No Hard Feelings: Your permission to be human at work

Emotions in the workplace can be embraced and managed to create better outcomes for yourself, your team, and your company. Mastering emotions can be the secret power that sets you apart as a professional.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Even if you never heard of Liz and Mollie, you've probably come across one of their cartoon images on social media. They usually strike a nerve that makes a lot of people laugh, reflect, and share. I found them on Twitter and Instagram but these days I see their content reposted all over LinkedIn.

Anyone that ever felt negative emotions at work, like frustration, anxiety, or under-appreciation will recognize the subjects of their images.

In the modern workplace, strong emotions are plentiful. Companies (particularly startups) look for people that are passionate about their job, employees that go above and beyond. We take on hugely difficult endeavors and call our co-workers family.
This kind of work environment can be rewarding but also takes a big toll on our emotions, so it's important to learn how to manage them successfully to lead a happy life.

When I realized that the creators of those clever internet images had published a physical book, I ordered it immediately.
No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work, by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Dufy, is an illustrated manual on how to do deal with the rollercoaster of emotions that our jobs can feel like.

Stop feeling bad about feeling bad

Occasionally, we all feel less than stellar at work, and that’s fine. The first point the authors make is to always put some distance between you and your work. To be less passionate about it.
This doesn’t mean you should stop caring about your job. You should, however, care more about yourself, your health, and the things you love outside of work. When you have to make a choice, choose life.

There is a technique that can help to cope with those negative feelings when they inevitably arise: reframing emotions.
For example, you can reframe the feeling of being anxious about an upcoming meeting with the CEO with that of being excited about the opportunity. It may sound strange, but give it a try. You can always reframe your situation.

Be warned: if your feeling of self-worth is intimately tied to your job, you may have to take some steps back to emotionally disconnect. One piece of advice is to create after-work rituals that help you disengage.

Emotions are part of the decision-making

How should you take emotions into account when making decisions? Which emotions should you value and which should you ignore? What weight should you give them versus other factors?
The authors insist that "emotion is part of the equation". The book explores these questions and provides some guidance on how to incorporate emotions into decision making, as well as pitfalls to avoid.

It's not wise to always follow your gut feeling, but people who acknowledge and examine their feelings, make better decisions.
Relevant emotions should be taken into consideration and irrelevant emotions are better off discarded. You need emotional intelligence to understand what is relevant and how to interpret it.

A big exception to listening to your emotions in decision-making is when you're recruiting. In a hiring process, emotions can play a decisive role if you let them run the show. Too decisive, unfortunately.
We are so quick to judge a candidate that studies showed it only takes a shocking ten seconds to know the result of an interview. In this case, we have to design recruiting systems that avoid bias and evaluate candidates more rationally.

Build psychological safety

Teamwork is another area where the correct managing of emotions really comes through. The resulting psychological safety is the basis for any high-performing team.

“At Google, members of teams with high levels of psychological safety were less likely to leave their jobs, brought in more revenue, and were rated effective twice as often by executives. MIT researchers who studied team performance came to the same conclusion: simply grouping smart people together doesn’t guarantee a smart team. Online and off, the best teams discuss ideas frequently, do not let one person dominate the conversation, and are sensitive to one another’s feelings.”

Since disagreements are inevitable and even desirable in a team, the key is to establish rules of engagement that encourage task conflict and minimize relationship conflict.
In order to preemptively navigate conflict and misunderstandings, executives are encouraged to create "user manuals" that describe the best way to work with them. I love this idea and I recently created one myself.

The power of belonging

Culture is a big thing, especially for hyper-growth startups. To instantly learn about an organization’s culture, professor Adam Grant says, “Tell me a story about something that would only happen here.” Applying this thought to my work experiences, I see how powerful it can be.

Culturally, Liz and Mollie advocate for Belonging. What is that? If diversity means that everyone gets a seat at the table, then inclusion means that everyone has a voice, and belonging means that their voice is heard.

People that belong in an organization feel safe and valued. This motivates them to take risks and do their best work.

“Emotional culture is built on emotion norms, the unspoken rules that dictate what you’re allowed to feel and express…. Emotion norms are created and reinforced by small, repeated social signals that we often pick up on without realizing it.”


They introduce the concept of microactions: the opposite of microaggressions. Here are some examples of microactions that can be used to build belonging:

  • Using a colleague's name in a conversation.
  • Sharing coffee breaks and meals.
  • Helping new joiners to meet other people.
  • Not multitasking when someone is talking to you.
  • Thanking people that you notice doing something extraordinary.

Leaders have the hardest job

Holding a leadership position comes with added visibility and responsibility to keep your emotions in check, while also helping others to manage theirs.

Leaders are supposed to maintain a fine balance of selective vulnerability: being vulnerable in specific circumstances and to a certain degree. “The best leaders show vulnerability when assessing a situation but then present a clear path forward.

Other suggestions for leaders:

  • Don’t tell people what to feel. Ask questions and listen instead.
  • When you see a problem, address it, even if it’s uncomfortable for you and your report.
  • Manage individually. People perceive situations in different ways and need different things.

Human First

I've read No Hard Feelings sometime before joining Landbot. Coincidently or not, one of Landbot's values is "Human First - We are people-focused, before anything else". I can't think of a better value.

Liz and Mollie created a warm and fun book that encourages you to be human and embrace your natural feelings in the workplace.
In conclusion, stop trying to be an emotionless or always happy professional. Instead, figure out what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling it, and what to do with those feelings in each context.