When Feelings Go To Work
Lynn McLaughlin and Karen Iverson Riggers
Consultants, co-owners, and members of Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative in Northeast Wisconsin
Strong feelings don’t just check themselves at the workplace door. Lynn McLaughlin and Karen Iverson Riggers talk about how to address strong feelings that occur in the workplace and how to construct safe boundaries. According to numerous studies, including one from the Harvard Business Review, expressions of anger have risen dramatically across the culture. If you need help for your mental health, it is available. Nationally, you can start your search at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help. You can also reach out to today’s guests, Lynn and Karen. They are consultants, co-owners, and members of Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative in Northeast Wisconsin and can be reached at https://www.ebbandflowcooperative.com.
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome everyone. This is Avoiding The Addiction Affliction, a series brought to you by Westwords Consulting. I'm your host, Mike McGowen.
Mike: We've had the opportunity. To chat with Lynn McLaughlin and Karen Iverson Riggers from Ebb and Flow Connections Cooperative in northeast Wisconsin a couple of times over the past year. And we've had some great conversations and this feels like we're making a mini-series, cuz we want to continue the conversation today about how we all cope with the feelings in our lives.
Mike: But this time the emphasis is on the workplace, which I have been looking forward to doing for a while. So welcome back Lynn, Karen.
Karen: Thank you.
Lynn: Thank you. We're so happy to be here and join you.
Mike: Yeah, well I'm just happy to be any, the sun is shining by me. I don't know if it is by you, but geez Louise.
Mike: This has been something. Well, you're up in the Fox Valley in Wisconsin. There's...
Mike: ...schools up there. They're closed today.
Karen: Yeah, we, we...
Lynn: Are they?
Karen: They could have, yeah, there are some like, it, like more rural areas that are but yeah, I, I just finished like shoveling out before coming on the podcast [laugh]. There was a lot of snow.
Mike: Now this is for those of you listening in other parts of the world. This is mid-March and by mid-March in the Midwest we're done. I think. Oh, oh, really? Really? One of those.
Lynn: We're definitely no, we're, we're personally done. Mother Nature, always has other plans.
Mike: Yeah. I think personally I think the earth tilted on its axis and nobody bothered to tell us. Cuz it seems like our winters are weird now, no?
Karen: Yeah, totally.
Mike: Well anyway, that's not where we're chatting, but the last time we talked, we talked about having conversations about how emotions are expressed in the workplace and I. Just that statement alone I love, because that is an interesting, almost an oxymoron in a way.
Mike: I think there's a lot of dynamics in the workplace, right, that don't exist elsewhere. So why don't we start with that? What are some of the dynamics that are in the workplace that kinda put those feelings in a bracket.
Karen: Yeah, I think I can start and then Lynn, I know you'll have more to add.
Karen: This is something that we, we talk about often and we also really would love to change about the way that we talk. Or I should say, don't talk about emotions in the workplace. For me, I think it can be summed up in like, check it at the door. Like folks are asked to show up at work and leave everything in their lives behind them.
Karen: Leave the grief that you're feeling for losing a loved one. Leave the worry that you have about your child that's struggling in college. Leave the sandwich generation feeling that you have of taking care of aging parents...
Karen: ...and kids. Leave the worry that you have about your, you know, little first grader who really doesn't wanna go to school and you just barely got them to school this morning and then, you know, had to show up at work.
Karen: Right. We what, whatever it is. I could think of a million examples.
Karen: And so often we're asked to, you know, you walk in the door and you leave it so you can be productive, right? This, this is the ask is that we dehumanize ourselves in the name of productivity, and so Lynn and I are on a quest, a mission of like, you know, and welcome Mike.
Karen: You're a co-conspirator in this right...
Karen: ...and all of you who are listening to this podcast, welcome, you are co-conspirators in our, our quest to change the world. To say that it is so important to hold that touchpoint with our humanity. And what's real for us, because when we show up authentically and we're welcomed authentically, right, for who we are, that that helps us be better humans.
Karen: That's it.
Mike: Well, and, and Lynn, you know, that's a great kickoff Karen just did because I, I think I titled this when I, my working title for the podcast was, "Check Your Feelings at the Door". So that, how interesting. But you go to work, Lynn, and that anxiety doesn't go like using one of Karen's examples.
Mike: You know, I just put my kid on the bus and I'm really stressed and they're not feeling so hot. My anxiety doesn't go away when I walk into the workplace door, but it, but the expectation is it should.
Lynn: Right, and it's, it's very counterintuitive where we're looking for someone to see us right where we're at, and then walking into the workplace and all the energy it takes to keep the mask on and keep all of those emotions at bay.
