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When Is It Okay To Lose My Composure At Work?

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

I opened my inbox to find this email from a client.

“Kelli, is it okay to ever lose your sh*t at work? Because I'm pretty sure I lost mine today, but I stood up for myself and it feels good. I guess I just need to know have you ever lost yours at work?”

It’s tempting to set criteria for what “losing it” is or isn’t. The perception of being too emotional is a common concern for women leaders who have found themselves held to different standards as men in the workplace (or politics, entertainment, etc.).

If self-advocacy means that I've lost my composure at work to some people, then let me tell you about a few times I fought back some tears or showed a different tone of voice. If count the time I didn’t want to take no for an answer with my boss when I felt I'd been left out of projects in which I desired a role, then yes, I lost my composure at work.

If you count the time when I was fired up because I found out my job would be eliminated due to a merger, and there were many tears amidst tense phone calls while we sorted out a new vision, then yes, I lost my composure at work.

If you count the time when I advocated for a raise, negotiated my salary or fought for my employees by pushing back again and again on what I thought was deserved, even when it annoyed the person I was asking then yes, I lost my composure at work.

I'd like to challenge us with a different question. Instead of holding back with fear by asking, "Am I losing my composure?" What if we could ask, “Did I advocate for my values and my worth?” There will be times that we are fired up at work and we want to hold a courageous conversation. When we’re fired up and ready to speak up, here are three questions to help you do so in an authentic way.

Check your messages.

At work, men and women hear very different messages. We've been told different messages since childhood. We can easily select examples from the office, politics, or entertainment that shows a man can get angry and raise his voice in the room and we think he's being passionate and setting direction. When we see a woman raises her voice and stands up with passion, she’s met with a different perception and standard. People may label her as out of line, unprofessional or too emotional. Look no further than the current political environment as you watch the men and women get passionate on the debate stage. Challenge what you currently believe about yourself and your permission to speak directly. Does that message go between both genders? If it’s true somewhere, it should be true everywhere.

Check your motives.

When I think about standing up for something , I also have to check my motives. Is my motive out of love? Is it genuine? Is it kindhearted? Is it future focused? Or, is my motive driven in ego and about getting what I want? One place I want to keep away from is using my emotions to manipulate an outcome that I cherish because I'm thinking more about my personal vested interests than I am thinking about the interest of the organization. If my motives are pure and coming from a place of love, worth and genuine advocacy, not only for myself but for the organization, then I'm probably in the right place to speak up.

Check your values.

At the end of the day, this is all about advocating in alignment with our values. Five of my core values are love, respect, family, creativity and learning. They center not just my work but my whole life as they serve as the filter for which I make decisions. They serve as the filter for which I choose to speak up or stay silent. Whether I say yes or no to people or opportunities. They serve as the guide for choosing the what and the how. When I’m planning my message, I use my values to guide how I want to advocate. The magic words here are “and” and “adverbs” (add the “ly” to the end of the word). How can I be direct and loving? How can I negotiate respectfully? How can I ask creatively?

As we think about answering the question, is it ever okay to lose my composure at work? Let's redefine what it means to lose our composure and ask ourselves the question, am I really losing my composure or am I advocating for something I value?

I love to hear about a time that you advocated for yourself and you did so in alignment with your values and how that made you feel. Remember that feeling. You are always worth asking for.

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