I was listening to a podcast that was advising leaders on how to take the emotion out of delivering difficult news to employees and it got me fired up. I believe taking the emotion out of anything is taking the humanity out of connection. That’s what I’m talking about today: how to be a great leader by working with your emotions.

Delivering hard news without emotion makes you come across as cold, hard, and uncaring. That’s not how you want to appear to the people who have done the hard work and their best jobs for you. We aren’t advised to take the emotion out of exciting news or joyful things, so why should we remove it from hard things? I think we do it to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Let’s talk about that.

Emotions are not a gendered issue, either. All humans have emotions and leading with compassion is a human quality, not a gendered one. So join me to find out how to lead with emotion in a healthy way. What does that look like? How can we avoid explosive emotions without ignoring them entirely? How do we share our emotions in ways that allow our employees to feel safe in their own emotions as well?

Key Moments

03:20  How it looks when delivering hard news without emotion  

05:02  Explaining ways in which emotion shows up

09:40  How to manage our emotions before sharing them

  • Partner your logical mind with your emotions before sharing news
  • The importance of creating a safe space for everyone’s emotion
  • The dangers of being emotional to customers but closed off to employees

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Contact Kari Lotzien | Be the Anchor: 

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Transcript:

Kari Lotzien: [00:00:01] Welcome to Be the Anchor, the podcast. I’m your host, business and leadership coach Kari Lotzien. When the seas of life get stormy, and they always will, it is not up to us to captain anyone else’s ship or to try to calm the waters of the ocean. It’s up to us to set our own destination for what we really want, and to learn how to navigate those waves of life together while finding that place of security and stability with others. I call this being an anchor. If you are a dreamer, a visionary, an entrepreneur, whether you have an idea, big or small, that you think might just make the world a little bit better, kinder, gentler place, you are in the right spot, my friend. We are going to talk about everything from big ideas to mindset and strategy, and sometimes just how to get through the day. I don’t want you to miss an episode, so be sure to follow and subscribe to the podcast so that we can stay connected and keep doing this journey of life together. Thanks so much! 

Kari Lotzien: [00:01:10] Hello my friends. I’m so glad you’re here. I am fired up a little bit again today. I was listening to a podcast, and it was talking to leaders about how to take the emotion out of delivering hard or difficult news to an employee, and it just ticked me off because I thought taking the emotion out of it is like taking the humanity out of connection. It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, and I think we need to take this to the recycling bin. Actually, no. The trash. I don’t want to ever see it again. I am so tired of hearing this idea in leadership that to be a great leader and for people to respect you, it means that you need to shut off your emotion and that you just deliver the hard news. I think it disconnects us not only from our teams and our employees, it disconnects us from our customers and from each other. And the biggest issue is I think it disconnects us from ourselves.

Kari Lotzien: [00:02:17] Let me tell you more about it. I have never heard anyone say to take the emotion out of something when you are excited, or when you’re joyful, or when you’re sharing a win in your business. When you are fired up and things are going so well, nobody tells you to take the emotion out of it. The only time we ever hear ‘take the emotion out of it’ is when we’re delivering difficult news, when we’ve had an underperforming employee, where maybe you have to lay people off, where you’re telling someone that they’re not doing a great job. This is when we’re giving the advice to take the emotion out of it. And I think the reason we do it is because we’re not comfortable, that we don’t like feeling discomfort in conversations. We don’t like to show that we feel anxious or fearful or maybe really frustrated or we’re angry. So we’re told that in those specific scenarios shut the emotion off, deliver the hard conversation, and carry on with your day.