Lynn: We're seeing that show up in all kinds of ways, whether it's physical illness or mental health, you know, symptoms or, or, or, or all of the energy it takes to keep that at bay. And in the name of capitalism and production, you know, that's where it's at. It's like if you don't have that, you'll produce more.
Lynn: And the reality is quite the opposite because the person is focused on keeping it within them. Where if we had, you know, opportunities for people to come to work and when that stuff bubbled up, have someone to talk to about it, they actually could return to work. They would feel valued for showing up authentically, and they would be able to let go of what they're holding.
Lynn: You know, so that's, that's kind of what our, when Karen said, vision and dream, that's our vision and dream is to have people within the workplace that are trained listeners, for lack of another term, that you know, maybe it's something that's outside their office, that they know that the person is a trained listener and they can come in and say, you know what?
Lynn: "I fought with my spouse this morning and I can't get it outta my head and I just need to say it out loud". And the person that is the listener is holding the space of non-judgment, nonfixing, non-advice giving. But just sees them, hears them, values them right where they're at and can acknowledge, I see you as a human being and you're hurting, or whatever that is. You're angry, you're frustrated.
Mike: Well, and every, everywhere I go, if you ask people what happens when you stuff your feelings. Everybody says, oh, bad things happen [chuckle].
Mike: Try it eight hours a day, five, six days a week, right?
Mike: And so, you know, all the biometrics, you know, the, the blood pressure, the heart rate, the stress levels, you know, bad chemicals in your system go way up.
Mike: Fear. When I talk to people in the workplace, fear seems to be at the center of a lot of why we don't do what both of you're saying we should do.
Karen: Yeah. When our livelihood and security is tied to a job, to a workplace, to our finances, and, and that fear is very real, right?
Karen: "What if?" I think about the, "what if" it could be fear about what other people are going to think about me, but even stronger. Like, what if this puts my job in jeopardy? And so that fear. Oh gosh, yeah. Fear is a powerful tool and, and I also think like we, when we talk about emotion, and you've heard us say this before, Mike, we don't put any labels around good or bad around emotions.
Karen: And so often I think fear is put in the bad bucket, if you will, like the "runaway from fear bucket" when fear is really trying to give us some information about what's going on with us or the world around us. And when we sit with, when we, when we take on the practice of sitting with fear, as uncomfortable as it is, when we take on that practice of sitting with it, we often find lots of things underneath it.
Mike: Well, right. And, and Lynn, you know, when, when you identify, you know, like I can say you people are afraid in the workplace, but like Karen just said, ...afraid of what? And unless you can identify what you're afraid of, the resolution never comes.
Lynn: And I think, you know, evidence of the great resignation, people were like, I will not put myself in that position of not being seen, heard, and valued again. You know, I think that's, and when we look, you know, there's so many moving pieces of that. When we look at livable wage, when we look at all of these pieces that people are working, "grind culture", you know, always, always moving, doing all of those pieces and, and when people start to recognize at what cost am I doing all of this? And again, that weighing of, you know, my livelihood is tied to this, is there an organization out there that is gonna pay me fairly and see me and hear me? And people are finding those organizations and the, the hope would be that more would shift in that direction.
Lynn: When I think about people saying there's not enough people in the workforce, I don't buy that.
Lynn: There's not enough organizations that see, hear, value people and are willing to help them have a life of balance, have a life of, you know abundance to be able to make their bills. All of those things. I think our, our society is waking up and I love that.
Lynn: I love that. I love Gen Z. Gen Z is not going to do that. I listen to my daughter and I'm like, honey, follow your heart. You know, she's in a situation right now that is really hard and very much "grind culture", and she is, you know, she's weighing the options and what do I do and how do I navigate this and when is enough, enough?
Lynn: Allowing people to do that and to celebrate it when they say I'm done. You know, I, I love everything about that and I think, I think Gen Z is going to be like the, the impetus that gets us moving in that direction. You know, where companies are gonna be run by the people that are saying no, and I can't wait.
Lynn: I love that idea [laugh].
Mike: Well, I hope, I hope I'm around to see it. You know...
Lynn: Me too [laugh].
Mike: When you talk about being run by the people, I think now that's the elephant in the living room. You know, when I talk to people about this, I know just the first 10 minutes people listening to this are thinking, "Okay, right, yeah, okay, that's healthy".
Mike: But and the but is oftentimes, "I don't trust my boss, I don't trust the management structure". That is a huge thing. And people, when I consult, oftentimes Karen, talk about not trusting management. How do we, how do we address that hurdle?
