Angry? Sad? How You Should Express Your Emotions At Work

Last Updated Apr 14, 2011 5:18 PM EDT

Not so long ago, the culture celebrated nasty bosses. "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap, lionized for cost-cutting turnarounds at Scott Paper and Crown Zellenbach, had a best-selling business book, Mean Business, in 1996. Never mind he was blatantly abusive, gloating over lay offs and destroying good people's careers, while he was soaking up the limelight (I actually once witnessed this in person).

Eventually, Dunlap got fired, and the tough CEO craze came to an end. And in recent years, values, character, and culture have been seen as critical skills for leaders.

But it is a new book by Anne Kreamer, a former director of Nickelodeon, part of the founding team of Spy magazine and journalist, that truly turns the page on the era of the cult of the mean (usually male) CEO.

It's Always Personal: Emotions in the New Workplace, is thoroughly researched, brilliantly written, and copiously documented. Declaring that women are now the new majority in the workplace, Kreamer draws on neuroscience, first-hand stories, and two new national surveys. Her argument: women experience a greater range of emotional nuances than men, and that communicating about and expressing emotions on the job are essential skills that can no longer be ignored. In fact, her book suggests that as more women assume positions of power, EQ--emotional intelligence--will become increasingly critical skills for leaders.

Kreamer builds her case from her own commissioned research and grass-roots interviews, many of them with executives in the media industry. She focuses on what she calls "emotional flashpoints"--anger, fear, anxiety, empathy, joy, and crying--explaining the underlying triggers and the best ways to manage the emotions. If you're feeling angry, she says, learn how to change perspective, how to let someone know you're angry, and how to apologize. If fear is a dominant emotion, she explains how "situational awareness" and visualizing courage can help. For anxiety, learn how to "say ohm and just get moving." For criers, she shows you how handle those moments when you or a colleague breaks down.
She also provides a step-by-step guide for identifying your emotional type: Spouter, Accepter, Believer, or Solver, with appropriate tactics for dealing with style and becoming resilient in a complex work environment. She recommends putting together an "emotion management toolkit" so you can cope with challenging situations, such as writing down your feelings and doing deep breathing exercises.

As a comprehensive guide to managing difficult emotions at work, this is an exceptional book.

But I was left wondering about the issues Kreamer leaves out of the discussion: is the corporate workplace the appropriate arena for such a wide range of emotions? How should leaders and the culture they create help employees communicate and manage conflict?

I've seen men and women burn out on emotional roller coasters, and I've seen the flow and resilience that arise from a workplace managed with transparent expectations, rules for respectful behavior, and an absence of drama.

When a manager cries at work, has leadership broken down in some way? Or should we see an opportunity for insight and change?

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Herb Schaffner is president of Schaffner Media Partners, a consultancy specializing in business, finance, and public affairs publishing expertise, and is found on Facebook. He has been a publisher and editor-in-chief at McGraw-Hill, and a senior editor at HarperCollins. Follow him on Twitter (when it's not distracting).
  • Herb Schaffner

    Herb Schaffner is the president of Schaffner Media Partners, which develops business book and media projects. He is the former Publisher of Business and Finance at McGraw-Hill Professional, and Senior Editor at HarperCollins/HarperBusiness. Books that Schaffner edited, developed, and supervised during his years in publishing won best book awards from The Economist, 800-CEO Read, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times/Goldman Sachs, Strategy+Business Magazine, and the Toronto Globe & Mail. He has acquired and edited dozens of bestselling books including Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, Always On, Make or Break, Freedom from Oil, and many others. During his career Schaffner also worked as director of speechwriting and public affairs to a governor, as a communications director at two universities, and for the highly influential Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC. He also coauthored leading reference works on labor and the workforce.