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July 13, 2023

When Big Feelings Come to Work 

Melanie Bell

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"How are you?" That's one of the first questions we usually ask colleagues when we cross paths. But most of us, most of the time, are usually waiting for a reply along the lines of "Good." And that's how we usually respond to the question ourselves. It's a typical way of chatting and making small connections in the workplace, rather than a deep investigation of individual emotions or feelings.

No Hard Feelings Book Cover

But emotions have their place at work, much as many of us like to pretend that our jobs are all business. Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy have written two excellent books on the topic. "No Hard Feelings" describes the need and value of bringing your emotions to work in a balanced way, while "Big Feelings" discusses how to deal with the difficult feelings we all face at times.

Sometimes we're dealing with big feelings in our personal lives. We might need support. And acknowledging and addressing our emotional needs can help us to get our work done.

Feelings Too Big to Hide at Work

Last year, I struggled with my big feelings around major life transitions. I hadn't mentioned these personal events to any colleagues. Then I attended a team-building event where the whole company got together.

Big Feelings Book Cover

It started with an ice-breaker exercise and I found myself face-to-face with the head of the whole company. We had a question to discuss that looked innocent on the surface, but it also got a bit personal. As I started answering the question, I began to cry, right in front of him.

He didn't know the context for my breakdown, as it wasn't really contained in the question or my answer. But I'm grateful for his kind and even-handed response. It was a wake-up call for me that I needed support during this tough time. My feelings were too big to keep to myself – and too overwhelming to successfully fence off from my working life.

Finding Support

Ultimately, work is what helped me navigate these big feelings. I spoke to supportive colleagues about my life changes. I also attended a program called "Tea and Talk," offered by my company's Mental Health First Aid initiative. One colleague led these monthly sessions, facilitating laid-back discussions around a mental health topic while we all chatted over coffee or tea.

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Sometimes we need to take time off to navigate big feelings. For me, it was the opposite – I found that my work provided a necessary distraction from getting too overwhelmed by emotions.

Having something useful to do helped me feel productive during a difficult time. And when I needed to take small breaks during the day to process emotions by doing things like taking a walk or grabbing a cup of tea, my flexible working schedule allowed me to take them.

Feeling and Connecting

Bringing my feelings to work, like I'm doing right now in this blog, helps me connect with others, whether it's through the content I write or my relationships with colleagues. I've realized that knowing how to handle my emotions in a healthy way makes me better at my job.

So, don't leave your big feelings behind when you start your workday. They won't stay there. Learn how to bring them gracefully into your professional life, and they'll enrich the work you do!

Listen to Our "Big Feelings and No Hard Feelings" Book Insight

We review the best new business books and the tested classics in our monthly Book Insights, available as text or as 15-minute audio recordings.

So, if you're a Mind Tools Club member or corporate user, listen to the "Big Feelings and No Hard Feelings" Book Insight now!

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Melanie Bell

About the Author

Melanie has worked as a writer, freelance and in-house editor, university writing instructor, and language teacher. She is the author of a short story collection, "Dream Signs," and a non-fiction book, "The Modern Enneagram." Melanie has written for several publications including Huffington Post, Cicada, and Contrary Magazine. And she is a certified teacher of the Enneagram, a personality typology that illuminates people's core motivations.

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