At work, there is certainly an expected way to show up. Measured, smart and forthright people are the ones that get ahead. Smarts and insight are rewarded even at the expense of supposedly important teamwork.
I have my own experience of this. Several years ago, my company put on its annual client event in New York. For a day, we gathered a large group of CIOs and industry vendors to discuss trends in our sector. In the afternoon, we had a CIO panel taking questions from the audience. As hosts, four of us had prepared a hypothetical situation to pose to the panel to bring out their experience on a topic that we felt relevant to the audience. The plan was that we would play the role of the audience member with an issue. The panel was in on the design of this question format.
In my scenario, I played the role of a project manager with a run away programme. As I laid out my issue in front of a packed room, I really got into the role-playing. I channelled the frustration with unfocused staff and a distant stakeholder and I spoke of feelings like anger, annoyed, and helpless.
What came next shocked all of us in the room.
One of the panel members, an experienced and veteran CIO, proceeded to tear strips of me for expressing emotion. Now remember this was a staged case study meant to position the panel members to showcase their experience and wisdom. The audience and panel knew I was not really the project manager.
This is a brilliant example of how uncomfortable people are around feelings and emotions - even made-up ones! Such ridiculing of emotions and feelings sends a very clear message to all of us. Stick to the facts at all cost. I admit to becoming very careful in the language I used for several months after this episode.
The truth is that emotions and feelings are all information for us. Our body sends us signals all the time. We don't have to act on everything we sense but the body is full of wisdom if only we choose to listen to it. The tightness in your neck or the slight queasiness in your stomach all provide you with some more information on what’s going on for you.
For someone with a science background like myself, the idea that the body has wisdom and information first seemed peculiar and downright West Coast. And yet there is science behind the idea.
Richard Strozzi, the grandmaster in the world of embodied leadership, discusses the science showing that intelligence lies not just in the mind but also in the body as a whole:
There are at least two other centres of the body that have been shown to have some functions that are surprisingly similar the brain in your head. Recent work in neurocardiology suggests that the heart has an extensive intrinsic nervous system that enables it to process information and to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain. Similarly, the relatively new field of neurogastroerentology has demonstrated that there is another "brain" in the gut - known as the enteric nervous system - that also functions nearly independently of the brain inside your head. It is because of this that you can digest food without a second thought; it's also why a person can be "brain dead" but still have the ability to process nutrients. In fact, the brain in your gut sends signals to the brain in your head nine times for every signal in the other direction. In other words, your gut has more influence over your mind than you might have imagined! While your heart and gut definitely do not "think" in the cognitive, rational sense of the word, they do pick up critical information from both inside and outside the body and translate it into actionable information.
Many are cautious about this notion of wisdom below the neck. Well trained to keep emotions beneath the radar, for the most part, we have switched off how we feel all together.
In the above example, I assume that the CIO was in some way triggered by my story or how I was showing up. His disproportionate and inappropriate response undermined his standing as the expert. In an organisational context, this could have seriously impacted his ability to influence others in a room. Whatever was gong on for him resulted in a knee-jerk response in the moment that can have a high cost.
Our feelings are a natural part of our intelligence. We are human beings after all. Awareness of what is going on for us internally allows for a more skillful interaction with others. For the sake of more human interactions, and embracing diversity, let us try out the idea that all feelings, thoughts and ideas are all equally welcome.