Emotions at Work with Liz Fosslien
You know we love talking about feelings, and we love talking about work. So when we saw that a new book was hitting stores this month called No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work, we just knew we had to talk about it.
We’re joined today by one of the book’s coauthors, Liz Fosslien. She’s an information designer, an illustrator, and a woman on a mission to help people understand that feelings aren’t just normal, they’re crucial—even on the job.
You’re not the only person that is feeling anxiety, that is feeling joy, that is feeling frustration. There’s this really traditional view that you should check your feelings at the door when you enter an office. And research shows that we are emotional creatures, regardless of circumstance. So, it’s actually biologically impossible to feel nothing.Liz Fosslien, coauthor, No Hard Feelings
We talk about:
- Why you shouldn’t “check your feelings at the door”
- How listening to your feelings can make you smarter
- The problem with suppressing emotions to be “successful”
- Why our love affair with “rational thinking” at work is failing us
- When and how to start talking about your feelings with colleagues
- The book: No Hard Feelings
- Liz and Mollie’s website
- Names drops from the interview: Pat Wadors, CHRO of ServiceNow; Mellody Hobson and her TED Talk, “Color blind or color brave?”; sociology professor Adia Harvey Wingfield; psychology professor Kira Hudson Banks; and Gregory M. Walton, the Stanford professor behind The Belonging Guide
- Everybody’s winging it all the time, not just you
- The worst part of feeling like an imposter is the loneliness
- Fuck yeah to boss women—like Emilie Aries and her podcast, Bossed Up—Sara’s latest binge
I think most of us feel like we’re winging it in life in general…and we just don’t talk about it enough. And so then what happens is people who are struggling feel like everybody else has it all together. But no, we totally don’t have it all together.—Sara
This episode of Strong Feelings is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Go to getharvest.com/strongfeelings to get 50% off your first month.null
Sara Wachter-Boettcher Today’s show is supported by Harvest, our favorite time-tracking and invoicing software. Use it to plan projects, bill clients, track you and your team’s time, and so much more. Plus, there’s even Harvest Forecast, which lets you schedule your team across projects, and easily see how booked up or free people are. Check it out at getharvest.com/strongfeelings and you’ll get 50% off your first paid month. That’s getharvest.com/strongfeelings. [intro music plays for 11 seconds and then fades out]
SWB Hey everyone, I’m Sara!
Katel LeDû And I’m Katel.
SWB And this is Strong Feelings! A podcast about work, feminism, and friendship—and what happens when you bring them all together. So, Katel, you were in Atlanta this weekend and according to Instagram, you were meeting lots of new dogs! [KL laughs] How was your trip?
KL I was. It was so lovely. I got to see a bestie I don’t often get to see, and I just really like Atlanta a lot and I would love to spend more time there. And we just did some really strong chilling and hanging. We got manis and pedis and we just walked around, and it was just really nice. And I also did meet a lot of really awesome dogs—I didn’t just ogle them as I walked by like I usually do, I gave a lot of them pats and scritches because their owners were just very friendly and seemed extremely used to people wanting to pet their pups. It was great. How was your weekend?
SWB Well, I didn’t go anywhere. But that’s okay because I was actually working on some materials for an event that I am really excited about. It’s “Global Diversity CFP Day,” which is sort of a mouthful, but on March 2nd all over the world and right here in Philly, there’s going to be these workshops for people who work in tech or design or anything related to that. And they’re really designed to help people from underrepresented groups come up with talk proposals and pitch their ideas to conferences. So, CFP stands for “call for papers” or “call for proposals.” And that’s what a lot of conferences call it when they send out that they want speaker submissions. So, for the one we’re doing in Philly, I’m facilitating it. And there’s a bunch of other awesome people helping me organize it. And so if anybody’s interested, you can go to globaldiversitycfpday.com and you can RSVP for this one or any of the events. But it was really fun to start working on the curriculum, because it helped me start thinking about what kinds of prompts I would ask people to help them come up with ideas so they could kind get over that “what am I going to talk about?” or “do I have anything new to say?” feeling. You know?
KL Yeah. I’m so excited to hear how that’s going because I remember you talking about getting involved with it and thinking it sounds like such a great event. And also it really made me think about the research we did last fall—hearing from people about how they think about and go about developing professional visibility. And one great way is to give talks, but that can feel really intimidating if you’re not sure where to even start.
SWB Yeah, I mean that was one of the things that I kept thinking about and I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The kinds of stuff people said to us when we asked them what barriers they’ve hit or what problems they’ved face when they’ve wanted to get more visible professionally. Because over and over again, people would say things like, “I don’t feel like an expert,” “I don’t know that I could stack up to all those other people who are doing such amazing things,” or one of them has even been “who am I to be talking about this?” And I think about those people all the time as I’m working on this stuff, because it’s really important to me to make people know that a lot of people feel that way. And it’s okay that you feel that way. But those are not the facts, right? The fact is that you may actually have some really great ideas in you and it’s just a matter of finding them and hearing some feedback from people to help you feel a little more confident in them. So, I’m hoping that that’s something I can really help with—help people realize they know something valuable, they don’t have to know everything, and they totally do belong. If they want to get on stage, then they absolutely should do it.
KL Ugh, I feel that so much. And I think about how that stacks up to imposter syndrome a lot. Did you ever feel like that when you started speaking and writing?
