I was on the phone with a client the other day, and he was detailing a situation at work that he was quite angry about. He explained all that had happened with his new boss, and how frustrated he was. He then asked me how he could get rid of his anger, so that it was not obvious to his team and so that it didn’t get in his way.
As I listened to my client, and listened for the things he was not saying as well as what he was saying, it was clear to me that he suffered from a common challenge I’ve witnessed many of my clients facing. It was clear to me that he viewed his anger as a “bad” emotion – something that was wrong to express at work and probably wrong to feel at all.
We have somehow learned to judge our emotions as good and bad and also to judge ourselves when we feel the “bad” emotions, especially at work. Happiness? Good. Interest? Good. Hope? Good. But frustration? Bad. Sadness and pain? Bad. Anger? Definitely bad.
I pointed out to my client his inherent judgement of how he was feeling. I also pointed out to him that emotions, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad. In fact, appropriately expressing emotions – even emotions such as anger that we may judge as bad – is a way to effectively move through conflict. Inappropriately displaying emotions – screaming when we’re angry, fully withdrawing when we’re frustrated, acting defensively when we’re hurt or sad – obviously is not constructive, but recognizing our emotions when they occur can help us to examine how they may be negatively impacting our relationships and communication with others, or keeping us from expressing ourselves in ways that others can hear us. Contrary to many people’s point of view, feeling our emotions, acknowledging the emotions we’re feeling, and expressing them in a productive way will actually help deepen relationships, break through conflict and disagreement, and bring us to stronger solutions and understanding.
We teach the power of Thoughtful Leadership – being present, intentional, and authentic. Many of my clients know that when I talk about being present, I incorporate the concept of mindfulness, and specifically suggest that my clients read Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Tara Brach is a meditation teacher and psychotherapist, so her book may seem a surprising recommendation in the midst of an executive coaching session, but I have found that her concept of Radical Acceptance is powerful and can help many, if not all, of us show up more authentically and effectively.
Radical Acceptance has two parts – seeing clearly what is happening in our moment-to-moment experience and also holding our experience, whatever it may be, with compassion. This means that we not only notice and acknowledge our emotions (and thoughts and surroundings), but that we also do our best to let go of our judgment of our emotions (and thoughts and surroundings) and let them be…and be okay.
Radical Acceptance can help my client admit and accept his anger and frustration while he releases his judgement of his anger as a bad thing. By releasing his judgement, my client gives himself space to learn from his anger (Why is he angry? What has happened that he deems inappropriate? What does he want from his new boss going forward?) and to express it in a way that can support his team – whom also may be feeling frustrated – and help him work more effectively with his new boss. As Tara Brach writes, “The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.” By acknowledging and accepting our emotions – “good” and “bad” – we lessen the way they may keep us from connecting more successfully with others and eventually derail us.
My client was astounded when I pointed out his judgement of his anger, and he was open to hearing about how acknowledging – and letting go – of his judgment could help him use his anger as a powerful positive learning experience and force. We’re both looking forward to how his next conversation with his new boss may go.
How have you learned to Radically Accept what’s around and within you in order to lead – and live – more powerfully?
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