Studies (such s this one) show that women are more likely to be perceived negatively when they are labelled as “emotional” by others this is true in the workplace and well…everywhere else. As such sharing an emotion can feel very vulnerable or very scary in the workplace. This goes for positive emotions as well as ones that are perceived as “negative”.
Yet it needn’t be. In fact, emotional transparency can be a superpower that enables your effective communication in the workplace. It’s starts with recognising the difference between emotional transparency and emotional vulnerability.
I can help you articulate what you want, communicate persuasively, and build collaborative relationships. In my experience, you’re less likely to be interpreted in a negative light if you communicate from a place of emotional transparency.
What do I mean by this?
Emotional transparency is not the same as emotional vulnerability. People often thank me for being emotional vulnerable, they’ve told me they feel they can trust me (I hope so!) and that I am able to raise difficult topics.
BUT those who compliment me are getting my communication of my emotions (i.e. emotional transparency) confused with emotional vulnerability. With emotional transparency, we’ve already processed the emotions we’re choosing how we communicate them and we “own” them. In this instance they’re comfortable with the emotion – they’re not making it mean anything about their identity, it doesn’t matter so much what another person thinks, and they don’t feel shame or inadequate for experiencing it.
With emotional vulnerability we’re sharing something which poses an implied social or personal risk. The expression of the emotion might feel less chosen in this scenario.
When someone is emotionally transparent, they’re communicating after having processed them. I’m not using the conversation to process them, there is no psychological risk with sharing.
That’s the difference.
If someone is comfortable with their emotions around a certain event, they accept them, they don’t infer too much meaning from them and they don’t necessarily act on them, then they’re able to share them. It means the emotion is just a fact. It’s part of an experience or what is happening.
Of course, it’s not possible to be emotionally transparent without having been emotionally vulnerable at some point prior. The concepts are linked but when sharing with your boss how much you wanted a promotion or when you’re talking about how frustrated you are that an account isn’t going well it’s much easier to communicate how important it is to you by sharing the emotional experience.
How come this matters?
In my experience (and it is only my experience), this is one of the reasons women can find it harder to speak up and ask for a promotion or a pay rise at work. We’re worried how we’ll feel and whether we’ll be able to communicate in a “balanced” way. We know being emotionally vulnerable is a risk.
It humanises you too and makes you relatable. Plus, it’s much healthier to communicate constructively which includes communicating your emotional experience and it normalises expression of emotions too. You’ll feel more confident in the workplace. There’s also a huge benefit in doing so as it’s more information to go off. If a line manager knows you care about a promotion and knows that it matters to you – you’re giving them a tool to motivate you.
If I go to my boss anxious about a promotion and having buried my head in the sand about some feedback, I’m going to avoid talking about this and likely my boss would too (a blog on evasion tactics in the workplace coming soon). I’m going to sound less confident.
However, if I go in clearly articulating that I’ve want one and if I’ve worked through my fear of rejection or criticism and taken any valuable advice from a situation, I’m going to be able to going into the conversation relatively unphased. I can say “I’m feeling a little nervous about this but know it’s important to share with you anyway” in a way that sounds confident.
The alternative is to supress emotions, pretend you’ve processed them, tell yourself you’re fine, stay busy and eventually burn-out. This leads to a loss of confidence in the workplace and general and prevents you from learning coping mechanisms which might make a difference.
Of course, emotional transparency can’t happen without emotional vulnerability. The difference is processing your emotions first (rather than intellectualising them). This can be challenging if you haven’t allowed yourself time to process them and if you’re used to distracting yourself with screens on a regular basis.
If you want to get back in touch with your emotions and learn how to do so in an empowering way, stay tuned for the next post.
Reference: Words Like Weapons: Labeling Women As Emotional During a Disagreement Negatively Affects the Perceived Legitimacy of Their Arguments - Teresa J. Frasca, Emily A. Leskinen, Leah R. Warner, 2022 (sagepub.com)