Recognizing the Power of Emotions at Work

Mar 1, 2021


By Deanna Parkton


At least 40 hours of our week is spent at work. Depending on your job, many of those 40 hours might be spent communicating with colleagues and clients while navigating various dynamics and personalities. Throw in stressful situations like deadlines or conflict, and it is no surprise that work can feel pretty emotional at times. 

Being emotional at work has long been a big no-no. As the modern work culture continues to evolve, companies have welcomed employee feedback allowing for more vulnerability and emotion in the workplace. The key is harnessing emotion in a way that benefits not only yourself and your professional development, but others around you. 


A leader showing their vulnerability can be very powerful. More and more, vulnerability has been identified as a key characteristic of successful CEOs. Leaders that are able to show emotion and admit mistakes are more connected to the company and their employees. 

  • Former Apple chief executive John Sculley shared that while Steve Jobs had a reputation of being difficult, he was also very emotional and known to openly cry at work. “So many of the movies and portrayals of Steve Jobs just focus on the ‘bad boy’ Steve, or the idea that he wasn’t perfect,” Sculley told Business Insider. “But they don’t explain why so many people loved working for him as difficult as he was, and the reason is because he was an incredibly emotional person.”
  • Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, noted vulnerability as the most undervalued characteristic of leadership. After a particularly difficult time for the company, he shared,  “There had to be a time when we stood up in front of the entire company as leaders and made almost a confession—that the leadership had failed the 180,000 Starbucks people and their families…. We had to admit to ourselves and to the people of this company that we owned the mistakes that were made. Once we did, it was a powerful turning point. It’s like when you have a secret and get it out: The burden is off your shoulders.” 
  • Anton Chumak Andryakov, CEO of Coaching Hub, shares that the key to being emotional at work is balancing emotions well, advising that you be proactive rather than reactive and be authentic with your emotions. Someone who is overly positive and neglects to recognize the reality of a negative situation lacks authenticity, garnering a lack of trust from colleagues. An overly emotional colleague who directs anger and frustration at those around them is plain old terrible to be around. 


Whether you are in a leadership role or not, there is much to be said about harnessing your emotions in a way that benefits you (and others) at work.  By opening up to others and being vulnerable, it allows others to open up which can lead to conversations aimed at improving work situations.  

The book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions At Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy focus on how to harness emotions at work for good. Fosslien shares: “What we’re really talking about is what to do when you have a strong feeling — sitting down, acknowledging it, not suppressing it, trying to understand the valuable data within it, and then sometimes acting on it. It’s more about admitting that we are emotional creatures and we’re going to feel feelings, whether we’re at work [or] at home and figuring out the need behind those emotions, what we should do next.” 

When we are at work and start feeling emotional about something, we may move onto our next task without taking time to investigate the feeling, leaving the emotion to sit unrecognized and build up. By recognizing the emotions at play, you can take the opportunity to explore work challenges and limitations, moving forward in your own personal (and professional) development. 


Taking time to investigate why you might be feeling a certain way is the first step. The second step is to identify what to do with that information.

  • For example, let’s say that some of your colleagues were invited to a special committee and you were not. What emotions might that bring up and what assumptions might you make based on that? You may feel inadequate or wonder if you did something wrong. This could lead to assumptions such as “I’m not doing a good enough job” or “The person who put this committee together does not like me.” 
  • From there, you can identify whether you want to act on your emotions. This could take the form of discussing with your manager and asking if there was a reason that you were not considered or if they had any feedback to improve your performance in order to be considered for committees in the future. This type of conversation can open up the door to a work relationship that is authentic and transparent. 

The idea of being emotional at work does not mean that you let your emotions run the show, but that you rather “tune into” them to help you make decisions. 

As with many things in life, the key to harnessing the power of emotions at work is balance, and self-awareness. By being self-aware of how you are feeling, why you might be feeling it and what to do about it, you can continue to grow in your career facing situations head on. 


For more ideas on how you can reflect on your work life and identify growth opportunities, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to face workplace challenges head on. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here. 


Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at and she can be reached at