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October 06, 2022

Expressing Emotions at Work Can Help You Lead Better

You might’ve heard people say, “emotions don’t belong in the workplace.” Well, we’re here to tell you that effectively expressing emotions at work is an important part of leadership

Emotions are always present, whether or not you want them to be – they affect how we filter information, verbalize our opinions, and shape our perspectives.

For example, let’s say you give constructive criticism to a colleague and they take it personally, while another person is grateful for the same feedback. Perhaps the first person struggles with self-doubt, and the second person is more confident. They’re filtering the same information through their emotions. 

Or, let’s say you’re speaking up in a meeting to advocate for something that’s very important to you, but you’re not able to convey your passion about it verbally and nonverbally. That means you’ll be unable to reach your listeners at the heart level. Unfortunately, your audience may leave the meeting without being any more persuaded than when they arrived.   

Are you convinced yet that emotions show up at work?

So how do we better understand how emotions affect workplace dynamics?

Well, you’ve probably heard of the concept of emotional intelligence (EI). Basically, it’s the ability to perceive, understand, and manage how emotions impact our behavior and relationships. Since Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book about it, EI is a concept that’s skyrocketed in popularity, and it’s been connected with better performance at work, stronger leadership, increased happiness, and a longer life

“So we like to say that emotions are data, and emotions communicate meaning and intent. It’s critically important to know that I’m either irritated with someone because they’re late for a meeting or I’m concerned because they’re late for a meeting and maybe something’s happened to them,” said David Caruso, co-founder of the Emotional Intelligence Skills Group to The Atlantic.

"Since emotions are a form of data or information, it’s important to accurately convey those to people and in a way that they will also accurately perceive." - David Caruso

You might be thinking that only uber-emotive and naturally empathetic people are emotionally intelligent. Well, this isn’t the case! Everyone can learn foundational EI skills that enable them to recognize feelings in themselves and others. And anyone can use that information to be a more effective communicator and collaborator.

One tool that can help with improving EI abilities is an emotional intelligence assessment, which gives you an indication of the skills you’re currently using well and ones you might want to strengthen. At Skybound, we offer clients the EQ-i 2.0 assessment, which breaks EI skills into the five categories of self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal skills, decision making, and stress management. 

Expressing emotions at work takes practice. Here’s a tool that’ll help.

We’ve worked with a number of clients who struggle with the self-expression aspect of emotional intelligence. They experience feelings internally but aren’t adept at conveying them verbally to others. Part of the reason for this is that these leaders haven’t developed a varied emotional vocabulary beyond a handful of core emotions. 

One tool that can really help with broadening your emotional vocabulary is an emotions inventory wheel

Have you seen one like this before?

An illustration of a wheel with various emotions represented, related to expressing emotions at work.

When you look at the wheel above, ask yourself

  • How many of these words do I typically use?
  • Do I gravitate towards the narrower center of the wheel or the more varied outside of the wheel?
  • Which words could I practice using in order to broaden my emotional vocabulary?


Beyond this wheel, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of words to describe emotions. And if you want to venture outside the English language there’s even more! The German word Lebensmüde translates to “life tiredness,” or being weary of life. The Greek word Meraki means putting your soul or self into something. The Swedish word Resfeber translates to the nervous anticipation leading up to a journey. 

Okay, we don’t really expect you to start casually dropping Swedish words in the office. But effectively expressing emotions at work is a skill you can strengthen – it’ll help your staff know what you’re thinking, improve relationships, and boost your influence.

Here are some additional tips for identifying and expressing emotions at work: 

Notice your physical reactions: When you’re anxious does your chest feel tight? When you’re embarrassed do you get flushed? Or do you get butterflies in your stomach when anticipating something? These physical reactions are manifestations of feelings. When you’re more tuned-in to these indicators, you’ll be more equipped to express emotions if needed. 

Distinguish between thoughts and feelings: Your opinion isn’t the same as an emotion. For example: “the presentation went poorly” is a thought. While “I’m embarrassed that the presentation went poorly,” is a feeling. Understanding this difference can help you more accurately assess when an emotion is present. 

Practice being vulnerable: Sharing your emotions can feel revealing. However, practicing vulnerability can make expressing emotions easier and easier. The good news is that you don’t have to go from zero to sixty and share your deepest fears. Take small steps into expressing more of a variety of emotions over time. 

Avoid judgment: This one goes both ways. Try not to be judgmental about how you react to a situation, but simply notice the emotion. And if someone shares a feeling with you, try to avoid judgment before understanding the situation. An important clarification: this isn’t a free pass for inappropriate comments and behavior; we still have to hold others accountable when needed.

Write it down first: Before going into a meeting or conversation, try writing down how you feel about a situation. Naming the emotions on paper can help you be better prepared to express emotions verbally. 

Push yourself to answer more deeply: The next time someone asks, “How are you?,” push yourself to say more than just “I’m good.” Go beyond “good” to express something more specific. For instance, are you excited about something you’re doing this coming weekend? Are you well-rested from a good night’s sleep? Are you nerding-out about the next Star Wars episode on Disney Plus? (umm, yeah, that’s definitely me 🙋).

Pick one emotion a week from the wheel above: Make it a bit of a game for yourself. Each week, choose one emotion from the wheel that you typically don’t express, and see if you can work that into at least one conversation.

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