Start Harnessing and Leveraging Your Emotions at Work

Emotions have certainly run high this year, in pretty much every area of our lives. Are heightened emotions a good, healthy shift, though? Do they have a place at work? Lori Berry, co-founder of 4word: Southlake, explains that, as Christians in the workplace, we are instructed to use our emotions for the good of other people, especially those with whom we work.

Do you think emotions have a place in the workplace?

The short answer is absolutely, yes. Here are a few things I’m feeling right now: Zoom fatigue, loneliness from isolation, fear of the unknown, heartbreak over social injustice, worry about health, and so much more. These are all part of my experience, and I bring my whole self to work. As much as I’d love to check that baggage at the door, now I don’t even have a door to go through as I have been working from home (like many of you) for more than six months.

Now, more than ever, it’s important for us to harness and leverage our emotions in the workplace. It takes compassion and empathy to make it through this difficult season. Authentic, vulnerable conversations are empowering us to get through each day. Even during “normal” non-pandemic times, we have lots of great emotions helping us at work. I think people tend to envision tears or tantrums when they think of emotions in the workplace, but there are so many ways emotions play a positive role. We should absolutely embrace joy and pride when our team has achieved a goal, and disappointment from missing the mark motivates us to learn and grow. 

Sometimes, though, we run into trouble when we let our emotions run around unrestrained. Our feelings should not be the leader. They should be supporting data in our behavior and decision-making. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” (Jeremiah 17:10, NIV), is a guiding verse for me. I am an extremely emotional person, which is good and bad. I must remember that sometimes my feelings are liars, like the verse says. The way I feel about a situation may not be the actual truth. Sometimes I need time and space to filter my feelings, ask myself questions, and listen to the Holy Spirit for the truth.

As Christians, are we at an advantage or a disadvantage when we’re thrown into an emotionally charged situation at work?

Our faith is always an advantage. We have a guidebook (the Bible) and a helper (the Holy Spirit) that help us know the truth and react appropriately. Jesus was a perfect example. While He was in human form, He experienced emotions including justified anger, sadness, and of course, joy. We also have the hope of knowing we are not defined by the current situation, and God has the final word. That knowledge keeps things in perspective. If what my boss thinks of me is the most important thing in my eyes, I will crumble and cry in the face of negative feedback. If I see myself as a daughter of the King who has been created for amazing purposes, I see feedback as a learning opportunity, not as a label that defines me.

How have you dealt with difficult emotions at work?

I wish I could say I’m in full control of my emotions. I’m still on the journey, and I don’t expect I’ll ever deal with emotions perfectly. I have been known to cry at work, especially when I think I’ve disappointed someone. Responsibility is one of my greatest strengths, but it also means I’d rather die than let you down. Feeling overwhelmed also leaks out in tears at times. If I’m overtired, or if I think it’s impossible to get it right, the waterworks flow. 

I have learned what to do when I feel the tears welling up at work, though. Immediately, whatever situation I’m in, I call a time out. If I can manage to get words out, I explain I’m experiencing some feelings right now, they’re nobody’s fault, but I need a couple minutes to pull it together. (Men try to start apologizing, but I stop them and say I’ll be right back.) I head to the bathroom, breathe deeply, pray, and tell myself to calm down. I do whatever I can to engage my left brain (count backwards from 100, look up and to the left, whatever it takes). I ask God, “What is the truth in this situation?” After I’m calm, I can resume the conversation with a brief explanation of what might have triggered the reaction. If I try to stop the tears without walking away, I spend the rest of the conversation trying not to cry, which means I can’t think clearly or even be reasonable. The key is to step back and capture my thoughts.

I’ve experienced other difficult emotions at work, as well, ranging from jealousy to anger. I am super competitive, and a couple of years ago, I expressed my opinion on how poorly a contest was run when I didn’t win it. Thankfully, my manager was kind enough to pull me aside and share the difficult truth of how my behavior looked. I had reversed the priorities by placing winning above the contest’s purpose. Competitions are a danger-area for me, so I will always need a lot of self-talk to keep myself in line. Ironically, I have gained a reputation of being kind and compassionate at work, which I AM, but if they could only hear what goes on inside my head! 

What does the Bible say about dealing with emotions well?

The Bible helps us to put our emotions in perspective. My favorite passage on this is in Romans 12 (NIV). 

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another, (14-16a).”

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone, (18).”

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, (21).”

Did you catch it? As Christians in the workplace, we are instructed to use our emotions for the good of other people. I feel like the world could use a whole lot more of that right now!

What advice would you give to someone for the next time thy come up against a tough situation at work?

Don’t even attempt to approach a difficult situation when your tank is empty. Before you face the challenge, spend more time with God. You will need to armor up in advance. If you’re feeling empty, let God fill you. If you’re feeling envious, thank Him for the many blessings you already have. If you feel inadequate, ask Him to show you how He feels about you. If you feel afraid, read and reflect on the many promises He’s given you in His word. Ask God to show you the truth in the situation. Ask Him to shine light on what you’re not seeing, to see the situation from His perspective. Pray for the people who have frustrated or hurt you. When you allow God to give you the right heart and the right words, you will live out those instructions in Romans 12 and experience more peace. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Feelings are some of God’s most generous blessings. Don’t waste them! As I mentioned, I haven’t mastered emotions in the workplace. I lean on the help of prayerful friends to help me process things and make wise decisions. I have been counseled, mentored, advised, and coached by some amazing people, including several women I’ve met through 4word. (Shout out to the 4word Mentor Program, Elizabeth Knox/MatchPace, the ladies of the 4word: Southlake Community Group, 4word staff and volunteer leaders—past and present, and many more. I couldn’t do it without you. Thanks for letting me cry!)  

Surround yourself with truth-telling supporters. We need each other! 

Lori has been married to her sweetheart, Rich, for 30 years. They have three kids: Carter, a financial professional engaged to Carlie; Maggie, a ministry regional director who is married to Dylan; and Bethany, their “Baby Duck” who is a junior in high school. 

Lori enjoyed being a part of 4word’s leadership team and co-founded 4word: Southlake, where she is an active member and board advisor. After earning her Master’s in Pastoral Counseling in 2016, Lori pursued her desire to live out her calling in a corporate environment, and has been at Fidelity Investments for three years. As a career changer, Lori proved you’re never to old to learn when she proudly passed five licensing exams in 16 months. While she never dreamed she would end up as a leader at a financial firm, she treasures the opportunities to influence and encourage many people she wouldn’t otherwise meet.

Her favorite hobbies include reading books on the beach, relaxing with family at the lake, and driving around for no reason in her “mid life crisis” convertible. Give her a shout if you want a ride!