Lean Into the Emotion

There are many times in your professional and personal life when you’re going to be put in a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe even severely uncomfortable. Our natural tendency is to try to mask that discomfort and present an air of confidence. We don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable. And of course, the more significant the discomfort, the less likely we are to successfully accomplish presenting confidently.

Common situations can create the opportunity for real discomfort: a) interviewing for a job you really want, b) giving a presentation in front of a big group, c) having a challenging performance conversation with a direct report, d) terminating someone’s employment, e) declining a job offer, etc. etc.

A highly valuable tip I received several years ago, is to lean into the emotion. Instead of putting on the air of confidence, take the opposite approach: start off by acknowledging the discomfort. “I’m really nervous to be presenting in front of everyone today.”. “I’m feeling a bit anxious about this conversation, even though I know we need to have it”.

People are excellent at picking up when you’re feeling uncomfortable, regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not. If you authentically lean into the emotion and address it head on, you’re more likely to garner empathy and understanding from your audience, whether a group of people or an individual. We tend to root for the underdog, or someone struggling. It’s human nature. By leaning into the emotion, you’re bringing the audience onto your side. Lean into the emotion to start and you’re more likely to set yourself up for success. It will have the added bonus of quieting whatever emotion you’re feeling.  

This only works if you describe an emotion you are genuinely experiencing. Don’t say “I’m feeling nervous”, if you’re not, or you’ll likely produce the opposite effect.