SWB [laughs] I think I get a new bout of it every year. [laughs & KL laughs] Because I feel like every time I start doing something new, I feel like an imposter again. Like, “okay I’m going to start talking about a new topic. Okay, well, who am I to be doing that?”
SWB “I’m going to start working on a new medium like podcasting. Well, who am I to be doing that?” And I think some of that’s okay. It’s okay to feel intimidated and scared. It’s okay to recognize that you might be doing something new that you’re not a total expert in. But something I’ve really been trying to keep in perspective and really remember is that all the smartest people that I know who I’m close to have admitted to me at this point that they feel like they are winging it all the time. And I think most of us feel like we’re winging it in life in general, [both laugh] much less when it comes to doing something like getting on a stage. And we just don’t talk about it enough. And so then what happens is people who are struggling feel like everybody else has it all together. But no, we totally don’t have it all together. [laughs] And so to me, a huge part of becoming an expert is putting in the work of learning and trying and thinking about a topic. And so you kind of have to give it a go and you have to put yourself out there in order to become an expert anyway. So, you’re not an imposter, you’re just working on it and you’re kind of working out loud. What about you, Katel? Do you ever get that imposter feeling?
KL Yeah. I go through it more often than I’d like, but I think you’re absolutely right. And thinking back to earlier in my career, I really wish that I had just heard more people talk about it. I remember a few times I had to give presentations about a project I was leading at National Geographic. And I was working with a co-lead on it and he seemed to not just be at ease and relaxed doing any sort of public speaking, he actually seemed excited about it. And that just totally did not fit with how I felt about it. And he’d always try to pump me up before we went into any of our presentations, but I just couldn’t get out of my own head that I wasn’t supposed to be up there with him. And finally, one day, he asked me why I was so nervous getting in front of people to talk about our project, and I said I didn’t feel like I was the expert on it. And he looked me in the eyes and he was like, “how long have we spent working on this? How much research have we done? How much time and focus have you put into developing this project? And how well do you know it?” And the answers were like, “years, I’ve done all the research, and I know it like the back of my hand.” And he was like, “so, yeah, you’re the expert. And the people we’re talking to are not trying to poke holes in our project, they just want to know what we know.” And that’s how he looked at it.
SWB Yeah, I think that’s really important. You know, I started this tweet thread the other day where I asked people who do a lot of speaking what they’d wished they’d known before they started. And a bunch of people chimed in with really similar variations on that, where they would say things like, “the audience really wants you to succeed” and “people don’t want to tear you down, almost all of them are there to learn from you.” And just reminding people that not everybody is just waiting with bated breath for you to do something wrong. [laughs] Because actually, if your talk goes badly, that means it’s a waste of their time, right? They want it to go well because they want it to be a good experience for them too. And I think that that’s hard to remember though. If you’re in that mode of being scared to get up there and being scared about how you’re going to be perceived, you feel like everybody is judging you. And there can be some of that for sure.
SWB But I think it’s a really unhelpful mindset to get into.
KL Yeah, totally. And it turned out that he was also getting nervous. He just knew he had to remind himself of all the things that he had talked to me about every time he got ready to present his work. So, while it was really helpful to get that validation from him, it was even more helpful to hear that he also struggled with it. I’d operated under this assumption that he was totally confident and didn’t worry at all about public speaking, which wasn’t true at all. He’d just developed a strategy to work through it.
SWB Right! And that’s I think one of the problems that we’ve talked about a little bit on the show before in our work culture in general where we’re very much trained that we’re supposed to act confident and brash all the time—this very macho-man work culture that so many of our work cultures are still influenced by. And while I do understand that there are benefits to appearing confident when you get onstage—I definitely can be confident on stage myself, I know that I’ve learned how to “own a room”—but I think it’s important for people to be honest about their insecurities too. I love to tell people that yeah, I still get nervous. Not as nervous as I used to, but I still get nervous when I have to give a talk. And I get more nervous in different scenarios. And that’s okay. You can be somebody who is nervous and has all of these feelings of insecurity. And then you can also be somebody who is good at what they do and goes out and does the thing.
KL Uhh yeah! Exactly. So, I found this TED-Ed video the other day from a woman named Elizabeth Cox about impostor syndrome. And it just really helps frame this I think. She essentially ties imposter syndrome back to feelings. She says, “because no one voices their doubts or how difficult they find certain tasks, there’s no easy way to dismiss feelings that we’re less capable.” And she also says, “the most surefire way to combat imposter syndrome is to talk about it. Because you have talent, you are capable, and you belong.” And it just made me think if we were better at talking about our feelings and emotions, especially at work, and were encouraged to ask for help, maybe imposter syndrome wouldn’t be as widespread.
SWB Right. And those feelings could just be feelings.
SWB It’s totally okay to say, “I feel nervous” or “I feel scared” or “I feel like I’m not an expert.” But the thing about when we talk about feeling like an imposter, the key detail there is that it’s a really isolating feeling, right? Because if you feel like you’re an imposter, it means you feel like everyone else belongs and you’re the only one who doesn’t, and everyone else feels fine and you’re the only one who feels not fine. And I think that that is the part of it that’s really bad. It’s not the feelings of nervousness, it’s the feelings of being alone.
