A few days ago I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and a post from an entrepreneur acquaintance of mine caught my eye. Essentially, it was “I just got a business email with the subject ‘my feelings’. Can you believe it? I’m not even sure how to respond.”
I was stunned. I felt empathy for whoever it was that wrote that email, and I was offended by the Facebook comments that seemed to almost mock that author. And then I remembered that not so long ago, that was me, paralyzed when confronted with feelings in business. And then I felt empathy for the entrepreneur, too.
A few years ago, something started to dawn on me.
Business is about humans.
This may seem self-evident, but it sure doesn’t match most of the material on business and leadership that’s out there. So much of what I’ve read and learned treats business, and the accompanying processes and ideas, as if we’re robots. “It’s just business.” Which is dangerous, since humans are messy and awkward and imperfect and… emotional.
There, I said it. All of these people, including ME, have emotions.
And at first I thought it was just me who didn’t want to deal with emotions in business. I was an engineer by training, raised by analytical parents. I had tried running businesses in the past the best way I knew how: cold, rational, “it’s just business,” and was never as successful as I wanted to be. I never dealt with those emotions in business and it cost me - both in dollars and in happiness.
I started asking around, and almost universally was met by the same uncomfortable awkwardness: almost everyone struggles with business for humans.
What I first thought was a problem, I now see as an opportunity. The better I can deal with all those messy emotions - starting with my own - the better leader I can be for myself, my family, and my companies. Now I’m not saying every meeting should be a therapy session, but I am invested in the emotional health and happiness of those around me, as well as my own.
Last week I took another step on this constant journey. I had to have a tough conversation with a business partner. Last time that conversation ended in hurt feelings and the beginning of a rift between us. I was resolved to handle it better this time. Here’s what I did.
When in doubt, breathe.
I wish I could take credit for this idea. But many before me (yoga masters, researchers, my wife) have given me the idea, this time I just decided to embrace it fully. I knew that slow steady breaths would produce calm, and long inhales and exhales would produce happiness. I wasn’t sure if it would work for me, but I wanted to test the impact of this very human strategy on my business results.
I breathed deeply beforehand and imagined myself doing well. During the conversation when I felt attacked, I took a deep breath - not an exasperated sigh, but a cleansing breath that oxygenated my brain and gave me time to calmly think. Occasionally I would check in with myself and make sure my breathing was slow and steady (I have a tendency to hold my breath when I feel strong emotions.) And it worked! Instead of amplifying each others’ stress like last time, my calm helped us both stay focused, present, and receptive. And with that, we were able to start outlining a business plan going forward.
Breathing was one part of what helped that situation go better. Crazy, isn’t it, that something so seemingly small can be so important? There were other factors that helped too, which I’ll write about in my next post.
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