I write about bringing life to work and bringing work to life. Full bio
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. Stop by and join us: http://www.humanworkplace.com
The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
I was an HR person for years. I was always struck by the huge gulf between my teammates’ public and private personas. Everyone from the youngest mailroom helper to the executives in the C-suite had something to hide. I had something to hide, too.
I was insecure about my funky non-business past. I got into the business world with a half-degree in vocal performance. I finally finished my B.A. by tagging on two years of undergraduate business courses and graduating at age 26. I thought I was the oldest college graduate the world had ever seen. I carried around that insecurity for a long time.
Once I got my degree, my co-workers started to ask me “When will you start on your MBA?” I didn’t have the nerve to say what I was thinking: “I’ll start my MBA right after I kill myself so I don’t have to sit through those horrifying accounting and finance courses.”
I wanted an MBA as much as I wanted a punch to the jaw. I couldn’t imagine anything I wanted less, but everyone asked me “Aren’t you a serious business person? If you are, you need that MBA!”
I had a private office because I was the HR chief in our company. As soon as that door closed behind me and one of my workmates, the truth came out. Real people came out from behind their facades. I heard the real human truth behind the spreadsheets and operating plans we pored over in meetings.
I heard about the human drama, the angst and passion and jealousy. It was all very operatic and it hit me that running an HR department and singing opera onstage are nearly identical activities. There is a theatrical quality to work that gets very little attention, although it is important.
We go through emotional states at work when our forward energy is blocked, when we don’t feel that we can tell the truth about what we’re experiencing or when we feel put down, belittled or undervalued. We feel angry and frustrated, so we go home and stew about it, or kick the dog or punch the couch cushions.
We sigh and say “That’s just the way it is when you have a job. I just have to deal with it.”
Why don’t we talk about our feelings at work? Why don’t we have impassioned debates more often than we do? We don’t talk about our emotions because we are afraid to.
We are afraid to say what we feel, because we fear the consequences if someone higher on the organizational chart than we are doesn’t like what we have to say.
The problem with our workplace fear is that it weakens us. We shrink and become smaller every time we hold our tongue when we should speak, and we weaken our muscles when we go along with the wrong thing at work.
Here are five ways you may be wasting your precious mojo now, as most working people and job-seekers are:
Apologizing When You Haven’t Done Anything Wrong
It’s easy to fall into the habit of saying “Oops, sorry” whenever anything goes wrong at work — when someone says they sent you an email message and you didn’t receive it, for instance. It’s easy to get so used to saying “I’m sorry” that you’re not even conscious of saying it. Can you break that habit, and save your “I’m sorry” for times when you actually goofed up?