SWB Anyway, that really brings us to today’s theme, which is feelings! [both laugh] Even more than usual. Because we are talking with Liz Fosslien—she is the coauthor of a new book called No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions At Work.
KL I was so excited for this because it feels like we are just so often told to leave our feelings at the door to be professional. Like I know this was really true at National Geographic. There was a woman on the digital team who I wound up working really closely with, and she was a vice president and a total boss. She got shit done, she never seemed to get frazzled by anything and everyone loved working with her. She was just super wonderful. And I remember one day when there were a bunch of reorg changes happening among senior management—she must have come from just a doozy of a meeting because I watched her walk into her office, close the door, and just sob. Not just get sort of upset, she was just sobbing. And I only saw this because her office had a small window that my cubicle at the time was directly in front of. And it just was so out of character for her—and she only let herself cry for a minute or two. She calmly collected herself, and I just remember thinking, “fuck, she is crying.” And obviously I felt empathetic towards her and I really wanted to reach out and [laughs] try to console her, but I also felt so bummed because it just underscored the fact that showing emotion in that environment was just so not okay that she had to hide it.
SWB Yeah, like she had to just sneak into her office, pretend she’s fine, sob, and then snap back to being fine again like nothing happened.
SWB Ughh. You know, I used to worry a lot about bringing feelings to work because I would worry about being labeled emotional or too sensitive or dramatic—all of which has definitely been said about me. And those are the kinds of things that I feel like are always being used against women, but I was never very good at pretending [laughs] things were fine [KL laughs] when they weren’t. I never felt like I could really keep it off my face. And I know that that’s sometimes seen in a negative light. And I was perceived as being too sensitive in a lot of different situations. And at some point, I think I realized that that was bullshit for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons being that feelings are actually good. So, I almost forgot that I’d done this, but I started writing about this back in 2013. I wrote this article for a site called The Pastry Box, but I talked about how we devalue sensitivity. We tell women they should relax, they shouldn’t take things personally, they should take a joke, etc. And that being insensitive to the people around us actually makes us worse at our jobs. Because if we’re insensitive to other people’s needs, we actually end up being worse at design—we’re not as good at designing for people who are different than us. We’re worse at problem solving—we can’t solve problems with people who are different than us because we discount all of their responses. So, what I really pushed back on was this idea of, “stop being so sensitive” and I was like, “stop being so insensitive.” Because being insensitive and pretending that we’re rational at work doesn’t actually give us better outcomes. We think it’s going to give us better outcomes, we’ve been trained to think that being rational is the best way to be in a work environment, but it’s simply not true. And I didn’t really know it then, [laughs] but since I started writing about that years ago—over half a decade ago—I feel like that concept has actually really driven my whole career forward. Because it’s still what I work on when I talk to folks in tech and design, and it’s obviously what I talk about all the time on this show.
KL Oh my god, yes. And it’s just really great to hear more people talking about this. I really love that Liz is making it very accessible to everyone. The book has all these great illustrations and really fun guides for exploring and talking about emotion or having difficult conversations, and I just think it’s going to help a lot of folks.
SWB You know who I really hope reads it though?
KL Who? [laughs]
SWB Men! [KL laughs]
KL Yes, they need to.
KL Yes. [laughs][short transition music plays]
Interview: Liz Fosslien
SWB Liz Fosslien is an information designer, illustrator, and the author with Mollie West Duffie of a book that I just have to read. It’s called No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work, and it just came out. It’s a visual exploration of how to embrace emotion and become more authentic and fulfilled, while staying professional. So, Liz, I can’t express just how up our alley this is. Welcome to Strong Feelings!
Liz Fosslien Thanks! What a great name for a podcast. [both laugh]
SWB Yeah, I think absolutely we saw the title of your book and were like, “yes, we need this!” [LF laughs] Because as you might guess from the title of our show, we really believe in the secret power of embracing emotions at work. We talk about that a lot. We think having feelings makes you strong! And so I would love to hear from you. What does that mean in your book when you talk about emotion at work?
LF So, first and foremost, it just means that it exists. [laughs] I think for a lot of people that’s not a revelation, but it’s a nice kind of reminder of you’re not the only person that is feeling anxiety, that is feeling joy, that is feeling frustration. There’s this really traditional view that you should check your feelings at the door when you enter an office. And research shows that we are emotional creatures, regardless of circumstance. So, it’s actually biologically impossible to feel nothing. [laughs] And then when we talk specifically about no hard feelings, the idea there is really that emotion at work is not something that you should always be trying to suppress. I think in a lot of books it’s like “how to wrangle your emotions into submission.” And in fact, emotions are super useful signals—to your point about them making you strong—they also make you really smart. I think envy is a great example. Instead of just suppressing when you’re jealous of someone, try and understand what are you jealous of? It usually reveals what you value. And so we’ve heard stories of people who at big career transitions, they just looked at their network and they’ve been like, “who am I super envious of?” And then there’s something about that person’s job or what they’re doing that I want for myself and it actually provides like a roadmap for their next six months. So, emotions make you strong, they make you smart. We just really need to start acknowledging them and understanding them.
SWB Gosh, I love that so much. I really like this idea of it being about interrogating your emotions. Not letting them get the best of you, but being in touch with them and being able to think about why you’re having them. Why do you think this is something that we’re so bad at in American culture or maybe beyond American culture? How did workplaces become this place where, like you said, we’re supposed to be quote-unquote “checking our feelings at the door.”
