On Expressing Feelings At Work


After I gave a recent talk on women’s creative leadership, a woman in the audience shared that she felt no room to cry at work without being labeled as “the emotional one.” In the same vein, one of my coaching clients asked me whether she should put on her “mask” when she felt overwhelmed at work.

It saddens me that women are still asking these questions. But alas, we live and work in a culture that has a complicated relationship to feelings. Feelings, especially negative ones, have become the enemy of action and action is required to meet business goals.

In my work with women creative leaders, I’ve learned that emotional safety is especially key to a woman’s growth at work. As dangerously stereotypical as it sounds: If you want to retain creative women at your company, you must accept and even welcome the expression of feelings. For most women, feelings are a bio-socio-psychological reality and the price of compartmentalizing or suppressing them is very high.

In a larger sense, this is about being able to show up as your whole, authentic self to work. In my interview with former Design Director at IDEO Andrea Mallard on the Heroine podcast, she stressed the importance of being cared for as an entire human being:

I had this one client that wasn’t a big fan of me and there was nothing I could do to fix this...I fully expected that I would get in big trouble...I remember [Chief Creative Officer] Paul saying, ‘you are worth more to us than this client is…’ [I learned that] this is a company that cares about me as an entire human being and sees my value...that built so much trust and such a strong desire to do the best work of my life there.

As long as work cultures don’t foster emotional safety, I predict women – especially highly creative women – will be the first to go. I’m not saying your company should replace the role of therapy or coaching, but I am saying that the current emphasis is far too much on action and results, and far too little on feelings and process. You may be more productive in the short term, but you’ll lose creative talent in the long run.

What do you think?



This piece was originally featured in 99U's Magazine – Winter 2017 Issue