In most workplaces the “F” word is taboo. There are some words you just don’t say out loud and the “F” word tops the list. Leaders, in particular, are afraid to even think about the “F” word, much less say it in public. Experienced leaders have learned that mentioning the “F” word is like opening Pandora’s Box. You flip the lid on that bad boy and you’re in for a world of hurt. Some things, including the “F” word, are just better left unsaid.
I think that needs to change. Leaders need to use the “F” word more. Much more.
I used to be afraid of the “F” word until I learned better. Now I find myself using the “F” word whenever I get the chance. Here are four reasons why I use the “F” word – feelings – in the workplace (you didn’t really think I was talking about that “F” word, did you?!):
1. It recognizes reality – People don’t check their feelings and emotions at the office door. Every one of your employees is a walking, talking, bundle of thoughts and emotions that affect the way they “show up” at work. Even though every manager in the world wishes that people kept their personal lives at home and didn’t bring their issues to work, that’s just not realistic. Everybody, including you and me, have issues in our lives that affect our work performance. Maybe it’s a sick child, an ailing parent, marital problems, financial pressures, <insert challenge here>, you name it – we all have ups and downs in life. Effective leaders have learned to be emotionally intelligent and understand the need to manage the whole person, not just the faceless/mindless “worker” that shows up to do a job.
2. It builds trust – There is no more important leadership competency than building high-trust relationships. There is very little chance for success in the leader/follower relationship without a solid foundation of trust. One of the core elements of a trustworthy relationship is “connectedness.” People trust you when they know you care about them as individuals and not just workers being paid to do a job. Acknowledging emotions, maintaining open communication, and recognizing/rewarding people for their accomplishments are key behaviors in building trust. You can’t build trust without using the “F” word.
3. It fosters engagement – Research has shown there are 12 primary factors in creating passionate employees at work. By “passionate” I mean engaged employees that are willing to be good corporate citizens, perform at high levels, and devote their discretionary energy to accomplishing their goals and those of the organization. Two of those 12 factors are relationship-focused: connectedness with leader and connectedness with colleagues. Like the theme song from the old TV sitcom “Cheers” says, “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” People need rewarding interpersonal relationships with their coworkers to be fully engaged on the job. Employees also want and need a supportive and personal relationship with their boss. Of course this varies by personality types and other factors, but everyone wants to have a positive and productive relationship with their leader. You have to talk about feelings if you want engaged employees.
4. It helps manage stress – People need an appropriate emotional outlet at work to share their concerns and frustrations. There needs to be a “safe zone” where people can voice their feelings without fear of recrimination, and in order for this to be possible, there has to be a high level of trust. Admittedly, this can be scary. If there aren’t proper boundaries in place, venting can quickly turn into gossiping, whining, complaining, and general negativity. That’s why I think it’s important for leaders to take charge on this issue and create a culture where their people feel safe in coming to them to share these concerns. People are going to vent about their frustrations whether the leader chooses to be involved or not. Why not be purposeful about creating a system, process, or structure to positively channel these feelings? (Oops, there I go…using the “F” word again.)
The world at work has changed dramatically over the last 25 years. The “F” word used to be off-limits. Everyone understood that people showed up for work, punched the clock, did their job, punched out, and went home. There wasn’t any namby-pamby talk about feelings, engagement, well-being, or happiness at work. You want to be fulfilled? Get a hobby outside of work. That will fulfill you.
Nowadays there is much less separation between a person’s personal life and work life. Technology has blurred the boundaries between those areas and it’s created new dynamics in the workplace to which leaders have to adapt. Whether you like it or not, leaders have to know how to deal with feelings in the workplace. Get used to it, you’re going to have start using the “F” word more. Much more.
Great read Randy. Well written – well done. I’m with you on that. Times have changed. In today’s world it’s just a word.
Thanks, Brian, I appreciate the feedback. Indeed, times have changed and leaders have to change with them.
Loved the post, Randy and connected with your great points about needing feelings and caring to build meaningful and trusting relationships.
I also think that when a person shows their vulnerability they are more successful in building relationships and becoming a stronger leader. When we share our feelings and moments of stress with others, we are exposing our humanness as leaders. People connect with those emotions and we actually evolve into more authentic leaders.
You said it perfectly Terri! Acknowledging feelings in the workplace leads to more authentic leadership and more engaging and caring workplaces.
Thanks for adding your insights!
Great post!! Totally agree that if we are truly leading our organization, we must embrace the idea of discussing feelings. The people around us want their work to be more than just a place to go and perform task. They are desiring to be engaged with those around them and for us to help develop that culture, we must understand each other. The first step in this development is to know how we are feeling. This can’t happen unless we are willing to talk about feelings and more importantly, listen to how those around us feel. Appreciate you discussing this important topic!!
Wade – You hit the nail on the head…people want their work, and their workplaces, to be something more than just a place where they labor for a paycheck. They want meaning and involvement.
Thanks for contributing to the discussion.
Hear, hear. In my office, you can gauge the level of trust between yourself and our deparment’s director by how comfortable he is swearing around you.
LOL…I hope your department’s director is using the “F” word that I talked about!
Yes I know what you wrote about it. But I’m not kidding ha.
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Terrific post. A mentor once told me not to be afraid to express my feelings. It is so powerful when you say, “When you say that, it makes me feel …. Is that what you intended?” And when others are impacted, I often will stop and ask “how is this impacting you?” “How are you feeling about this?” Wise post, Randy.
Thank you Skip. Those are excellent questions for leaders to have in their toolkit as they interact with folks. I’m going to start using them myself!
Excellent points, Randy! With feelings comes empathy and, with empathy, comes more open leadership. Thanks! Jon
Thank you Jon!
It is about time someone said it was OK! I say it under my breath and immediately after look around to make sure no one noticed.
Finally someone said it was OK. I often say it under my breath and then quickly look around to make sure no one heard. Occasionally someone does and always comments about how out of character it is.
Reblogged this on Movers, Shakers, Leadership Makers.
Great article – encourages me to continue to promote feelings at work – thank you!
I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Randy – Great post. When I saw the title I thought of a different “F” word (no not that one), but I think you’re “F” word might be more important at times than mine. My word was “focus”. Thanks for a great article
Thanks for your comments. Focus is an important concept as well, given how leaders are pulled in so many directions. Fodder for a future article!