LF There’s been this super long-standing idea that you have emotion on one side and then rationality on the complete other side. So, as far back as Plato—there’s the Allegory of The Chariot, where he says that there’s a chariot and then there’s two horses and one horse is emotion, one horse is rationality, and they’re pulling the chariot in completely opposite directions. And so I think that’s super false. [laughs] There’s just so many— I think envy is a great example of this. It’s very logical that you’re going to be envious of someone who has the job that you want. That makes sense. But there’s a long tradition too of women and femininity being seen as like, “at different parts of the month you feel different things and therefore you’re hysterical and therefore you’re emotional and irrational.” And then if we look at the white-collar workplace, it has historically been the domain of men. And so I think that is also really tied into why we have this idea that emotion does not belong in the workplace, because we still think of it as a male-dominated and controlled environment. It just kind of becomes ingrained in us that we should be striving for this peak of masculinity, which is to like not have feelings and only be the businessman who is hyperrational, which I think is extremely detrimental to women and men.
SWB Yeah, and I think that one of the things I’ve noticed is, of course, if this isn’t something that you’re taught to do and that you practice doing, you’re not great at it, right? It takes work to be good at this and many of us—and I would say maybe particularly men—haven’t really done that work. So, how is this something that we can start to get better at?
LF Just allow yourself to feel feelings. Early in my career, I really bought into this idea that I just needed to put on the suit, I put on heels, I put on the mask of professionalism, and then I would go into the office and just be successful. And to me that meant no anxiety, no bad days, but also no euphoria—just no feelings whatsoever. So, given that attitude, I basically burnt out of a job after two years. So, the benefit of acknowledging that we have emotions is that we can start to understand the needs behind those emotions and kind of address the need. And then it also again can just be—a friend recently told me that she was like, “I think something that might be really interesting for you is if you just start writing down and noting the moments in your life that bring you lightness.” And so if you’re just monitoring what you’re feeling, it can start to build out a pattern of what makes you happy, what makes you stressed, and then you can veer your life more in the direction of things that are going to provide contentment—that’s going to be a much more sustainable situation and that’s actually going to be the kind of situation in which you’ll really succeed. I had a conversation with a friend recently who—we were talking a lot when we were younger. We also were like, “when I get that promotion, I’ll be really happy or when I get a raise, I’ll be happier. If I get this new job, I’ll be happy.” Looking back at our lives and our careers, our experience has actually been that when I’m happy, I’m way more likely to get that promotion.
SWB So, you talked a little bit a moment ago about being early in your career and getting burned out. And so I’m curious if we can talk a little bit about how you got to this place. How did you first come to think, “hmm, maybe there’s something to this whole feelings thing”? And then how did that become a book?
LF Yeah. So, it was a consulting job and there was a really set career path. You would work there for a few years, you would get some kind of graduate degree, and then come back, and that was your career. And so when I burnt out, suddenly I was propelled into this void where there was no future. I mean not no future, but I didn’t know what was coming next and that was terrifying. And so I felt like in that moment, the only thing I could do was just look backwards and be like, “okay, I need to figure it out because I don’t want this to happen again.” I also don’t even know what job to apply to next. I’m kind of scared to just pick something. So, again looking back, what was it about the job that didn’t make me motivated? What were some things I thought were missing? But then also on my end, what happened? [laughs] And so I think that naturally led me. I was just feeling so much anxiety, and feeling so bad, that I started reading about mindfulness and then—my background is in math and economics. So, I took the super nerdy route of just going to the academic literature. And that led me to psychology, and then a lot of behavioral economics stuff. And then I started putting all of my feelings in charts. And from that, I started doing a bunch of different experiences in charts—so like a job interview in charts, life as an analyst in charts. And I had a couple of those projects go viral. And then I actually noticed at one point, someone was liking a lot of my tweets. And when I went to her Twitter, she was a book agent and so I just sent her this email that was like, “I love books.” [SWB laughs] Actually, I looked back at the email recently and it was just like, “I would love to write a book. Here’s my life, here’s my experience, what do you think?” And then she responded. And kind of at the same time, I had started writing articles on this topic of feelings at work with my friend Mollie, who then became my co-author. And she was at Parsons getting a master’s in organizational design and and now she works at IDEO, which is a firm that deals with a lot of, how do you create a culture? And so writing articles with her had just been such a wonderful experience that it made sense that we would work on the book together. But to me, the biggest lesson from all of this is actually obviously feelings are very important, but for practical advice for people, just send the email. [laughs] You really never know what’s going to come back. I’ve had so many amazing things happen to me because I was just like, “you know what? I’m going to sit down, I’m going to write this, I’m going to try and be human, I’m going to just try and really show passion for this thing and hopefully someone will respond.”
SWB Gosh, I feel like that really resonates with me right now.
KL Yeah. [laughs]
SWB Me and Katel have been talking a lot about that same sort of stuff, where it makes my stomach hurt [KL laughs] to send this email to say like, “hey, I’m doing a thing, I’d like you to see it” or whatever, right? To kind of put yourself out there. And I’ve been trying to do that recently and oof! It’s good for you though! [LF laughs]
LF Yeah! I mean, I think you also have to get comfortable with just not getting a response, which happens. But just when you get that one response, that kind of makes it all worth it.
