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Why Scientists Say It Pays to Get Emotional at Work

Balancing emotion and professionalism is a winning formula for workplace success.

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BY Brian de Haaff - 09 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Have you seen a CEO scream in a meeting? Hopefully not in real life. But probably on the big screen. When a CEO in the movies yells and humiliates people, the bad behavior is always justified by their unbending passion and relentless pursuit of success.

Going by these portrayals, you would think that arrogance and a hot temper are necessary qualifications for leading a company. I understand the dramatic appeal of the stereotype. But real leaders draw the line between uncontrolled outbursts and showing that they care deeply about their work.

Some people take this too far the other way, though. There are those that argue feelings do not belong in the workplace. They think "emotional intelligence" means sublimating your natural reactions to be "professional."

I have long argued that trying to eliminate emotions from the workplace just creates problems down the line.

Emotions are powerful and can be a source of strength. There is nothing wrong in showing that you are passionate about what you do. Just the opposite -- expecting us to check our emotions at the door at the start of the workday is unrealistic and counterproductive.

It is nice to now see the research confirming that getting riled up at work is a good thing. A recently published study shows that people who have largely emotional (rather than logical) responses to failure achieve more when they tackle a related task in the future.

Here is what you can gain by getting emotional at work:

More growth

The study's author says that thinking about a failure logically can lead to rationalizing it away. If instead you allow yourself to have an emotional reaction, you give yourself the opportunity to feel that pain and learn from the experience.

More honesty

People can always tell when you are hiding your true feelings -- that stands in the way of building mutual trust. Having open and frank discussions creates a culture of honesty where everybody feels free to express themselves and their opinions in constructive ways.

More passion

If your team thinks you do not care, it can be demotivating and even demoralizing. Show them that you take things personally. Your intensity and dedication will rub off, allowing your entire team to feel meaning and purpose.

More innovation

Honesty and passion are the spark for so many great ideas. If you are more worried about avoiding conflict than being straightforward, how can you have those conversations that lead to changes and innovation?

Do not deny your feelings -- let them motivate you and fuel your growth.

Even negative emotions can be an asset if you channel them positively. You can show disappointment and frustration while remaining professional. Just make sure you do it in a respectable way. Your emotion should not be directed at others in a negative way.

In other words, good leaders know how to show their passion without being a jerk. Obsessive egomaniacs may be entertaining in movies, but nobody wants to work for one.

How do you use emotion to improve your work?