by the time the problem was solved, he’d forgotten that he was angry.)

Leaving emotions at the office door is, ultimately, impossible.

Acknowledging your emotions, recognizing the energy expenditure, and using your reactions constructively is a sign of high emotional intelligence, good leadership, and responsible care for professional relationships.