SWB Yeah, totally!
KL So, thinking a little bit about the process of writing the book, what was that like and and how much of it was from your own personal experience and how much did you need to research when you started really digging in?
LF So, we started with a pretty in-depth look at the research. And that was kind of a combination of just what are the top magazines—what’s Harvard Business Review saying? And then what is something like Psychology Today saying? And then kind of backing out of that like, “well, where are these studies coming from and who are the experts in this field?” And then I went to Boston for a week and talked to professors there. And then got on the phone with a lot of academics and they then pointed me—a lot of them work with companies, so they then pointed us towards companies. So, it started with just really trying to understand the research. And then the next thing was just interviewing executives. So I was—again about emails—I was kind of surprised at how many people—I think people also just like to be interviewed—but how many people responded to that. So, I think the majority of the book is just based on the research that we read. We did a big analysis of all of that, combined with what’s actually working in an office space? I think often an experiment doesn’t always translate perfectly to “here’s something that’s great to do with your team.” And then kind of interwoven into all of that, we have stories from our own lives. So, a quick example of this is when it comes to communication, one of the biggest things we found, both out of the research and then also when talking to a bunch of people, was the importance of talking about your emotions without getting emotional. But then that really means just if there’s a misunderstanding, not piling judgment and assumptions on top of that and just addressing it in a way where you’re not creating instantly a victim and a perpetrator. So, what I mean by that is saying, “when you do this thing, I feel like this.” And you’re not attacking them, you’re not making any assumptions, you’re simply stating that they did something that made you feel a certain way. And that’s a really nice starting point for a bigger discussion. It also allows the other person to give their side of the story. So, we talk about that in the book and then I share an experience of this guy that I worked with. And when he started, when I asked him a question, I would notice that when he was answering, he would start speaking extremely slowly and enunciate each word so carefully. [laughs] And it drove me absolutely nuts. I just remember being so angry at him! And then a few weeks later—a few weeks after he had started—we all went to dinner with the team and he and I were having a good conversation. So, I just said to him, I was like, “hey, do you notice that when I ask you a question, you slow down a lot? I’m just curious if that’s something you’re aware of.” And he was like, “oh, I know, I’m sorry. I just get nervous and I’m worried that I’m going to look dumb in front of you, and so I want to pick my words really carefully.” And that was just the exact opposite of what I had thought. And so I had just been festering in a rage for like three weeks, when in fact it was this guy feeling anxious in my presence and wanting to make a good impression. So, to me that was a cool example of where once I had read the research, once I had talked to all these executives, it was like, “oh yeah, this happened to me.”
SWB I love that so much. And that really goes into something I wanted to talk about next, which is dealing with feelings at work and particularly those bad feelings. So, you know that sense of like, “how dare he” or “he must think I’m an idiot”—like you’ve kind of talked about there—or the challenge when talking about feelings that is talking about them without letting them hijack the discussion? And I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit more about what does that mean? How do you in practice when you’re in that moment, and you’re trying to have those kinds of difficult conversations, or you think you know why somebody did something that irritated you and you’re already upset about it, how do you go into those conversations and not let your emotions hijack the whole conversation?
LF Yeah, it’s hard! [laughs] But I think the best piece of advice is if you feel an extremely strong emotion, or if you think that you know exactly what’s going on, you’re just not ready to have that conversation yet. And I think there’s really nothing that needs to be immediately hashed out. So, in the book, we do not like the advice “never go to bed angry.” Sometimes you need to go to bed angry. Sometimes you just haven’t had enough to eat that day, or something else happened, and you just need to calm down before you enter into the discussion. So, I would say the biggest piece of advice is come back to it when you just are feeling a little more calm about the situation. The other thing I would say is really try to—again, when you’re starting this—not bring your assumptions into the equation. First, let the other person explain what they’re feeling. Approach the conversation with curiosity, instead of a sense of knowing exactly what’s going on in their head. You really don’t know what’s going on in their head. There’s a quote that I really love by the psychologist, Steven Pinker, where he says that “words are just a window into a world.” So, especially if it’s email or a text, there’s so much that you can bring to that text that might not be what the other person intended. And then the last thing is unfortunately, I think there are people that we’re going to work with where this kind of attitude just isn’t going to do anything—they’re just not going to respond positively to that. So, in those cases, I think sometimes it’s just letting it go, and then really trying to focus future conversations around the work.
KL Something else you talked about is taking your emotional temperature before making a decision. Can you walk us through what that means?