Kari Lotzien: [00:03:20] We have gone through some really tough times in business in these last few years, and a lot of people have had to lay off employees, cut back on hours, change job allocations, and we know in our hearts that people may not be really excited about these changes. What I know for sure is that when you try to deliver this type of information without any emotion, you come across as being cold, uncaring, not having compassion. And these are the people who have often showed up in your business, they’ve done the hard work, they’re doing their best jobs for you. And when you show up and shut off emotion and deliver difficult news to them without showing compassion, we’re doing it the wrong way. And I think what we’re trying to do is just protect ourselves from those uncomfortable feelings. Another little sidebar that I want to address here is that when I talk about emotions in leadership, people often think that I’m speaking to the female leaders, and I’m not. Men have emotions, too. Men lead with their emotions. Men have compassion, and they create incredible teams as much as women. This is not a gender-specific issue. Just because you are emotional does not mean that you are feminine. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:04:51] I am talking to everyone in leadership. Instead of talking about emotions as being a gender issue, I like to think of it as being more like developmental stages. When we show up with our emotions like a toddler, I want you to envision what that looks like. Toddlers, typically when they’re upset, don’t think about other people. They’re very self-focused and they just want what they want. Their emotions are big and intense and they kind of flare them all over the place. We don’t want to show up with our emotions like a toddler, because when we show up like that, the image we give to others is that we don’t have that empathy, that care and compassion, and we also don’t have a sense of control over those big emotions. You might also think of it like a teenager. I don’t know about you, but I remember that stage being a teenager where I wanted to portray one image of maybe being confident or having courage and being able to stand out in a crowd. But inside I was anxious and nervous and fearful. I think when we show up with our emotions like a teenager, it feels incongruent because we forget that that whole fake it til you make it, it doesn’t quite land. We sometimes forget that not only our emotions show up in the way that we speak and the words that we use, but it shows up in our body language, our facial expressions, our tone of voice. And it is really difficult, if not impossible, to fake that sort of emotion. And it just comes off as kind of awkward and weird. What we want to do is show up like a well-regulated adult that can see the bigger picture, that understands empathy and emotion and is in alignment with their emotions. We’re not letting them lead like a toddler. We’re not trying to navigate this back and forth like a teenager, of presenting an image that isn’t in alignment with how we’re actually feeling. We want to partner with our emotion and move forward from there.

Kari Lotzien: [00:07:03] And the more that I work with employers who have been in business for years, what I hear from them is when they have to have hard conversations, when they have to lay people off, when they have to tell someone that they weren’t the successful candidate for that job, and they know that that person was so hopeful that they had already started spending their first paycheck. They had already told their friends and their family members that they were sure that they got the job, and you’re the one that has to let them down. Every employer I know, when they have a safe space to open up, they talk to me about how much that affects them. They talked me about how days after they had to have layoffs, they couldn’t sleep, that their stomach was just in knots. Their emotion still lands in their own bodies.

Kari Lotzien: [00:07:56] Now, what does it feel like when we can show up in a healthy way? Leading with emotion? This doesn’t mean that you let that toddler who is letting their emotions lead, where their logical thinking brain is not on par, which is often why they don’t have any words when that happens, we don’t want to lead with our emotion like a toddler. We don’t want to let it come into the room first and set the tone for the meeting before our logical thinking brains get there. And we’ve all been there. You’ve had leaders, coaches, teachers over years that you have seen when their emotion walked in the door before their brains did. They’re yelling, they’re screaming. They’re maybe crying or telling you how upset or overwhelmed they feel. Maybe the anxiety is leading and they’re just sharing this doom and gloom story with you. We know that leading with that type of emotion doesn’t feel good for anyone. Because when we lead with intense emotion as a leader, those who we are leading, those who we are sharing information with, it will induce feelings of discomfort, uncertainty. They don’t know what to expect, they don’t know what’s going on, and it can feel really dysregulating for them. But that doesn’t mean we shut it down. What we want to do is partner with our emotion by first taking some time before that interaction happens, before you have to deliver that difficult news, before you have to step into that challenging meeting where you’re going to talk about the change that’s upcoming that you think might not be received so well.

