Why We Have To Stop Using The Term 'Emotional' As An Insult

by Beth Gladstone

How does it change your perception of someone when he or she becomes emotional at work?

In a generation in which we encourage bromance, “Leaning In” and altruism, it surprises me that emotion is considered to be a dirty word of sorts in business. Yet, just a few short months ago, a male colleague terminated a meeting with me because he thought I was too “emotional” to continue.

I didn’t realize we were still living in the 19th century.

The truth is that unless you’re Miranda Priestly incarnate, there will be times when you become emotional at work. Third-day hangover, recent breakup, dickhead boss — there’s often not much that lies between a self-assured employee and a little pity party in the office bathroom.

It happens to the best of us and it doesn’t mean that we are any less capable, professional or serious about our work than our unemotional counterparts.

How have we even gotten to this point of which “emotional” is an acceptable insult, anyway?

The sad truth is that emotion is still recognized as a particularly “female” trait. With many women trying to be like men and many men fearing stereotypical “feminine” traits — such as compassion and emotion — it has become an acceptable insult, used to undermine both genders.

Yet, emotion is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Emotionally engaging in what we do is how we discover the best parts of ourselves. Without it, we become nothing more than a procession of mindless bots that machines will almost definitely replace in the not-too-far-away future.

This is why we need to reclaim the way we use the term “emotional.”

We need to stop treating it as a degradation to our colleagues and instead recognize it as a driving force to success. A fire to do better next time almost always supersedes the initial embarrassment, shame and annoyance of having a public emotional episode.

A need to impress, be successful and pretty much say “f*ck you” to anyone who doubts us, is only a positive.

We also need to stop using “emotional” as a poor attempt to tell men they are less successful, strong or capable than they should be. I’ve watched some of the best businessmen I know break down at the threat of failure. Did this mean they were weak?

No, it just meant that they cared.

“Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book, “Lean In.” “Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.”

Emotion is neither a feminine nor masculine trait. It’s something that affects us all and it only affects us when we invest ourselves in the work that we do. If we stop caring, then really, what is the point of it all?

I suggest that we stop using emotion as a cheap way to score points from our colleagues and instead, embrace it as the driving force to our future successes.

Photo via We Heart It