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We are not Always Honest about Our Feelings at Work – Here’s Why

By Simon Stapleton, Co-Founder of Truthsayers

For most of us, expressing our feelings is not always easy, irrespective of gender, age or other personal characteristics – especially in the workplace, where being honest about our feelings can result in long-lasting effects. We can all recognise the situation where it’s got to such a point that we really want to say how fed up we are, but are concerned that we will open a can of worms that will be hard to contain. This is commonplace and occurs in every country and culture – even collectivist cultures where ‘the greater good’ perceivably has to triumph.

 

But why do we withhold how we really feel? What are the implications for the workplace?

 

The Common Reasons Why We do This

 

Low Psychological Safety

If we feel we can’t honestly express ourselves without recrimination, being judged or rejected, it’s almost inevitable that we will avoid it. Look to workplace cultures where failure or dissent is unacceptable and those where diversity is not welcomed and employees are expected to conform to a tight norm. Feelings of low psychological safety are powerful demotivators, and they inhibit trust and quash working relationships that require dependence and collaboration.

 

Lack of Inclusion

When we don’t feel included, it is likely we will disengage from a work situation and avoid sharing how we feel. For example, as the single remote-worker in a team of ‘best buddies’ I might well feel isolated from the group, and therefore moderate how I express myself and engage with the rest of my team. Worse still is if a feeling of being excluded leads to heavy editing of my behaviours and communications to ‘fit in’.

 

Conflict Avoidance

When we fear causing angry exchanges, we will moderate what we say to stay just inside the boundaries of what we believe is acceptable and avoid the fight. The results of this are watered-down expressions of discontent that fall flat and don’t cause the changes we are seeking to achieve. We sacrifice our need for change in favour of the friendly accord.

 

Emotional Vanity

This is when we don’t express how we really feel because it would disagree with the perceived characteristics of the intended personality we are projecting of ourselves onto others. It’s likely we are wanting to impress other people. For example, I might avoid saying how unhappy I am about being asked to work a few hours extra because I want to appear to others as the ‘workaholic hero’, or claim to be upset about the treatment of a colleague even though I feel delighted, in a very schadenfreude way because the colleague deserved it (I believe this is how being overly ‘woke’ manifests).

 

Vulnerability

In low-trust, highly-politicised environments, sharing our true feelings can leave us vulnerable. Not only can it threaten our emotional vanity, doing so could disclose our weak points and potentially leave us open to attack. So instead, we may choose to play safe and be very cautious about how open we are with our feelings.

 

Low Self-Esteem

We might avoid being honest about how we feel because we don’t feel that we have the right to, or that we are scared of being rejected if we did. Our need to please others in favour of ourselves drives us to keep inside our discontent and ‘suck it up.’ We may be feeling this way because we lack confidence or are experiencing workplace bullying, in one of its guises.

 

Hopelessness

When we are at the point of despair in a situation where we believe, no matter what we were to say, it would have no effect (other than to dig a bigger hole), we might choose to avoid sharing how we feel. For example, if I had a stubborn boss who was unmoveable on something, even if it causes us personal problems, I may give up and be uncommunicative, or worse, switch to a passive-aggressive course of action. Even though this path may lead to our situation becoming far worse.

 

Being a ‘fixer’

Being seen as a fixer means solving the problem and moving on. Sharing our feelings just gets in the way (or so we believe.) Fixers focus on the solution and avoid the distraction of expressing their discontent – an emotionally unsustainable strategy that could lead to bigger problems further down the road.

 

What does this Mean for Business? How Neurotech® Helps Overcome It

 

It might not require you to take a big leap of imagination to see that when people can’t express how they really feel (regardless of whether this originates from the institution or from individuals) serious consequences to mental health and stress could result. You’ll find toxic workplaces here. It can damage working relationships and overall productivity due to lacklustre performance across teams, absence and disruption. And in the hyper-connected world of social media, reputational damage is a major risk.

 

Why don’t your current Employee Engagement surveys and other assessments pick this up? Because these methods allow the same moderation of response, even when the survey is labelled ‘anonymous’. People respond how they think they should respond, which is frequently different from what they really feel. This is why there is growing dissatisfaction in traditional, ‘tick-box’ surveys, and in the interventions that follow them.

 

We developed Neurotech® to overcome this problem by using a totally different method to gather data from employees – one that bypasses conscious bias and moderation and instead measures how people really feel. Many organisations have augmented (or even switched from) their traditional tools because Neurotech® provides insights that lead to more meaningful dialogues and relevant actions. It is available on any device, in all major languages, and has built-in features to support users with dyslexia and other forms of neurodiversity.

 

When applied, this technology exposes the critical differences between what people say and how they really feel. It tells leaders what they might have suspected is going on in the business, but couldn’t substantiate, as well as shining a light on new discoveries and where they are to be found in the organisation.

 

For example, we recently worked with a tier-1 consulting house to assess the impact of COVID-19 on their workforce, and exposed potential causes of stress and future mental ill-health problems, and in which age-groups and locations it was most acute. In another client, Neurotech® was deployed to measure the employee experience in a global financial services organisation, and the results provided not just the insights into sources of dissatisfaction and disengagement, but also in which job families and divisions they were exhibiting the most and least.

 

Neurotech® is a flexible tool for measuring and understanding the sentiment and attitudes of people in a very broad range of domains. We also have out-of-the-box tools for assessing Employee Engagement, Stress, Health & Wellbeing, Diversity & Inclusion, Business Agility and Employee Retention.

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