Kari Lotzien: [00:09:41] Spend some time with your emotion before you go into that meeting and just ask yourself, what am I truly feeling about this? Acknowledge it. Give yourself a chance to say, this is really upsetting me. I’m so angry. And then the secondary question is to ask yourself, what is the story I’m creating about this emotion? We have an emotion, the first thing our logical brains will do is try to attach it to logical fact as to why we should feel that way. Once you get your logical thinking connected to your emotion, it allows you to then unpack it a little bit to say, okay, there might be other reasons. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:10:23] Okay, I want to share a story that highlights this idea of how we connect stories and emotions. A few years ago, I was going into a significant contract negotiation with one of our stakeholders, and before the negotiations were taking place, I knew that this contractor was asking us to make significant changes in our service delivery model, and it was a request that I was not comfortable with at all. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:10:54] I felt angry, I felt that this stakeholder was asking us to do something, and not appreciating the value of what we were providing to their clients. The care and the service and the quality of what we were doing was not being appreciated, and they were just cutting and cutting and cutting. And I felt that what was happening is they believed we would continue to do a great service, but that they wouldn’t have to pay the money for it and it would cut into our revenue. At first I was really angry and I wanted to go into that negotiation, trying to be defensive of our position and to fight back. I took a little bit of time, sat with it, and went back to visiting the core values of my business and how we wanted to show up in that service provision. What it got really clear on is that the requests that were being made of us were not in alignment with the service delivery model that we had prided ourselves on for years. And I felt that if we agreed to do this, to make these changes, that it was going to damage our reputation, potentially to a point that would be very, very difficult, if not impossible to recover from. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:12:07] And I wasn’t willing to take the chance. I got really clear on that, and when I went into the negotiation, prepared to talk about the core values and how we have the same goals, and that we wanted to be on the same page and we wanted to have this true partnership – I got clear on that – but when I showed up for the negotiation, the meeting start to finish, from the time I got out of my car until I was back in my car was less than ten minutes. I didn’t get a chance to talk about anything that I was passionate about. I didn’t get a chance to talk about our results and the testimonials and all of the great things that we had been doing. All I got was based on the initial conversation we had had when the request had been made to cut services and to change our delivery model, based on my initial reaction to that, they had decided that my company was no longer demonstrating the flexibility that they were requiring to move forward with the delivery, and they were choosing to pursue other options. Didn’t even get a chance to come to the table. I went back to my car and I spiraled. I felt that my emotions had led. I felt that shame. I felt I did something wrong, that now I potentially had catastrophic consequences for my team. That one stakeholder represented about 30% of our revenue and having the loss, even though we were going to have a few months to navigate that as we finished out the current contract, I knew that it was going to have a significant impact on our business. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:13:49] I chose to not go back to the office that day, because I knew that our whole team knew that I was going into this negotiation. They knew that it was being a bit tense, and they were going to ask me, and I did not have the capacity to hold my emotion back. I was just feeling completely overwhelmed and afraid, honestly, of what was going to happen in the business. So I took some time. I got clear. Because I knew that if I showed up in that meeting with all of my fears around what was going to happen, losing 30% of our revenue, that my team was going to feel that uncertainty, and I was setting them up to feel like they should be afraid. When I came back into that meeting and I got really clear and I came back to the core values of our business and the delivery model that I had, that we had created over decades, that we were so proud of and that had earned us an incredible reputation in this field, and I wasn’t willing to negotiate that, what happened is that bit of anger fueled the passion that I had for the core values of the business and the service that we did. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:15:04] I combined that with a little bit of honesty around my fear, in that I didn’t have an answer on what we were going to do next. I didn’t have an immediate solution to the problem, but I wanted to sit in this space of, we can do this. I do believe that. And when I presented it to my team, I acknowledged that I was disappointed in the information that I had to share, but that I felt the request that was being made of us in that negotiation would not have served our company well, and it actually would have been worse for the providers themselves. It would have been worse for my team, in that they were being asked to do things that they didn’t believe in, and I couldn’t risk what that would be. I acknowledged that I didn’t know what it was going to look like from there. I had some ideas that there were things that we might need to learn. I might have to reach out to other potential sources and stakeholders to see if we could come through this. In just setting that up and pairing with my emotion, not letting it lead, what it invited was some really amazing conversation about where we can go from here. My team shared that they were actually really grateful that I stood up for them, that I continued to show the integrity, even though that meant a significant loss in revenue, that when push came to shove, they knew that I would stick up for our values and our service model first, that that came ahead of every other decision when it came to revenue that I was making. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:16:35] It actually connected our team in solidarity. And as we moved forward, and I did ask them to do challenging things, we had to learn new skills, we had to reach out and do things that we were a little less comfortable with. But they were on board. And that shift we joined together. So I think this is a beautiful example of how you can partner with your emotion, even when things don’t go well, even when you feel like maybe it was your fault that things didn’t go well. This story is meant to just show you how this can play out in reality. Okay, so once you get the story unpacked and you acknowledge it. So at the beginning of that story, I was thinking, okay, this is my fault, and this is the demise of our company. And when I checked the facts on that story, I realized, you know what? Nope, I’m not holding on to that. It doesn’t represent reality, and it’s not going to serve in the direction that I want to go. So this is just a great example of how connect to your story, look for the logic, address the emotion and then create a plan to move forward. Okay. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:17:48] Say you’re feeling really anxious or stressed, you have some bad news. You know that you’re going to disappoint people. And it’s just, it’s really weighing heavily on you. The emotion you might feel is sadness. You might feel guilt or shame. Maybe you’re taking a responsibility that you feel like this is your fault that you’ve gotten into this situation. So the story that you’re creating is that I’m feeling this sense of guilt and I show up in a in a place of shame. And when I then bring my logical brain on board to say, do I know that for sure? Do I know for sure that this is my fault? When you then ask questions back to that story to say, give me the proof, give me the facts, show me this is real, quite often you’ll find that, well, no, this is what’s happening in the market or this is what we know about how things have changed. It invites that logical mind to come in and start to work with your emotion, and it may just shift it a little bit. Now, you might shift so that you’re not showing up in the height of your frustration or your anger. You’re not showing up in the height of your discomfort, your shame, your guilt, and bringing that to your team. But when you diffuse it a little bit, when you dilute it a little bit, when you question the story, you might find that your emotions lose their intensity, they lose a bit of their power, and you start to be able to express – still in emotion – but maybe your anger turns to, I’m just feeling confused as to how this happened. Maybe your shame or your guilt turns to, I feel disappointed in the news that I have to share.

