Feelings help us navigate

A week ago I showed up to a meeting weighed down with sadness. It was the middle of the school holidays and I’d just dropped my son off at his other home. Due to Covid 19 restrictions in my home city of Melbourne we had not been able to have the kind of adventures that usually leave us feeling connected and alive so our time together left us wanting.

I began the meeting determined to put my feelings aside but I could feel the sadness standing over me like a wave ready to crash. Instead of continuing I asked for a check-in round so I could talk about what was alive for me. I shared my grief with my colleagues and they asked me what I needed. I told them that all I needed was to acknowledge the sadness I was feeling, one of my colleagues responded with “Welcome sadness” and the others followed suit.

Then it seemed as though that wave of crashing sadness lay down on the ground beside me, it became a river that flowed alongside my participation in the meeting, nothing to be frightened of. I volunteered to facilitate the session we were embarking on — brainstorming the Amble playbook — and on we went. I left the meeting feeling elated, buoyed by the energy generated by creatively capturing and gamifying our team culture, and gently held by my team’s response to my feelings.

Often feelings are seen as an imposition in a professional context, an obstacle to overcome or manage. I want to argue that feelings can be a source of power and increase our effectiveness at work and in life. Our feeling responses can help us navigate uncertainty and lead us toward innovation.

Anger, sadness, fear and joy are feelings that can get a bad rap in work environments. Here is an ‘old map’ of these feelings generated at a workshop last year in response to the question “Why would you want to avoid feeling…?”

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This old map is based on a variety of stories and assumptions about feelings that have grown up over many generations. What if we define ‘feelings’ as neutral energy and information? When we change our story about feelings a very different possibility emerges, a new map of feelings. Here a group has responded to the question “What can the feelings — anger, sadness, fear and joy — offer you?”

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In my opening story I was resisting my sadness and it seemed like it was going to overwhelm me. In naming it with the team and allowing it to be, the sadness became connection and tenderness, flowing easily into joy.

I am aware that we all have our own relationships with our feelings and often a backlog of unexpressed emotion that makes it difficult to be present to our feelings in the moment. Changing our story about our feelings is a good first step to opening up that relationship and make the most of what our feelings can offer us.

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