What an occupational clinical psychologist tells her clients.
There is a growing recognition of the emotional labor performed by workers in many fields, and leaders and managers are no exception. These prominent positions often involve strained relationships and high-pressure situations, and at times can be a source of frustration, anxiety and even guilt. Yet, people who lead others are expected to wear a brave face despite what they may be feeling.
Not only is it impossible to outrun negative emotions, it’s harmful. According to chartered occupational psychologist Naomi de Barra, the best strategy to address negative emotions is to notice them.
“That’s what our brain wants to do. It wants to process stuff,” de Barra said. “There is a reason that we feel these thoughts. Our brain is telling us something. It is sending us a signal. It’s asking us to do something about the reason why we feel sad, scared or angry.”
There can be a perception that acknowledging emotions is weak or self-indulgent. However, taking time to reflect on feelings is vital to a person’s well-being and will aid their performance in the workplace.
“We often find that burnout happens because people spend too long ignoring when they feel bad,” de Barra said.
The first step toward processing emotions in a healthy way, she said, is to acknowledge they exist and ask ourselves why. She recommends writing down feelings and attempting to pinpoint the source. Noticing, for example, that you are worried about the quality of a report that was recently turned in, or if you are feeling vulnerable about a looming review or sudden strategic changes.
Sometimes just talking about the feelings with someone supportive can be enough. Even leaders need people to turn to when things are not going well. For that reason, de Barra recommends a different type of networking that is based around mutual support as much as collaboration.
“One of the most important factors when it comes to being a good leader is having people to talk to within your environment safely and in confidence,” de Barra said. “People you trust who you can really open up to about challenges with people in your team or processes.”
Whether writing down emotions or sharing them aloud with another person, acknowledgment is key to building the resilience needed to overcome periods of emotional distress.
“All of these types of feelings, just by getting them out and writing them down or talking to someone about them, it allows our brain to better process our emotions,” de Barra said.
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