LF Decision-making is this space where I think people have really strong opinions of “never listen to your gut,” or “always listen to your gut.” And there’s actually a science to listening to your gut. So, when we talk about “take your emotional temperature,” it’s really about this idea of when you’re facing a decision, it’s very important that you list every emotion that you’re feeling because some of those feelings actually have nothing to do with the decision, but might impact your decision-making skills. And some of those feelings are super useful. So, two examples. If I sit in traffic for two hours, and then I come into the office, I’m just going to be annoyed. [laughs] I’m going to be irritated at everyone and if I’m not able to immediately say like, “okay, I’m really annoyed right now. It’s actually because I sat in traffic, it’s not because of my colleagues,” then I’m going to let that affect my interactions with my colleagues. I might even walk into a situation where I’m hiring a candidate and just be brisk with them or make a judgment about them because I haven’t acknowledged this feeling and figured out where it’s coming from. An example of a really important feeling is regret. If you’re thinking about a choice and the thought of not making that choice fills you with regret, that’s super important. And it doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to make your decision based on that, but it’s a valuable data point. So, emotional temperature is really just check yourself, figure out what’s going on that’s not useful, and try and find a way to push it to the side or to regulate it. And then that allows you to better learn from the feelings that are really useful. So, just really a good heuristic for this is if you’re really mad, don’t make a decision. [laughs] If you’re just having a really sad day, don’t make a decision. Most decisions you can sleep on for 24 hours.
KL I love that. And I think probably folks understand why making a decision when maybe your emotional temperature is too hot could be a problem, but you also recommend caution when you’re too cold, like feeling nothing. Can you talk a little bit about why that part is important too?
LF Well, I definitely have just days where for no reason I kind of feel a little blue. And on those days I tend to look at the world through a really negative lens and I’m more likely to be like, “this is never going to work out” or “I don’t deserve this”—just kind of these negative thoughts. And so that’s just going to affect my decision making. I’m going to be less optimistic, I’m probably going to pick the choice that feels good right now, as opposed to the choice that might make me long-term happier. And you just want to make sure that they’re not pulling you in a direction that is not useful to you.
SWB So, the other thing that we wanted to dig into a little bit is also sort of your background and your professional experience working in and around the tech industry. I know that you’ve worked with lots of tech companies and well, the tech industry is known for being pretty male-dominated and a lot of that engineering-focused assumption that we are being rational, that kind of thing. And so what you end up with is a lot of folks who maybe have devalued things that they’ve labeled soft skills. And I’m wondering, how do you get organizations that are sort of stuck in that mindset to embrace emotion at work? Is that something that’s easy to do?
LF I guess my first reaction to that is just like, especially at tech companies that are smaller—like the company’s just moving around all the time, your goals are shifting, your priorities are shifting, there’s new people coming in—and so to me, it’s just like, “how can you not acknowledge that there’s emotions?” [laughs and SWB laughs] I think especially tech, there are just so many feelings. But that’s a question that kind of comes up a lot and so I’ll address it in two ways. I think the first way is just, people do come to us often and are like, “I actually work in an organization where I cannot, especially if I’m a woman, I can’t just bring everyone together and say, ‘let’s all talk about our feelings.’ I’ll kind of be laughed out of the room.” And that’s unfortunate. So, I’d say if that’s the case, then really try—if you’re feeling a strong emotion—to set an example of talking about the need behind that emotion. So if you’re anxious, if you can understand that you’re anxious because you’re worried the team isn’t going to hit the deadline, then come to the team with like, “hey, I’m worried that we’re not going to hit the deadline. What processes can we put in place?” I think framing the emotional talk as business speak—just start talking about the need instead of the emotions—can start those conversations. It’s kind of a way of sucking people into emotions at work [SWB laughs] and talking about it without having the word emotion that’s going to make them run away. And then the other thing I would say is to me, there’s just such a strong financial case for talking about feelings. Even if you’re not ready to talk about them, thinking about them. A big example of this is when people feel belonging—so in the book, we say that diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice at the table, and then belonging is having that voice be heard. So, that’s when people feel valued for everything that makes them unique. And so if you’re just talking about the financial case for this, like if you have a team and you have brought in a bunch of people with amazing skills and unique backgrounds and frameworks that are really interesting and different, if you’re not creating a space in which they feel like they can talk about all those different things, what are you doing? Why did you spend the money to bring all these different people in the room? You’re just wasting resources. And there’s just so much research that shows that diversity has a really meaningful impact on innovation and profit if people feel belonging.
SWB I want to go back to something you mentioned a little bit earlier though. You were talking a little bit about how there can be kind of a gendered component here, right? So, women don’t necessarily feel safe speaking up. And I’m sure you’ve heard this a bunch of times—me and Katel have heard this a zillion times—women who have been told they’re too emotional or they’re too sensitive. And I think in those environments, women don’t always feel safe—and lots of people don’t feel safe speaking up. So, what can we do? I mean obviously you’ve mentioned framing it around the need, I think that makes sense. But then what do we do with those feelings? So, how do we still create some space to be able to tap into our feelings and find somebody to be honest with them about and sort of process them and not burn ourselves out like you experienced [laughs] earlier on?
LF Yeah. So, we heard—the higher women were in an organization, the more they were given the feedback to be more measured. I think measured is a word we heard a lot, which is kind of the same as “don’t be so emotional.” So, I think if you are working in an environment where you don’t feel safe talking about your feelings with your co-workers—and I would apply this more broadly to both male and female leaders. There is research that shows that if as a leader you express too much emotion, it can undermine how people see you and how they think of your ability to lead. So, one thing that a lot of executives do is they just have support groups of other executives that they meet with every two weeks. And that’s where they can really go into the details of, here’s what’s happening. They can give each other advice. I would encourage women—if you can find a group of people that you really connect with that are in maybe similar organizations or in your industry, but not at your firm. Whatever your situation at your company is, it can be really nice to just have them understand and not have to worry about how are people going to think about this if it gets out of this circle. This is your circle of trust. These are people that are there for you. I think also what’s really nice about this is if you have a group of people you’re really connecting with deeply and they’re all at different organizations, it should give you some sense of security that if anything does happen at your job where you don’t get the promotion you think you deserve, or you just don’t feel happy there anymore, you have this amazing network of people that you can reach out to.