Karen: Yeah. Well, I think there's a couple things to that, right?
Karen: One is, and I say this to my kids all the time. When they're getting picked on at school, when somebody is picking on them or bullying them, I am often telling them, usually kids who are picking on other kids are getting picked on at home or somewhere else. And so I often think it's, it's kind of like this cascading sort of thing, right?
Karen: I'm afraid of my manager and my manager is afraid of their manager. And like we, we go on. I don't, I don't know if that makes sense, right. Like that there, this is a big, this is a big thing. And so part of this I think is twofold. One is talking very seriously about what we need to do about the culture within workplaces.
Karen: And that has to come from leadership to say . "We value people above all else". "We value people over profit". And making that real in everything that they do, and whether that's a living wage or providing benefits that actually provide for folks, or it is creating spaces where people can feel, seen, heard, and valued just as they are really to, or trying to foster culture that honors work-life balance. There's a million things that we can talk about with culture, putting people over profits. So that's one. Two is I really, really believe, and I have seen this in practice, that when people are vulnerable wherever you are, that that creates a space for others to be vulnerable.
Karen: And so we all have the opportunity wherever we might land, in a workplace structure, to show what it means to be vulnerable and authentic. Is it scary? Yeah.
Karen: Yes. Yes it is. And and it's what creates change. If I can be vulnerable in real and authentic, Mike, when I see you at work and really asking, "How are you?"
Karen: "No. Like how are you really?" I heard, I heard somebody say like...
Mike: Yeah, hi, how are you?
Karen: Right, pass it. Right. I heard somebody say like, they said like, I'm fine. And then the follow up question was, "I know you're fine, but are you okay?"
Karen: So thinking about how, how those two things can happen hand in hand, right? That we look at what it means to shift culture, to put people over profits and what it means to show up authentically and vulnerably wherever we are.
Mike: Well, and you know, I think it's interesting cuz what you started that with Karen, is a mission statement that I see in a lot of businesses, right? We place, you know, "people are important" you know, "these are our family" or whatever, and, but Lynn, actions speak louder than words, right?
Lynn: Yes. Yes they do.
Lynn: Yes they do. And another piece, so when Karen was saying "people above profits", that also means slowing down long enough to really see your employees. So when she was saying, "How are you? How are you really?" That means that you know what? For that time that you're connecting, they're not gonna be producing.
Lynn: And to say, and I value that, and that's that action piece, rather than "get back work", it's "how are you really?" And you know, I think about all the models of quality and production. When does the people model come in? And you're absolutely right. Mission statement doesn't mean a thing if it's not actually something they do in their workplace, and people feel it.
Mike: Well, and and I also think that people and profit are not mutually exclusive, but if you're treating people well, your business goes up. My son was doing a meeting the other day sort of around me. He was on a Zoom and he was in charge [laugh], which is always so I tried not to eavesdrop too much, but I did.
Mike: And he was doing a great job, but his boss, his two bosses were out of town. So he's running the show for four or five days. And after he finishes his Zoom meeting, probably about 45 minutes later, his boss called him from out wherever he is, Colorado, I think. And. had a nice, long conversation.
Mike: "How are you doing? You've done a great job", you know, validating it. Well, you know, I don't, he's a young guy, my, my son, so he doesn't get how unique that is. Right. And he now will work extra hard for that guy. He'll walk through the wall for that guy cuz he feels like he cares. Hard to quit that guy.
Mike: Well, alright, the, here's the, here's the flip side of that. We talk about management for a minute. Let's talk about the employee [chuckle]. This part I love, people think they're saying one thing and they're really saying something else. Like if you, if if you're a fly on the wall and you listen to people, I'm gonna tell him, I'm gonna tell her they think they're saying one thing to management and are being clear, but they're not being clear. People are, are not clear in their communication of their wants and needs and what's going on. Right.
Karen: And I would even back that up to say like a lot of times we don't even know. Right. It might be easy, it might be easy for me as employee to say like, you know, this is what I think I want, but I haven't taken enough time to really sit, to really listen to what I really want and need. And then it, it gets all messy, right? Because I say something, I say something and it's really not exactly what I want and need. And so when I talk, when I talked earlier about saying how can we, how can we show up authentically and just kind of like you were talking about with that example with your son, right?
Karen: He feels like he can show up authentically. He feels like he can show up as himself and like write and kind of, I, I like the term "being your best", like being your best self in that moment when I can show up authentically. And so that, that communication piece is sticky. And, and here's the thing, like we are humans.
