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Check Your Emotions At the Door

Contributed by: Ben Eden

Employees sitting at a table, having a meeting. They're having a discussion.

Have you ever heard a manager say something like, “leave your emotions at the door”?

Sure, there may be some value in that because people need to use their rational and logical side of the brain while trying to solve problems at work.  But when someone is telling you to “leave your emotions at the door” they are telling you that emotions have no place here. 

Since emotions are a natural part of everyday life, that is like telling you to breathe half as often as normal while at work.  Sounds insane, right?  We have gotten so used to trying to ignore our emotions, especially while at work, that sometimes we don’t see it for how crazy the idea actually is.

Understanding emotions

E-motions are energy in motion.  When you feel an emotion, there is a real energy there that wants to deliver a message and then move on.  If you don’t listen to the message (i.e. you ignore or leave your emotions at the door) that message isn’t being delivered and that energy sticks with you.

To help illustrate this point further, let me give you an example.

Say you had something really stressful happen at home, like your spouse is sick and you have no one to take care of the kids.  You feel stressed, alone, frustrated, overwhelmed, and exhaustion is starting to kick in.  You experience all those emotions at home and you are expected to just turn them off when you get to work. 

Now what happens when you remember that you have a huge team project due that day and you don’t feel nearly ready?  In fact, a key player on your team is absent that day and their part isn’t complete.  How will you feel?  Do you think you will feel stressed, alone, frustrated, overwhelmed, and near exhaustion?  Do you see how the lists from home and work can be the same?

Now that those emotions are coming from two sources, it is like the emotion is getting very adamant about delivering its message.  If you still try to ignore it, it will only get stronger.

For example, you are frustrated because of home life, you are frustrated because of your work project, and now you have one of your employees come into your office to ask for help and to explain to you why a project of theirs is behind schedule.  You just can’t take any more frustration so you blow up at your employee. 

Is it unheard of for an employee to ask their boss for help?  Is it against the rules for them to explain to you why a project is behind schedule?  In fact, wouldn’t you prefer to know so you can help instead of waiting until it is too late and now you have to carry the responsibility for a late project?

So why did you blow up at your employee?

Because you let your emotions stack up.  One unresolved emotion stacked on top of another which stacked on top of another until the stack tipped over and made a mess.

And now you have to deal with an unhappy employee (and the project is still late).

I hope you can see by now that this could be a very real, and common, daily experience.  And yet you are asked to “leave your emotions at the door?”

I suggest we change that phrase and say “check your emotions at the door.”  That means you take a moment prior to any meeting or engagement and you check in with how you are feeling.  I am serious.  This is needed, and works; even for men (since society sometimes tells men that they can’t admit they have emotions).

How can you do this?

Putting it into practice

Let me give you an example of my own.

I was an HR Executive at an international company.  We had nearly 2000 employees in 5 countries. 

We would have executive meetings nearly every day to make sure we were all on the same page and that issues could be addressed quickly.

One day, the executive meeting went very long and we had to address some very touchy subjects.  We were behind on some goals, a few departments weren’t getting along, and we were all stressed because of our workloads.

Right after this meeting, I was supposed to conduct my own staff meeting.  However, I knew I wasn’t in a good place emotionally.  I was overwhelmed with the stressful emotions from the meeting I had just left.  If I had gone straight into this meeting, a number of things could have happened.  First, I definitely wouldn’t have paid very good attention.  Second, I could potentially stack my emotions and take them out on one of my employees.  Third, my emotional stress would have transferred to my employees who then would take it back to their desks and it would trickle into the company.

Let me pause here before I tell you what I did to avoid all of this.

Many leaders (even, and maybe especially, executives who don’t know any better) just run from meeting to meeting thinking that the most important thing they can do all day is to make decisions and give orders to their employees.  If I had had that attitude, everything I just mentioned would have happened.  And I can tell you that it does happen because I have seen it happen in different departments.

Now, back to what I did prior to my meeting.

Checking my emotions at the door

I took a moment to “check my emotions at the door.”  I asked my employees to wait outside my office for just a minute.  I went into my office and closed my door, and then asked myself three questions.

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. Is it trying to tell me something?
  3. What can I do about it?

By asking those three questions, here is what I discovered:

  1. I was stressed (stress really means I feel a lack of control.  It is closely related to fear because we fear what we can’t control).
  2. It was trying to tell me that a lot went on in that meeting and I need to slow down and focus on what I can control.
  3. I can focus on what I can control.  There is a lot going on, but I don’t need to worry about all of that.  That is what my executive team is for.  I can just make sure my department is performing the best it can so we don’t add to the company stress.

Guess how I felt after that 90-second exercise?  Not nearly as stressed!  I felt a sense of control and calm.  Why?  Because I had taken the time to listen to the emotion and it was able to move on.  It had delivered its message and now didn’t need to stick with me.

Can it really be that simple, you ask?

If I had heard this kind of thing three years ago I probably would have dismissed it.  I may have had the mindset of a lot of people and wonder what place emotions have at work.  But now that I have seen what happens with unresolved emotions, I know that this simple exercise of checking your emotions at the door will make a huge difference.  Your employees will see you as a much better leader.  Your meetings will be so much more productive.  You will be more productive because you won’t have to stew about what Johnny said in the meeting 10 minutes ago.  You will learn to properly let it go rather than just ignore it.

When you learn to understand and acknowledge your emotions, you gain power over them.  So, yes, please check your emotions at the door.

About the Author:

Ben Eden, MSHR, SHRM – SCP

International Speaker and Life Coach at Ben Eden Speaks

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