SWB Yes! You know, I think I have probably four or five what I call my feminist backchannels—private Slack groups and things like that that are exactly that. And they’ve been so powerful to me and have really I think changed my career in a lot of ways. So, I love that. And I’m also curious, kind of connected to all of this, is if you’ve thought it all about the role of race and dealing with emotion at work and sort of the way that people can be perceived? So, for example, I know lots of black women have talked about being immediately labeled as the quote-unquote “angry black woman” if they start to talk about any of their feelings [laughs] or if they’re direct with their colleagues. And I am curious if you’ve thought at all about that, and how that can make this even more challenging for some groups?
LF Race plays a big component into this. I will say in the book, we touch on some of the research, and we present it more as like here’s what—because Mollie and I, just for context, are both white women—so we position it more as like, “here’s what we try to do as allies and here are the big issues that come up.” But then really point people towards other resources. I think if you want to understand what the experience of being a black female in the workplace is, I would just be like, [laughs] “speak to a black female who is in the workplace.” But given that, I will say I think one thing that comes up a lot, that we saw in our research, is that even really well-intentioned people can sometimes hesitate to give women/black women the feedback that they need to succeed. And it’s just a product of their own discomfort. Because especially in San Francisco, they’re just not used to being in the room unfortunately with certain groups of people. And so I would say to me, a big lesson is just really try and think through whoever you are. How are people interacting with you? And how are you interacting with others? What are you bringing to each interaction? So, this comes out of the story where I was speaking to a woman who’s incredibly talented. She’s a black female engineer working with mostly white males and she was saying that—so, in tech there’s a thing called code review, where two people sit in a chair next to each other and then they go line by line through one person’s code and critique it. And it’s a really important way to improve your engineering skills. And this is a super common practice. And so she said that she would watch these two white guys sitting there and going through each other’s code, and one would be like, “dude, this is so bad! I can’t believe you did this in line two” or like, “where is your semicolon in line four? I’m embarrassed to be sitting next—” they were just really going in on each other. But in that process, also giving each other like super valuable feedback. And then when she would sit down and she would be there, she said she noticed that immediately they’d be like, “oh, yeah, so your code looks really great. Maybe line 41 could be improved, but generally it’s good.” And she was like, “no, I need you to give me the same feedback you’re giving other people because your discomfort is actually preventing me from leveling up in my career.” And so she said she came to that and kind of explained it to them. And they were super receptive to that conversation. Obviously, I think that’s not always what’s going to happen, but it was great that she felt comfortable in that environment talking about it. So, I think always coming to each interaction being like, “okay, I’m going to check my biases. What am I doing here? How am I acting differently around this person? Also thinking who’s missing from this room?” I think even just calling out like, “hey, we’re in a room and we’re mostly white guys. Maybe we should change that. Maybe it would be great if there’s someone else in the room.” Pat Wadors, who’s the CHRO at a company called Service Now—she was formerly at LinkedIn for many years—and she said one of the questions that she has people ask at the end of each meeting is, “who was missing? Who did we not have in this room that we should have had in the room? So, let’s say you’re doing an ad campaign and you want a lot of, let’s say, black people to buy your product. You should probably have someone from that group in the room. So, that’s kind of big picture what I’ll say. And then just for further resources, I would point people to Mellody Hobson. She gave a TED Talk called “Be Color Brave, Not Colorblind,” which I think is really great. Some professors who have looked into how race affects work and affects how we are seen and how we act are Adia Harvey Wingfield and then Kira Hudson Banks. And then out of Stanford, there’s a professor who wrote The Belonging Guide, which really looks at small belonging interventions that you could do that will make them feel more included and like they belong at that organization. But yeah, I think it’s obvious. I think all of these—not every, but many parts of our identity intersect to present unique challenges in the workplace.
SWB Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you pointing out all of these other people and resources to turn to, so we’ll make sure that we get those into our show notes as well. So, we are almost out of time, but before we go, I do want to change gears for a second and talk briefly about working with your co-author Mollie a little bit more. Because we love to talk about creative partnerships between women on the show. I mean, I think kind of selfishly sometimes for me and Katel. But I think for all of our listeners, I think that that can be really powerful. And so I’m curious if you can talk a little bit more about how you work together and what’s made your collaboration successful?
