Embrace Your Elephant


When learning about effective communication and how to “speak” in the workplace one of the most important things we should take into consideration is the duality of the brain. Our brains are divided between the rational and the automatic (emotional).

As human beings, we are innately driven by our emotions. However, modern society requires us to rely more on the rational side of our brains; this is especially true in the workplace, where we must moderate our behavior. We continuously over-focus on the tone of our voice, our body language, and our temperament. All sentences begin with a please and end with a thank you; while it’s great to be polite, it’s not always the case that our interactions with others end in a polite manner. Constantly moderating our behavior makes it so at the end of the day we are exhausted from the robotic template we are forced to inhabit.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt talks about how our emotions, or our “elephant,” control ninety-nine percent of our emotional brain, whereas the rational part of our brain is a mere one percent. So, how healthy can it be to suppress such an essential part of our brain function?

I say we should embrace our elephant; that is how we can be our most authentic self; this does not mean we can start cursing like a sailor in our workplace but we must find a way to let our elephant roam freely, within the constraints of a professional environment. To help control our emotions, we need to figure out what our triggers are, what causes us to have intense emotional reactions (anger, fear, defensive,…).

I can openly admit that I struggle with my elephant, and when “she” decides to take the reins, it is not pretty. So how do we get our elephant and the rational part of our brain to play nice?

  1. Know your triggers: This can be difficult if there is a particular co-worker that sets our emotions in high gear. There will never be a perfect workplace where everyone gets along. We must prepare ourselves mentally before we encounter that person, or if possible, have ‘neutral’ people in the room with us when we meet with them, to even out the atmosphere in the room. We cannot control others, but we can control ourselves and how we react to them. Remember, it's okay (and normal) not to mesh with every coworker.

  2. Find the positive: Negativity is the most draining on our emotions. I like the old school saying, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Refrain from gossiping. Gossip is a negative dark cloud in the workplace.

  3. Own your emotions: Emotions are natural and deserve to be acknowledged. However, not every emotion or feeling is appropriate for the workplace. Search for alternate ways to release those emotions. Find a way that works for you, to make your emotions constructive and not destructive. If your are angry, go for a walk, or climb a couple of flights of stairs to burn off that extra energy.

  4. Be an active listener: When conversing with others be present and engaged, listen to the person you are talking to and interact with them. Too often we are caught up in our thoughts, or too eager to give our points of view, and we do not listen to what the other person is saying. When you step out of our yourself and listen, you will be able to ask better questions and prevent a future misunderstanding.

PRO TIP: Repeat what you understood the other person to be saying, this can be helpful to clarify a task or project and assure that what you understood them to be saying is accurate.

Overall, there will always be pits and perils in communication. Emotions, like elephants, are large and powerful. We must embrace who we are, accept that we are emotional creatures. We must continue to train and nurture our emotional health to be our most authentic self.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24adApYh0yc

Dan & Chip Heath authors: “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9KP8uiGZTs

The Chopra Center: Chair Yoga https://chopra.com/articles/chair-yoga-flow-for-all-levels

#professionaldevelopment #ImposterSyndrome

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