By Sunny Bonnell
We’ve all heard the diminuitive phrase, “You’re so emotional.” But after more than fifteen years leading an agency in a male-dominated field (and growing weary of hearing it), we’ve finally cracked that code.
“You’re so emotional” means, “We’re terrified that you have emotions.” This is especially true in the workplace where we’re all expected to check a good chunk of ourselves at the door.
Scientific research says that emotions are actually sensations in the body, not the mind. Butterflies in your stomach before a first date, that warm glow you get when you’re alone with someone you’re really attracted to — those are emotions. What we call feelings are just the stories we create in our minds to explain them.
We respond to the people and the world around us through our emotions first. Everything else comes later. So emotions make us who we are. That’s why it’s silly to dismiss them or suppress them. Instead, why not wear them on our sleeves?
For a few years, we’ve been exploring a concept we call the Rare Breed. It’s the idea that the vices society tells us we should be ashamed of — obsessiveness, a hot temper, manipulation, audacity, a weird sense of humor — are really the virtues that power great artists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and activists. In other words, being a misfit or an outcast is wonderful. Who wants to be like everybody else?
Among the Rare Breeds we’ve met, one of the most common virtues is being emotional — sensitive, empathetic, compassionate. But our society believes that those qualities equal weakness, and nothing could be further from the truth. Showing compassion and empathy to someone who disagrees with you (or even hates you) takes strength and character.
Plus, emotion is what connects us. Displaying your deepest emotions will make people relate to you and care about what you have to say. For evidence, watch this video. It’s the latest in a series of annual Christmas videos made by a family-owned hardware store in Wales, and this one features the owners’ toddler, who works helping out in the store. It’s warm, charming and adorable, it cost $130 to make…and it’s gotten about 2.5 million views on YouTube as of this writing.
Yeah. Why? Emotion. This simple two-minute film is filled with it, and it has a thousand times the impact of all the expensive studio-produced commercials out there, because of the feels. Emotion is strength, power, and connection.
In the end, however, where emotions come from doesn’t matter. Emotions make us who we are, and they matter because of what they do. We think we’re driven by reason and logic, but we’re really driven by what we care about. According to the science of psychoneuroimmunology (we almost pulled a muscle with that one) our emotions affect our immune system too. Anxiety, tension, and sadness give us all sorts of ailments. If you’ve always thought emotions were contagious, give yourself a hug; mirror neurons in our brains help us show empathy. Research even shows that kindness can help us live longer. Knowing how to feel and trust feelings is an underrated superpower.
It’s too bad that society tends to label emotions — at least, acknowledging and showing them — as a weakness. Our world still largely discourages us from displaying our emotions. Multiply that by ten in the professional and business arenas. If you’re female and you let your emotions out, you’re “being a woman.” Do it as a man and you’re an utter wuss. Even in creative fields like the arts where we’re supposed to bare our souls, emotions are okay in theory, but in reality, emotional displays are often judged harshly and frowned upon.
Instead of people complimenting your ability to open up, they shame or shun you for doing so. That leads many people to bottle up their emotions in a sad masquerade to appear strong and in control; but when they do that, they kill the connection to the people around them. They don’t say what they need to. They fail to show up as who they really are. And they become more and more isolated.
People tell you “You’re too emotional,” “Don’t take things so personally,” and “You’re too sensitive.” Even today, when you’re alone at your desk, you wonder whether you’re cut out for business or life as an entrepreneur, leader, or change agent. Are you too sensitive to succeed? Too open? Do you feel too much?
On the plus side, you have profound thoughts. You already know your feelings are mighty things. You’re a bridge-builder and an encourager, a bringer of light on dark days, a friend and coach, and confidant — and those are strengths. Business, academia, technology, and the arts are all human enterprises, and nothing enhances them more than your radical humanity. Caring, respect, being mindful of other people’s feelings . . . these are all qualities that will inspire people to follow you, fund you, or buy what you’re selling.
Do you get your hopes up when everybody else is trying to stay cool? Check. Do you feel every cruelty like it’s being inflicted on someone you love? Good. You’re motivated to make things better. You’re about heart and soul, not just brains and muscle.
Now, if you’ll pardon us for a second, we’ve, ahem, got something in our eyes.
We’re Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger, authors of Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different (HarperOne), hosts, and executive producers. We’re also the co-founders of the award-winning branding agency Motto. Learn more about us and our book at www.rarebreedbook.com.
© Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger 2020