By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Content Agency
Q. I've been through quite a bit of therapy, and I believe it is important for me to be honest with my feelings at work. The other day I told a coworker he was hurting my feelings, and he just got mad. Isn't the point of mental health to know how you feel? Is there a way to talk about my feelings that doesn't make my situation worse?
A. The way to talk about your feelings without making a situation worse is to use your feelings internally to figure out what you want - then limit yourself to sharing your specific request. Telling a coworker that he made you sad, mad or scared will just make him hear that you think that he is a bad and mean person.
Feelings are actually designed to be our inner compass that highlights what we want out in the world. Sometimes our feelings require us to see and change our own behavior. Sometimes our feelings require us to ask for help from other people.
Both examining our own behavior and asking others for help are universally uncomfortable experiences. We prefer to think that what we are doing is just fine and that we don't need any help from anyone.
However, the workplace is a team effort. If we are to achieve the productivity, profitability and results our company hired us for, we've got to have high-level skills in collaboration and interdependency.
Let's say you come to work and find you are angry at a coworker who provided inaccurate numbers for a report you are writing. Sure, you could tell him he made you mad. You could also accuse him of nefarious intentions like sabotaging your job. You could also just let him know that if the numbers he provides are inaccurate, you'll have to explain why to your boss and you'd prefer not to credit him with the incorrect data.
People at work simply don't change because we are upset. They care a lot about getting what they want but care little about our feelings. Beyond the fact that feelings are not influential, stating our feelings is usually alienating to others.
Somewhere during the experimental 1960s, society seemed to decide that letting it all hang out was a good recipe for a high-quality life. However, at work you are better off letting your inner reactions hang in and being quite strategic about exactly what you hang out in words and actions.
My corporate clients tell me this interpersonal habit has even improved their love lives, friendships and parenting because it focuses them on asking for what they want, not telling others how they feel about what they are not liking.
Try going home tonight and actually asking your significant other for what you want rather than complaining about what you don't like. I'll bet you see an immediate uptick in cooperation from those who matter most.
If you can simply acknowledge and contain even your most intense emotional reactions internally, you can consider the best course of action. You can then use these intense reactions as gasoline in the fuel tank to drive your career where you want it to go.
Some people simply open their mouth at work and let fly with whatever they're feeling. If you are a professional who can filter these emotions through the cool layer of your head, you'll get the best of both worlds. The passion and energy you need to see breakthrough solutions and the cagey strategy of doing what works, not what feels good.
The last word(s)
Q. I often end up saying things I regret at work. Is there any trick to give myself a moment to think before I open my mouth and make an enemy?
A. Yes, repeat back in your own words what the other person is saying. The person is front of you will feel validated and calmed and you give yourself a moment to reflect on how to react.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This column was printed in the September 21, 2014 - October 4, 2014 edition.