What is the role of emotions in the workplace? How do you stay happy when other people are grouchy or stressed out? How do you unplug from work concerns to enjoy true leisure?
I think about questions like these all the time, so I was very interested to hear about a new book, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work.
Liz Fosslien is a strategy and design consultant who has worked with companies including Salesforce, Ernst & Young, and the Stanford d.School.
Mollie West Duffy is an organizational designer at IDEO New York. She has helped companies and start-ups such as Casper develop good workplace culture.
If you love a great self-assessment quiz, you can take their quiz about “Emotions and You” to help you understand yourself, your team, and your organization better. Also, if you preorder their book, they have a special bonus for you here.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Liz and Mollie about happiness, habits, and productivity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Liz: I take photos of any design that I find interesting. I recently photographed: lotion packaging at Trader Joe’s, a tiny neon snail graffiti, some vibrant bricks, a sparkly Peet’s coffee cup, tangled white and gray wires, and a patch of floor dust. When I feel stuck in a creative rut, I scroll through my weird photos for inspiration.
Mollie: Exercising first thing in the morning. It can be a run, barre class, or even reading my email and the news on my ipad while walking on the treadmill. Even if I only do it for 20 minutes, it gives me energy for the day, and no matter what else happens the rest of the day, at least I’ve accomplished that.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Liz: I wish I knew that happiness doesn’t mean always being happy. I used to fall into I’m-going-to-feel-like-this-forever spirals, which only made my bad feelings feel worse (e.g. I would get anxious about feeling anxious). Now when I have a blue moment, I realize it’s ok, and that I’ll feel better again soon.
Mollie: That we have control over our own thoughts and thought patterns. I love the quote by Deepak Chopra: “There are only two things we can put our imagination to: one is anxiety, which is a form of imagination, and one is creativity. And we have to choose creativity in order to transform the world.”
Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?
Liz: I knew that interviews aren’t the best way of assessing job applicants, but I was still surprised by this study: Yale Professor Jason Dana and his colleagues asked two groups of students to predict their classmates’ GPAs. One group only had access to past grades and current course enrollment, while the other was also allowed to conduct interviews. The students who interviewed their classmates were significantly worse at predicting future GPA. Even scarier, most didn’t notice that some interviewees had been instructed to give random and sometimes nonsensical responses.
Mollie: Our readers are surprised to learn that emotions can also go viral. Researchers at Baylor University found a nasty coworker not only makes you and your family grumpy but may have a ripple effect that extends as far as your partner’s workplace. It happens like this: I come home irritated because of my crabby colleague and snap at my husband. He catches my bad mood and goes to work the next day equally irritable. My colleague’s sour attitude might then spread to my husband’s coworkers.
Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
Mollie: I’m constantly working at being a better sleeper. I often have a hard time falling asleep, even though I go to bed early. I have created an elaborate bedtime ritual that usually helps. I watch 10-15 minutes of a slow British TV show (I highly recommend Escape to the Country on Netflix) in bed to unwind, and then listen to a boring audiobook on a 30-minute sleep timer. I also sleep with an eye mask, earplugs, and a white noise machine. My husband is a comedian, and he has worked this ritual into a joke he tells on stage.
Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Liz: I am a Questioner—I find it hard to work on something when there isn’t a clear goal. The upside is that I can use specific and sometimes overly ambitious goals to motivate myself. When I wanted to learn HTML, I sketched out a complicated website design, and with that vision in mind, was able to slog through a bunch of tutorials and documentation and actually build it.
Mollie: I am definitely an Upholder. My mom has been telling me to “do less” since I was a small child. I am such a creature of habit, so the Upholder “discipline is my freedom” motto really resonates with me. Liz and I worked well together with this tendency combination. With the help of many Google Drive folders and documents, I made sure that we met all our deadlines (our editors were shocked when we handed our manuscript in ahead of schedule!), and Liz saw that our finished product was pithy and punchy by questioning until each section was necessary and helpful.
Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
Mollie: As an Upholder and an introvert, I can take on too much. There are daily habits like exercise, reading, and meditation, that I need to do for myself. But I also like to meet work, social, and book obligations. When I get overscheduled, I get overwhelmed.
Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
Liz: I’ve always loved this line by Toni Morrison: “You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.” It’s a good reminder to say no sometimes and to stop listening to the “you can’t do this” monster that lives in your brain.
Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
Liz: I started drawing comics because of Calvin & Hobbes. There is a storyline where Calvin finds an injured raccoon and tries to nurse it back to health, but the raccoon doesn’t make it. Calvin and Hobbes mourn the raccoon and confront what it means to die. The entire story is told in black-and-white drawings, but it made me cry. To me, Calvin & Hobbes is such a shining example that you don’t need anything fancy to create a thing that will stick in someone’s heart forever.
Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?
Liz and Mollie: We’re so often told to “pursue our passion.” It’s easy to assume that means we have to love every aspect of our job, and that work should consume us. But caring too much about a job is unhelpful and unhealthy. It makes small problems seem exceptional and throwaway remarks feel appalling. One of our new rules of emotion at work is to be less passionate about your job. This doesn’t mean don’t care, it just means keep a little more emotional distance between your identity and your work. This offers a solution to a lot of anguish! You won’t hyperventilate before a big presentation. You won’t be frustrated to tears by incompetent teammates. You will actually put your phone away on date night and you won’t be haunted by work FOMO as you backpack through Machu Picchu.