“Behind every great woman, there is a friend re-reading her email to make sure it sounds professional.” This is a post/tweet/meme I’ve seen circulating for years now.
And it’s true.
As women, we scrutinize and analyze our communications in the workplace to ensure they are devoid of emotion. We take out expletives when we’re writing a nasty-gram, we make sure the caps lock is off on that email to Hannah in accounting so she knows we’re not *that* mad, and we ensure that our bosses, especially male bosses, don’t sense any “tone.”
But while we’re busy sanitizing our emails and phone calls, we forget to look inwards.
We forget to value our own EMOTIONAL HEALTH.
Lemme explain. ; )
I tell my clients all the time that in order to protect themselves, as empathetic people, empaths, etc., they must channel their empathy in a way that serves them.
This applies in two ways:
- How we view others
- How we emote
HOW WE VIEW OTHERS
Let’s use a life example. Someone is out for a run on the same sidewalk you’re walking down. They zoom past you, knocking your shoulder on the way, and spitting on the ground in front of you (as runners tend to do).
You have 2 choices in this moment: take it personally OR do not let affect you.
Now…when I say do not let it affect you, I do not mean that you should become a creepy, cold, callous robot who doesn’t notice their surroundings. In fact, you have every right to see this person and think, wow, I am glad I am not them. I am glad I don’t behave that way. I am grateful that I respect others around me enough not to physically bump into them.
No, what I mean when I say do not let it affect you, is that you get to decide if you take it personally.
You might be pissed, and think “how could someone be so indecent?” or “How dare they do this to me? How dare they be so rude to the world?”
But it doesn’t serve you. There’s no injustice happening here (and should there be, that would be a different story).
You are too important in this universe to be upset by *this.* It is not worth your time and your energy to be irritated or angry.
And here’s the thing, you might think that you are a very empathetic person. But in this moment, you are inadvertently putting yourself on a pedestal to judge others who disobey unspoken rules about being good to each other.
Instead, real empathy is acknowledging that the runner may have had a bad day. They may have had the worst day of their lives. They may have not been paying attention.
Your expectation and judgment towards this runner and what they should be doing for the world, is only based on how you judge yourself.
If you think you’re the self-appointed queen of empathy, you’ll hold others to that standard too.
AND YOU’LL CONSTANTLY FEEL DISAPPOINTED.
Now let’s shift it back to a professional environment, and apply what I’ve explained.
You’re in a conference room, leading a meeting, and honing in on everyone’s feelings, reactions, etc. – gauging the room and using that intuition to guide how you get the task accomplished. Nailed it – you get what you need, everyone is happy, and you used your empathy to get the job done.
But left unchecked, this megalomania for interpersonal intuition, can result in judging your own leaders. And unconsciously judging yourself.
Friendly reminder that no one asked you expend all that emotional energy just to get a project kicked off.
And so when you see Johnny lead a meeting, disregarding everyone’s mood, telling them what they have to do, and just getting in and out. You flip. Now you’re pissed, and you feel disrespected, and you know that if Johnny actually cared about his job he would learn to read the room and know how everyone feels instantly.
Now could Johnny work on his communication skills? Sure. Is Johnny going to go far as a guidance counselor or skilled negotiator or lawyer one day? Probably not.
But is Johnny really in the wrong? No.
You have accidentally projected how you feel on this person, who no one told they needed to be a mindreader, and got upset when he couldn’t do it. Bit harsh.
Let it go. See the bigger picture.
Give up on trying to read everyone’s mind and put people at ease. You are not a nurse on the battlefield, tending to wounded soldiers.
For those of you already having trouble with this, thinking “how would I possibly shut off my feelings and absorbing the feelings of those around me?”…I implore you to try this technique: THE FORCE FIELD.
A former therapist of mine recognized my empathic tendencies and suggested that I imagine a force field around myself where other peoples emotions could not affect me. They couldn’t get through. I can safely say that I only had to use it once…but it was necessary. (more on that another day)
And it sure does work.
HOW WE EMOTE
As you can logically guess, how we feel our emotions, especially after the fact, does not always serve us.
Do you have every right to feel what you feel? Of course.
Let’s go back to our runner example – I want to be clear that you have every right to react. If someone bumps into you – and it hurts – you should say “Ow!” …and with any luck, they should in theory be present enough to stop and apologize.
But taking that anger and frustration and judgment with you, and harboring resentment, that is not worth your time and energy.
This is especially true in professional environments.
They say, “there’s a time and place” for that. But to me, that phrase implies you should be bottling things up or overly compartmentalizing, when instead, you could be using your empathy to help yourself out, and emote at the right times.
Let’s use the example of getting bad news at work – your raise didn’t go through.
You could use your empathy in the following ways:
- Feel bad for your boss and try not to make this conversation more difficult for them
- Realize that you’ll be “making a scene” if you get upset and hold back the frustration
- Accept that your coworkers are just as good at their jobs and deserve their raises more than you
All of those are understandable reactions. BUT THEY DON’T SERVE YOU AT ALL.
Instead, you should harness your empathy in the following ways:
- REACT and say that you are “very disappointed” (tip: react in the moment, not later)
- FIND GRATITUDE for them telling you the news and helping you to understand the “why” behind it
- REALIZE that your boss likely did everything they could and find gratitude for their help in the process and in the future. ASK for that help.
- COMPREHEND with kindness for yourself that there are either things you need to change to get the promotion next time OR know that you are amazing and your talent is not being recognized…and it’s time to look somewhere else (GTFO!).
React and then reflect.
If you practice this enough, the reflection will start to skip ahead and join in tandem.
But that reaction, in a kind, loving way (e.g. “I’m disappointed” or “This is very frustrating” vs. throwing a chair across the room), is key.
Without it, stifled away behind tears in hopes of seeming professional, no one knows how you truly feel. And when it’s bad news like this, the opposite might be inferred if you don’t emote: that you expected this news or have so little confidence in your value, maybe you’re not worth it.
So please, help yourself in channeling your emotions in a healthy way in life and at work. Do not push away the tears or curb your enthusiasm just to avoid confrontation or harassment. And do not shed them where they are not deserved.
Let go of how you view others. Ease up on how you feel others’ feelings.
And focus on yourself.
You are your biggest advocate.
And honestly, we got bigger shit to worry about…like why our pay is less than what men make. And why more women aren’t CEOs.
Imagine if every woman channeled their empathy in a way that serves their success.
We’d be unstoppable.