Karen: We are messy and we make mistakes, but there's not a lot of room. There's not a lot of room for mistake making and risk taking in this world, right? It goes some back to that fear place. Some, some all wrapped up in kind of perfectionism, right? And having to know, know it all and know how to do it all. And so creating cultures where mistakes are welcome, I think supports that that piece you were talking about with communication. Because instead of like, I miscommunicate and then I just like push it under the rug and we don't talk about it. I say I miscommunicate, I step in it, I mess up, and I, I say, I messed up. Right? And we can have a dialogue about it. And so when I talk about showing up authentically, that's part of the practice.
Karen: That's part of the practice is when those miscommunications happen, that we can have a dialogue.
Mike: Well, and Lynn, if if we're not clear in our communication, then we don't get our needs met at the core. Right. And then we...
Mike: And then we feel as though the person who we're communicating with is, is deliberately doing it sometimes.
Mike: And talk about how those resentments can last. Oh, just a little while in the workplace.
Lynn: [laugh] Just a little while. So I was thinking as Karen was sharing as an example an employee is upset because they're not able to take breaks during the day.
Lynn: So that's what they communicate to their employer. But underneath that is, I have a sick child at home.
Lynn: So what the employer is hearing is you don't wanna work so hard.
Mike: Mmm hmm.
Lynn: You know, so there's all of this miscommunication and really the slowing down piece is so important. Whereas if an employee says, "I need more breaks, you, you push me too hard" to be able to dig a little bit deeper and say, "Tell me more about that" and "Tell me more about that". And you know, the hope that is eventual and, you know, Karen and I don't have quick fixes. There are no quick fixes when we look at how broadly the culture of work has been, like nurtured and no balled, you know, for centuries and. So the, the fix is gonna take some time too.
Lynn: And that, that means allowing space to slow down, to be vulnerable, to build trust, so that the person can come in the next day and say, "You know what? My child is sick at home and I need to check in with them every hour to make sure they're okay. They haven't been home alone before". And the boss says "Absolutely do that because we value you and you value your family".
Lynn: You know, so it, and you, you take that time, you know, an organization that has a thousand employees and the employer might be like, "Well, we're never gonna get anything done". And quite the opposite because the people like Karen had said, the value that they feel will create the loyalty. And I will go above and beyond for you because you have done that for me.
Lynn: And it's, it's mutual and slow. But I believe a shift that really needs to happen.
Mike: Well, and, and you know, most bosses got to be the boss, Karen, cuz they were good at what they did or were a relative or something. And it's not because they were great at empathy and listening. Right. I, I mean, I, I have a degree.
Mike: I have a, I have a Master's in Management and [laugh] We didn't have a class in empathy and listening. We had a bunch of classes and my, my undergrad in therapy was so much more valuable to me as a boss, than my advanced degree in. Right.
Mike: So, you know, how do we maintain realistic expectations in the workplace and see our coworkers and our employer for who they are?
Mike: Like they're good at stuff, but they may not be good at what you need them to be good at at that moment.
Karen: Yeah. Yeah. And, and I think there are ways we can be creative about this, right. You know, because maybe in the example that you shared, like, you know, folks become managers, because they're good at what they do, not necessarily maybe about who they are.
Karen: Right. You hear that distinction like what I do versus who I am, and so I think there's opportunities and we know there are folks out there who really do love to listen.
Karen: And value that. And so what if we said at, you know, at, you know, business A, B, C. That these are the five people in our, you know, in our business who are here to listen and they've got a little sign on their door that says, you know, "Would it help to talk? I'm here to listen". I think there are ways that we can be creative about that, because we can't ask everybody to be all things. Like, that's just not, that's not realistic. It's not realistic and it's not, you know, I always kind of. I think about all the times we like try to put like square pegs into round holes with humans, right?
Karen: like, oh yeah, we could totally like train you how to be this right thing that doesn't like, like jive authentically with who you are and, and so being creative within a business structure, about how we do that. Being creative about how we, how we say we value you. And it could be the example that you shared with your son where the manager is, is just, is checking in and just, and simply saying like, you are doing a good job.
Karen: Thank you. Like, thank you for what you're doing. That's it. Like it doesn't have to. It doesn't have to be like, Right. But, but these, these small changes and these ways that we can think creatively about how to show folks that they're valued, I think. I think that's it. When you, you were talking about the like, oh, I never got any training as a manager. I think about my partner who's a manager and all of the training that he goes through, and you know, some of it is like. So he's not in an office. He's completely remote and he had to go through an office safety training.
Mike: Yes. Oh man. I've had a bunch of those.
Mike: Yes. Right. And he is not even there. Right, right.