LF We were friends for probably three years before we started the book writing process together. So, I think it was really nice, as we had this kind of base of open communication and understanding the other person. We’re also in some ways really similar. We’re both introverts. We both have sleeping issues [laughs] and so we have crazy routines about sleep hygiene. [laughs] But one of the biggest things that struck me was once we started working in a professional sense together, I just realized after three months of working on the book with Mollie that I had no idea what was going on in her life. And I was just like, “every time I see you, we just talk about the book. And that’s great. It’s cool that we’re really passionate about this thing we’re working on together. But, how are you? [laughs] Are you happy? What did you do last week?” And so what I think really helped us maintain the friendship aspect and not just start to see each other as colleagues was that we decided—we had these weekly phone calls—and we decided that the first 15 minutes of the phone call, we could not talk about the book. It was only a catch up. And so once we started doing that, it made me feel a lot closer to her again because I just remembered like, “oh, yeah. This is my friend. This is a person that I can turn to about personal stuff too.” And then this is super nerdy, so it might not be for everyone—maybe not nerdy, but it’s—so I’ll just say my tendency is to do something with a spreadsheet because it just looks very organized to me. And so we made this spreadsheet where we had 10 statements. So, the statements were like, “I feel good about the direction the book is going in, I feel good about my contribution, I feel good about the other person’s contribution.” And every—I don’t remember if it was a week or two weeks—we would fill in how we felt or how strongly we agreed with that statement on a scale from 0 to 10, 10 being the highest. So, if I felt like I’d really done a lot that week, I would say 10 on “I feel good about my contribution” and then I would also fill in how I thought Mollie felt. So, I’d be like, “I think Mollie feels good about her contribution, I’m going to put a 10 there.” And then we would swap. And so I would be able to see what Mollie thought I was feeling and then compare that to what I was actually feeling. So, I just remember there was one week where I think for “I feel good about the direction of the book” I thought Mollie was a 10, I thought she felt great. And she was actually a 3. And so that was this crazy discrepancy and I was like, “wow, there’s something that I’ve really missed here and we need to talk about that.” And so I don’t know if everyone wants to start making spreadsheets like that, but I think somehow finding a way to flush out—like somehow this hasn’t been brought up and I have a misconception of what you’re thinking and we need to address that before it turns into a really big issue.
SWB Oh my gosh, I don’t know if everybody wants to make a spreadsheet about that, but I kind of do. [LF laughs] I feel like it would be such a great thing for me and Katel!
KL Me too! I was gonna say we should do that! [LF laughs]
SWB Oh, this is a lot of really great advice for collaborating. Thank you! I think a lot of our listeners are going to appreciate that.
KL Liz, thank you so much for joining us today. Where can everyone pick up No Hard Feelings and find out more about your and Mollie’s work?
LF Yeah, so the book should be available wherever books are sold. So, independent booksellers, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. And then for more on us, I think our website Liz and Mollie is the best resource. And Mollie is spelled m-o-l-l-i-e. And on there we have quick guides—how do you give feedback that’s not so painful for the other person to hear—and we also have assessments. So, you can go on there and take a quiz about like, “do you feel belonging in your organization? What’s your emotional care tendency?” So, I would point people towards the website too.
KL That sounds great.
SWB Thank you so much, Liz!
LF Thanks for having me! This was really fun. [short transition music plays]
Fuck Yeah of The Week
KL Ahh, it is that time again! It’s time for our Fuck Yeah of the Week. Sara, do you have something?
SWB I definitely do. My fuck yeah this week is bonding with other boss women.
KL Uhh yes. Tell me more.
SWB Okay, so you know how I’ve been trying to get to know other women in podcasting?
SWB Well, last week, I got on the phone with someone whose show I have been really inspired by—it’s Emilie Aries of Bossed Up. And she was just so down-to-earth and she was open and cool and friendly. So, I want to say fuck yeah to her and to her show, which I think a lot of our listeners might like. So, I’m going to talk about it for just a second. I was just listening to her episode from last week and it was about negotiating salaries and about talking about money at work, which is something I am always into hearing about. And what I loved about that episode is that she was so forthright about how not talking about money at work contributes to pay inequity. And then she got into the legal questions of it because a lot of employers do things like make you sign agreements that you won’t talk about pay with your colleagues, and that’s actually illegal! So, it was super helpful both to hear about the emotional side about talking about money at work, and then also the really practical side.
KL Ahh, that’s so awesome. I remember hearing an interview with the CEO of a company called SumAll, who decided to make the salaries of every employee visible to the entire company. And doing that not only increased productivity across the company, but it also helped people collaborate better, and it just made people want to stay at the company longer.
SWB Gosh, yeah. Like not having a culture of mistrust and fear. [KL laughs] Yeah! Emilie talks lots of stuff that’s pretty relevant here—what happens when you want to switch careers or how do you handle a toxic job environment. And what I really like is that she’s also open about she’s doing things—like how she got a book deal or became a paid public speaker. And even though those are things that I’ve also done to some extent, I love hearing about how other people have done them because I feel like everybody’s stories are so different. And getting more and more info from different people who have approached it differently kind of makes me feel more confident. And also gives me new ideas.
KL I totally agree. I am definitely going to dig into this and add it to my queue.
SWB So, fuck yeah to befriending women you admire—which, shout out to Call Your Girlfriend’s Shine Theory for that concept—and then also fuck yeah to Emilie at Bossed Up for making me feel inspired this week! You can check her out at bossedup.org—that’s b-o-s-s-e-d up dot org—or anywhere you listen to podcasts.
KL That’s it for us this week! Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn at Edit Audio. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed” by Blowdryer. They are an awesome Philly-based band, and you should check them out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. And thanks to Liz Fosslien for being our guest today. And thank you for listening! If you like the show, don’t forget to subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts like Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And hey—get some strong feelings delivered to your inbox! Sign up for our newsletter at strongfeelings.co. See you again next week!
SWB Bye! [theme music plays for 15 seconds and fades out]