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Effective Leadership: 3 Ways to Come to Terms With Crying at Work

12/12/2013 09:25 am ET | Updated Feb 11, 2014

The other day I was chatting with my special friend, Mike, who told me that he liked that I wore my emotions on my sleeve. Surprised that he liked this about me, I asked him why. His response was "When I know how you feel, I know how to treat you, how to react, and how to respond to you."

I found this interesting, because once upon a time, I didn't think that being an emotionally open person was particularly "professional." Why is it that at home our emotional range is so different from at work? Most of us want to keep a professional "mask" and face it, we want to show the best parts of who we are. Most people also believe that being smart, capable, and competent doesn't necessarily equate to expressing feelings. And so the focus becomes more on conveying a "professional demeanor" because anything else would be construed as being "too soft" in the public eye.

There's no shame in verbally expressing difficult feelings. Not giving some attention to the emotions that run under this "professional demeanor" is like adding one more paper to the already accumulating pile on the desk: we overload our capacity and can reach a tearful state of overwhelm. The world may feel more hostile and judgmental when we don't accept the totality of our own emotions. And when we encounter feedback that we don't want to hear, we can collapse into tears or anger if all other emotions weren't properly acknowledged in the first place (which is also why it's important not to take other people's reactions personally).

When you cut off the emotions that you think are "unprofessional" it actually makes it more difficult for other people to relate to you, because there's not much left to relate to. People want to work with people, not automatons. Great leaders are able to lead because they embrace the totality and diversity of their own emotions and that of others. This level of emotional intelligence is what separates those who lead by fear and those who lead with compassion. Hence, your sensitivity is actually an asset, rather than a burden. At the same time, teamwork is a two way street: those being led also need to be emotionally vulnerable in order to be led effectively as well and to get the support they need to advance within their roles.

The truth is that failure to verbally acknowledge difficult feelings is a barrier to true productivity, progress, and effective leadership in the workplace. We are humans, after all. Here are a few tips to help you lead more authentically by being in touch with yourself so that you can lead your life and your career more effectively.

1. It's OK to feel

Whatever it is that you are feeling, be mindful of it and actually experience the sensations that come with it. Instead of fighting it, sit with it and explore the thoughts that are causing you to feel the sensations. When you accept, rather than reject, your emotions, you allow room for compassion, strength, and rapport -- traits that great leaders possess. Accepting our feelings opens the doorway to accepting ourselves, which will also in turn lead to accepting others.

2. Begin with the phrase "I feel ________."

When I was first starting to accept myself, this was extremely difficult! It makes it harder for someone to argue against what you feel. If you make a statement but try to make it "objective" someone can still have a different perspective on it. But if you simply state how you feel, you are putting your truth forward for consideration. For example, if the boss is pushing for a deadline that you realistically don't believe you can meet, it's acceptable to say "With XYZ currently on my plate, I feel that it would be rushed to complete this project in the proposed timeline. However, I can do it by this deadline instead. What do you think?" Being honest with how you feel opens up the discussion while you remain authentic to yourself.

3. The strength in emotion lies in the rapport

It is strong to admit to what you're feeling. Such an admission takes guts because not very people do this. The reason not many people do it is because it is scary. But doing so is putting yourself out there so that you can relate to the person at hand, which will only increase rapport and improve the working relationship even more. If you don't make your internal state of emotion known, how are people going to treat, respond, or react to you? Assuming that people will read your mind is a mistake that will lead you away from what you set out to accomplish.

Emotional intelligence is the new IQ. Being truly emotional is verbally expressing yourself authentically in the moment. The more you practice being comfortable with your emotions, the more strength and control you cultivate so that you rely less on tears and anger to express what you are truly feeling. It is through vulnerability that we cultivate strength within ourselves and rapport with others. What you'll find is that you'll be less frustrated with yourself and those around you and that you can achieve with ease and a clearer mind.

Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a speaker and Health Coach who believes that you are important, no matter what you achieve. She works with high-octane women to have more love and balance in their life while being great on the job. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for tips every other week on finding balance at www.achievewitheasenow.com