It feels weird saying we’re on a journey of emotions, especially on a CPA blog. But that’s where we are and it’s a good conversation to be having right now. We’re all still navigating the fallout from COVID-19 and trying our best to adjust to new circumstances. And so I understand that “emotions” has a kind of reputation as not being welcome in the workplace, which is why my last Let’s Get Radical … Live conversation was so interesting.

I spoke with Rebecca Tillemans, an executive coach with pLink Leadership, on dealing with uncomfortable feelings. If you’re on emotional overload, if you’re feeling fearful, anxious, hopeless, and so many other things, this conversation was all about how to deal with these emotions so that we can continue to be productive leaders of our firms and be there for our families as well.

With everything going on in the world today, we’re on overload. We’re concerned for our own health and that of our struggling business clients. We’re in it with them totally. But we’re also concerned about our own firms and our employees. We’re all feeling this fear, among many other emotions.

Most people try to bury their feelings. But there are healthier ways of dealing with them that will help us forge ahead and come out stronger in the long-term. Becca said that burying your feelings is categorized as avoidance, which can lead to problems in your life, right? Failure to deal with your emotions in a healthy way will cause adverse reactions to our bodies chemically, physically, and psychologically, sooner or later. She explained the science behind how stress impacts the body, which was really interesting.

Now, let me ask you a question, readers. Have you, or has someone you know, flew off the handle when they spilled a cup of coffee? Or had some similar over-the-top reaction to something? It’s not about the coffee, or whatever it was. We have contents under pressure, as the saying goes. Our avoidance factor with our emotions has led us to a point where our interpersonal relationships are affected.

But the real question is, how do we become comfortable with talking about our feelings in a profession that’s hard wired for logic and data? This is uncomfortable and awkward, right? The thing is, we’re all feeling it.

People are laid off. Waiting on unemployment compensation that isn’t coming yet. Businesses are closing. All this stuff is entering the workplace at an unprecedented rate because of COVID-19. For someone who is not comfortable with feeling, how do they deal with this mess going on around us?

Start with the language, Becca said. Google the Feelings List so you can start naming your emotions. Because the more accurately you can name your emotions, the more they sort of come down, which is helpful all on its own. Just naming your emotions can also help you to become more present, too.

Know that it’s a temporary feeling. When it feels like a mess, things will go back to normal more quickly if you can talk about it. Get back to a baseline.

Get curious about how you can talk about your emotions. Maybe journaling? Maybe talking to someone? Another sort of creative outlet? Checking in with people and talking about your emotions is one of the easiest ways to do this. There’s also exercise. Becca takes dance classes, for example. Find something that works for you. Either way, you want to mobilize your emotions.  

Any big decision made when we’re feeling triggered in some way is not a decision, it’s a reaction.

These reactions are not going to be well thought out because in a state of heightened stress, you don’t have full access to your brain. Truly. The more primitive parts of your brain are activated during a period of heightened stress and anxiety, and the more evolved parts of the brain aren’t getting as much energy. You are physically incapable of making complex decisions.

We talked about an experience where Becca had a conversation with her company’s CEO, who had just lost his father. When she passed him in the hallway at work and asked him how he was doing, he could have responded with “fine.” Or something like that. Instead, she recalled, he stopped, looked her in the eye, and explained how he was truly feeling. Looking back, she was able to see that he was leading.

In times of emotional overload and stress, you stop. You make eye contact and you tell the truth. And you show that ‘I’m not afraid to ride these waves.’

The situation we’re in now – 100% virtual – is a culture shift. The culture is evolving, but for many of us, getting too ‘touchy feely’ in the workplace is just plain weird. There are these moments now when we’re seeing the human side of our colleagues more and more, whether it’s the spouse, the kids jumping all over them during Zoom meetings, or the cat walking past in the background.

What we’re trying to reconcile is how to be human at work. Allowing that culture shift to happen is tricky, but it’s an important question for every firm leader to ask. Your whole office has seen your house, right? There’s no going back now!

Either we do emotions or emotions do us. Let’s choose to do this intentionally. Pick it up and study it a bit. And when we study those emotions we’re all going through right now, one of the first ones we look at is grief. Or fear of losing something, or someone. What can we do to mobilize these emotions? Maybe learn about the stages of grief. That’s one option, and a good starting point.

But you’ve also got to do something about it. Take some action to make the discomfort go away. So your internal dialogue goes something like this:

“This is what I’m feeling.”

“I think this is why.”

“This is how I’m gong to mobilize myself.”

It’s okay to be upset that you don’t get to eat lunch with your friends at work right now, or that you can’t go out to eat. Get comfortable knowing that it’s okay to be upset about whatever it is that you’re upset about.

The only way to the other side of emotions is through them. You have to allow in these scary, awkward, uncomfortable feelings. Whatever the new normal is, things aren’t going back to how they were before. As leaders, we must learn how to adapt to all this change.

Humans are incredibly adaptive. That’s the really good news. The bigger question on the table is “are we afraid of whether or not we will adapt?” So you, as your firm’s leader, must learn to say “I don’t know what the future will bring. But I do know that we have ingenuity, that we are really creative, and we can figure this out together.”

And then show up. Continue showing up – for your team, your family, your clients, and yourself. Over and over again. Get in the creative realm of mental health, and out of the reactive realm. Curiosity will serve you well here. It’s hard to be positive all the time, especially when it’s not honest. But curiosity will help guide you to your “next.”

Get the whole conversation with Becca on reintroducing feelings back into the workplace by accessing the full video recording below.

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