Employees in almost every industry struggle with balancing their emotional needs with the demands of the workplace. But if you have trouble being emotionally honest at work, it may say more about your workplace culture than your professional reputation.  Here are some strategies to being emotionally honest at work that can protect your wellbeing and your employment status.

The Real Meaning of “I’m Fine”

Everybody has done it: responded “I’m fine” to a coworker’s question if you are alright during a stressful time. “Fine” has become the default response to anyone asking how you are, from the cashier to your boss. But the claim that you are “fine” is often far from the truth. More often, saying “I’m fine” means “I don’t want to talk about my feelings” or more dangerously, “I don’t trust you to know my feelings.” It is a defensive mechanism used for conflict avoidance. It deflects the conversation, avoiding any emotional honesty and the vulnerability or judgment that goes with it.

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Will Being Emotionally Honest Hurt Your Work Reputation?

If you find yourself avoiding conflict or defaulting to responses like “I’m fine,” it is likely because you are afraid of the consequences of seeming emotional at work. This kind of behavior is most common in workplaces without a high degree of trust and collaboration. When coworkers are focused on competition, especially toward one another, it may cause concerns that being emotionally honest will hurt your reputation at work.

But emotionally honesty isn’t just good for your mental health, it will also make you and your team more productive. Obviously, no one employee can shift a toxic workplace environment. However, if you can get the support from your supervisor or manager, developing an environment of emotional honesty can go far to reducing resentment and interpersonal conflict at work. Encouraging your team members to honestly express their emotions in a professional way can help foster collaboration, build trust, and make it easier to work together toward the company’s common goals.

Finding Honest Ways to Professionally Express Emotions

Emotional honesty doesn’t mean you should be crying or yelling on the job (though that may happen sometimes). Professional emotional honesty means expressing when things are hard and accepting support from those around you. As an employee, you can find ways to express emotional honesty through:

  • Avoiding deflection language like “I’m fine”
  • Describing your emotional state
  • Focusing feelings on events, rather than people
  • Acknowledging when outside forces are affecting you
  • Asking for check-ins or one-on-one conversations with supervisors
  • Taking time to talk through interpersonal conflict with coworkers
  • Identifying practical steps that could relieve stress or negative emotions
  • Being willing to step away when emotions get too high
  • Embracing constructive criticism and disagreements

If you are in a position of authority or respect among your coworkers, being emotionally honest at work can set an example for others. You may find that your team members will begin to echo your behaviors. This will allow you to empathize with them and support them, which in turn will increase trust, creativity, and productivity.

However, the most effective changes in favor of emotional honesty come from the top of the corporate ladder. While employees can take responsibility for their personal needs, leaders are the ones who can change company policy and shift expectations. If you feel unable to be emotionally honest at work, you may want to talk to your supervisor about why that is. Until you voice your concerns, your business’s leadership may not recognize they have a workplace culture problem. By modeling emotionally honest behavior, you could begin a wave of changes that will improve your working environment, and your own mental health.

David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience in resolving organizational dysfunction. Through business consulting and facilitation, David helps businesses and teams improve productivity and workplace culture. Contact us to meet with David to move toward high organizational functioning today.