I was in the thick of writing about the federal gas tax and how mayors from metropolitan cities are in favor of increasing the taxes if more funds are spent on improving the infrastructure in these cities and less on highways, when a far more interesting topic caught my eye.
Perhaps you don't think much about infrastructure spending, unless you damage your car when you hit a pothole, or happen to be in a traffic jam caused by road or bridge construction. But chances are you think a great deal about how to navigate emotional potholes that threaten to derail you, particularly at work.
A recent article on cnn.com suggests that you should not check your emotions at the workplace door. Instead, you should go ahead and have a good cry, if you feel inclined. You might want to express your emotions behind closed doors, but research finds it won't hurt your chances of getting ahead.
The article is actually an interview with Anne Kreamer, former worldwide creative director of Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite, who wrote "It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace," which explores the emotional dynamics at play in a world in which the line between work and home is becoming virtually indistinguishable.
For the book, Kreamer interviewed more than 200 working Americans to get a sense of what's going on in their heads and how that spectrum of emotion manifests itself in the office.
When asked if anything surprised her while she was writing the book, Kreamer said, "People at upper levels of management, both men and women, reported they had cried at work. The common assumption is that people who cry can't get ahead, so it was profoundly liberating to me to hear that people who showed emotion at work were viewed as speaking from the heart, and it didn't affect their ability to rise through senior management ranks.
"Most people seem to realize that crying is nature's emotional reset button. It was interesting that men reported that after they cried at work they felt refreshed, that they could see the world through clear eyes, but women felt ashamed.
"Another fascinating thing I found out is women's tear ducts are anatomically different from men's. Where a guy might be feeling the same degree of emotional distress, his eyes will well up with tears. But for women, who are biologically hardwired differently, tears flow from our eyes."
Kreamer explained the two biggest areas of difference between men and women and the expression of emotion in the workplace, which center around anger and crying.
"Women reported that they feel anger at work slightly more than men — 51 percent versus 42 percent. But young men (42 percent) versus (23 percent) of women believe that anger is an effective management tool.
"When it comes to crying, 41 percent of women reported that they had cried during the past year versus 9 percent of men."
Kreamer believes it is important not to suppress your emotions at work. She said, "I talked with multiple neuroscientists and reviewed much of the current research in the field and it is clear that when negative emotions — anger, fear, anxiety — are suppressed they have a tendency to erupt more powerfully and explosively in more injurious ways.
"I am not an advocate for 'letting it all hang out,' but rather suggest that if people can look clearly at their anxiety or anger when it begins to percolate, you can figure out strategies for dealing with those feelings before they trigger an unpleasant encounter.
"Don't ignore what you are feeling but instead, try to understand where the emotion originates — are you feeling anxious because you don't know how to tackle an assignment, or because your company is downsizing, or you have too much on your plate — or are you angry because a colleague is taking credit for your work, or you feel undervalued for your contribution, or you work for a bully? If you can decode what's at the root of your feelings, you can develop an action plan to deal with the issues.
"If you bury your emotions, refusing to think about them, you avoid addressing the underlying causes and limit your ability to move forward."
Kreamer also addressed what she might have done differently as a top-level executive knowing what she now knows about emotions in the workplace. "If I'd known, for instance, that men produce cortisol and testosterone (the fight or flight aggression hormones) when under stress I might have taken some of the more tense interactions less personally.
"Had I understood the biological importance of tears — nature's emotional reset button (for instance, among other things tears stimulate dopamine production which is the neurotransmitter that helps elevate mood) and that people cry for all sorts of different reasons — frustration, anger, fear, joy, sadness — then I might have been able to help people process more clearly what had triggered their tears.
"I hope I would have been more compassionate. I also would have tried to work with people to develop more individually tailored strategies — walking, meditation, cooking — whatever, to help them master their emotions and move past their own ingrained patterns."
The article is an interesting read that undoubtedly will resonate with many people. I have yet to meet a totally robotic worker devoid of emotion. I'm certainly not one. Kreamer's book is going on my reading list.
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