Language and Leadership

Throughout my life as a female human, I’ve been counselled to be less emotive. It’s been suggested I moderate my tone, show less emotion, and generally never act like I care that much. The reasoning was that people would take me more seriously, I would seem more professional, and I would get listened to more.

I have a vibrant, occasionally overbearing, personality. I’m a demanding presence in a room, and one of my favourite skills is I can make people feel things. This is achieved  partly through honesty and partly through an emotive and empathetic nature.

I don’t have temper tantrums or meltdowns. I’m just comfortable using emotive language and expressing passion.

Being counselled not to do so rubs me the wrong way for a few reasons.

It suggests that emotionality precludes logical thought or facts

Often the advice comes after I’ve monologued a bit on an issue I’m passionate about. Now let’s be clear: I take care to back up what I say with statistics and logical chains. If I drop a few words like ‘abhorrent’ or have a cadence to my voice that indicates passionate feelings, that doesn’t immediately negate my statistics – they’re still true.

If I say something like “when you ignore queer people they don’t like it and might feel disenfranchised” that’s true regardless of whether I sound like I care (or indeed, flag the fact that am personally affected by it).

The idea that emotions and logic are necessarily mutually exclusive is historic and should be confined to  history. It can also be lowkey sexist. Typically women are seen as being “more emotional” – for worse or for worse or for worse – and advice to minimize emotions is likely to be disproportionately given to women.

Barack Obama crying
More emotions please. They make a difference.

It suggests that we shouldn’t be passionate

I am a passionate person. I’m passionate about my research, about equality, about eventually being ruler of the world because currently the people in charge are hecking it up big time. That passion drives much of what I do.

If someone sounds passionate when they talk, that’s not a bad thing.

Being emotive is how I get things done

A key part of leadership is empathy. As a leader, I ensure that things happen and people are happy by being empathetic, reading situations, and bringing people along for the ride. A lot of people are on the empathetic leadership bus, and it’s a good time.

By shutting down the expression of emotions or labeling them as unprofessional, you prevent the development and growth of empathy and other emotive skills of people in the interaction, and punish those who already have those skills.

It delegitimizes anger

Often when a marginalized group is angry it’s because they’ve tried being nice and you’ve ignored them. Asking why someone is angry is much more productive than criticizing the decision to express it.


 

I’m not saying I’ll always be this passionate. I genuinely don’t think I can promise that.

My emotions are a key part of how I express myself and navigate working relationships – and they facilitate that. I’ve gotten incredibly positive feedback about my emotionality; I’m not inclined to listen to outdated ideas of what a leader “should” sound like, or that an advocate should present statistics and ideas dispassionately.

I’m going to keep feeling, and I’m going to keep sounding like it.

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