Karen: And so some of these things, when you talk about how we show folks that they're valued Yeah. Like that is showing me that I don't, you don't value my time.
Mike: One of the universities I worked for or teach at had me do an online course in their vehicle management stuff, like, and I don't drive their cars.
Mike: So, and, and I couldn't, I couldn't keep working for them unless I did their vehicle management thing [laugh]. And, you know, the whole time I'm doing it, it's like, how much can I buzz through this and not listen to it? Right.
Karen: Yeah. So when we, we talk about mission statements and we talk about those things, like how do we actually live these things?
Karen: Are we, are we really showing folks that they're valued and they're valued as their whole selves? And, and that's the shift, right? That's the shift that we're talking about.
Mike: Well, and you know, now this is great. We, this could be five hours long .
Lynn: [laugh] Yes, it could.
Karen: It could.
Mike: We'll do part two. You've been nice enough to meet through this whole thing, but, you know, Lynn, we spend more time and everybody in more time at work than we do anywhere else.
Mike: I mean, you know, unless you're working from home and your partner is under foot. You're actually interacting more with your coworkers than you are with your own family for most of your life. So how do we change you, you both have sort of addressed it, but how do we change the dynamic to address getting our needs met in a healthy way?
Mike: Being able to express ourselves in that place that we spend most of our time, where we feel as though we can't do that.
Lynn: I think there are, there are all kinds of different ways to do that. Karen mentioned a bunch that ability, I think there needs to be a more mutual workplace instead of a hierarchy to be able to see each other as human beings.
Lynn: And again, bringing that human, human piece back into the workplace. You know, where we see people as whole human beings. That's like really easy to say, you know, it's one of those that's really easy, but it's not, or it's simple, but it's not easy. And to [inaudible] those spaces where people can show up authentically.
Lynn: And like Karen said, this is, there's so many moving pieces to it, right? Because there's so many places in our community where you can't show up authentically. The workplace being one of them. And when we, we begin to open that door, it's gonna be awkward and messy and uncomfortable and very human and beautiful because it's very human and allowing for that.
Lynn: That's the first step in my mind.
Mike: Yeah. And Karen, you know, I I'll let you have the last word in this. I, I think that I see a lot of places, workplaces, that if you don't do what Lynn just said, then I'll just put it succinctly. Good people leave and people who don't have other options stay, and there's a downward spiral in your own business that is inevitable.
Mike: That you lose all the good people and you have trouble staying afloat.
Karen: Yeah. That's the ultimate cost, right? Having been in a position of supervising and managing people one of the things that was first and foremost on my mind is how much I wanted to keep the folks that I had. Because of how hard it is to find somebody, to train somebody, to get them, right.
Karen: Like it takes a year to like get somebody into a position. So there is huge cost. There is huge cost to not doing this. There is huge cost to not valuing folks. Huge cost. And so if you really wanna look at bottom line in numbers, that's it, right? That's it. If you have folks within your organization that you want retain, we're, we're now in, you know, a really different place economically and work-wise, you know, where we see people just leaving.
Karen: There's not loyalty like there used to be. And I think some of that is driven by, people know, like they know now, like I can leave, I can leave and I can go find somebody else. So you better show me why I wanna stay.
Mike: That's just such a great. Show me why I wanna stay.
Mike: Yep. Yep. You know, part of doing podcasts is, you know, to inform, right?
Mike: But it's also to stimulate some discussion. And I really appreciate these conversations. I've heard back from people, that whenever we talk, people end up talking to people that they know about what we've talked about. And asking and checking in. So I really appreciate these conversations with you. And I hope we can have more unless you're all bored with me.
Karen: We love, we love talking about this. Like this is our jam, this is our jam.
Mike: I can tell.
Mike: And I think maybe that's what people like about it, cuz I think they can sense that and sense that it's mine too as we talk about it. And I think, I didn't mean to give you last word than they're not. I don't think it's that, I don't think it's that hard actually.
Mike: Right. Like everything we're talking about. Yeah. It's, it's, you know, it has a lot of strings, but caring about people is not that hard. Taking that time to say, yeah, I know you're fine, but are you okay? Is not that hard, because what's the alternative? Go to my desk and work on paper. So you know, really good.
Mike: Well, again, thank you so much both of you for joining me once again, and for those of you who are listening, I hope this has stimulated some discussion in your own life about what you need to do for yourself. And we invite you to listen in next time when we talk about more issues that are relevant to us, including substance abuse, as well as mental health, which is this all a part of.
Mike: Until then please take care of yourselves, stay safe, and even have some of these conversations at work.
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