Kari Lotzien: [00:19:35] So what we can do is just diffuse so that the intensity of that emotion doesn’t filter down into our teams and the people that we’re sharing with. But what we do is we start to just buffer it a little bit so that it feels safer for now other people to also have emotion because this is how you connect. This is how your compassion shows. If you come in with an intense level of anger, automatically your people are likely going to respond by either shutting down, they go into this fear response where they just clam up, or they might go to battle with you and get really defensive and now it turns into a conflict or a really big power struggle.

Kari Lotzien: [00:20:17] What you want to do is create space within the emotion that you can invite other people’s emotion to come into it. We do our work ahead of time. We question. We invite our logical brains to come in and to analyze, Okay, what is the emotion I’m having? What’s the story I’ve created with that? And then link it to, okay, what’s the proof? Where’s the data? Could there be another reason for this that inevitably will feed back in that loop and start to damper, buffer or question your emotions, which takes a lot of the intensity out of it and allows you to show up as an effective leader. Which also has space for the emotions of the people that you are leading, that you’re sharing that information with. This is about processing emotion in leadership. It’s working with the emotion in your leadership. It is not about shutting it down. That’s what I want to leave you with today, is that if you are still reading books that talk about taking the emotion out of it and not dealing with it, just stick to the facts, deal with the whole cold, hard truth, know that this is not the future of leadership. For many of you who work in service-based businesses it’s going to feel like you are trying to shut your emotion off in one sense, and then using it as your greatest asset and your greatest power in your front-line service, because many of you in service, your ability to empathize, your intuition, your ability to connect with other people, if you’re leaning in and you can notice how people are feeling and you know when to ask the right question, emotion is an integral part of your business. It is one of your greatest assets. To turn it off when you’re managing or when you’re in a leadership role, it will seem ridiculous.

Kari Lotzien: [00:22:12] And one step further than that, if you present that way, where you show up one way with your clients or customers, and then you show up another way with your team, you’re going to feel inauthentic to your team. They’re going to feel like you can’t be trusted because you’re a bit like a chameleon and you only show up with emotion, care, and compassion when you’re with clients or customers. And when you’re with your team, you show up with this lack or this armor up feeling. Your team will lose trust in you and it will hurt your business, I guarantee it. So what I want you to step forward with is know that emotion is part of it. It is part of really solid, beautiful, effective team-building, team culture. It is not about being, you know, all Pollyanna and happy all the time. It’s not about rainbows and unicorns. It’s not about avoiding the hard conversations and just showering people with praise. That’s not it. It’s about embracing the emotion, whatever it looks like, wherever it’s at, linking it to a story that you have created in your own mind, and then walking with that emotion in all aspects of your business.

Kari Lotzien: [00:23:34] Thanks so much for being here. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. One of how emotion is showing up in your business, what you notice, where the tricky parts are, where the sticky parts are. Reach out to me. DM me on social media. Let’s have the conversation. I’d love to hear your questions on this. If we can start a conversation, maybe we come back and do a follow up episode with some questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t liked and subscribed to this podcast yet. Hey, why not? Make sure that you go, if you’re on Apple, just go to the podcast page and click on that little check mark in the top right hand corner. If you want to share it, click on those three little dots. Scroll down and you’ll see a thing that says Share Episode. This will help you to spread the news and build our community. If you’re on Spotify, also so easy. Go to the podcast page, click on follow, and again, those three little dots will give you an option to share the episode. Thanks so much for being here. See you next week.

Kari Lotzien: [00:24:35] Please know that this podcast is meant for entertainment purposes only. It is not a substitution for medical or professional mental health advice. If you require support, please do reach out. Thanks so much.