How to Have No Hard Feelings with Liz Fosslien
New year, new me! That’s what we tell ourselves, right? But coming back into the office post-break, sometimes we can find ourselves almost immediately triggered by oblivious bosses, brown nosing coworkers, or over-eager peers. If you’re coming in hot off your most recent performance review, or struggling with office relationships of any kind, let us introduce you to Liz. Liz is 1/2 of the brainpower behind No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work, a book that takes a data-driven look at how emotions profoundly affect key aspects of professional life. Liz and her co-author Mollie wrote No Hard Feelings as a deeply researched guide to un-repressing emotions at work, finding constructive channels even for jealousy and anxiety, and demystifying digital interactions and coworker communication styles. We chatted with Liz to get her light-hearted, happy take on managing your emotions as we dive into the new year.
Well hey there! You have a book coming out in January called “No Hard Feelings”, tell us what it’s about!
Hey! No Hard Feelings is a visual exploration of how to embrace emotion at work without letting it run wild. Workplaces contain so many unwritten rules that they can start to feel like emotional minefields. What's the line between sharing and oversharing at work? How should you handle a colleague who constantly interrupts you? It is okay to hug your colleague?
We answer all those questions, but not with a one-size-fits-all answer key. Each workplace has its own emotional culture, and each person brings a unique framework and set of experiences to the office. Instead, we give you the tools you need to figure out how to navigate feelings at work.
Why did you feel this book was important to write now?
Two major reasons:
1. We spend more and more of our time working with other people. That’s not always easy! I think we can all relate to Elaine’s famous Seinfeld line, “I had to take a sick day. I’m so sick of these people.” The book will help you figure out the best ways to navigate inevitable workplace clashes and how to avoid a lot of common clashes in the first place.
2. We’re often encouraged to be “authentic” and “vulnerable” with our colleagues. But what does that mean in practice? It’s definitely not an invitation to suddenly be a feelings firehose on the job. We’re big fans of selective vulnerability-- you should talk about your emotions (without getting emotional) and then follow up with a path forward. So if you’re a leader and you notice your team is stressed, you might say something like, “We’re all working a lot right now and I’m feeling the effect of our long hours too. But I have full confidence that we’ll get the work done on time. Here’s what I’m doing to make sure that happens, and here’s what I need from you.”
Before writing this book, with your co-author Mollie, what did you do and what inspired you two to write “No Hard Feelings”?
Mollie and I were both forced to confront our workplace feelings. After college I worked as a an analyst at an economic consulting firm and had the job I always thought I wanted. But I didn’t find the work meaningful, and the hours were often horrible. I became more and more depressed and anxious until I started having severe headaches that forced me to quit.
At the same time, Mollie was working in a stressful job as a product manager for a startup. One day, the area above her right eye went completely numb. When the sensation didn’t go away after a few days, Mollie went to a doctor, who told her the sensation was a result of extreme anxiety.
In both cases, our attempts to totally suppress our emotions failed, and our emotions started manifesting physically. That was when we both realized emotion at work matters… a lot. Our goal is to help people realize that some feelings are important and should be listened to. We tried to write a book that will help you understand why you might feel something and know what to do with that feeling.
Honestly, this book could not have come into my life at a better time. My female coworker and I were just complaining the other day that not only do we have to bear the burden of trying extra hard to make ourselves stand out in a male-dominated workplace, but we also have to deal with the feelings of wondering if we’re “being a bitch” or overthinking things. Why do you think this is such a female thing, and how does your book help unpack this?
Many workplaces were designed for men (I mean this in a lot of ways: if you’ve ever been absolutely frozen at the office, it’s because a lot of office buildings still set the temperature based on a formula that uses the metabolic rates of men). That, combined with gender stereotypes, mean many women face a double bind at work. When they’re kind or empathetic, they’re well-liked but told they’re not leadership material. If they’re confident, they’re chastised for being “aggressive.”
In the book, we provide women and men tips on how they can create work environments in which women don’t have to worry so much about exactly the issues you and your friend talked about. One of my favorite strategies women can use to help each other stand out is amplification. During President Obama’s first term, his female staffers felt unheard in meetings. To make sure the men in the room recognized their contributions, the female staffers started using amplification: when one woman suggested an idea, another would repeat it and give the first credit. Obama took note and by his second term, the female staffers felt much more heard.
What was the experience like working with a co-author? What unique challenges and advantages did you experience?
Mollie and I actually complement each other really well. Mollie loves a blank page, and getting to write without worrying about editing. I’m much more concise and obsessed with figuring out the perfect wording. It takes me a lot longer than Mollie to hit a wordcount. I love tightening ideas and cutting excess. If left to our own devices, Mollie would churn out 50 so-so articles a year, and I would finish a few incredible articles.
Once we figured out these differences, we talked about them openly and used them to our advantage. Mollie’s job was often word count and getting ideas out quickly. My job was to mold all that great content into a cohesive chapter.
Just from the cover I can tell I’m already going to love the illustrations. How did these whimsical drawings add to the messages you make in your book?
The illustrations are meant to be useful and to make the book light-hearted and engaging. Emotions are not enemies you have to vanquish! It’s time we started treating our feelings with affection-- after all, we take them with us everywhere we go.
I was just listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Podcast Magic Lessons the other day and she was talking about that, as a writer, there’s sometimes a difference between the book your soul needs you to write and the book you feel comfortable sharing with others. Do you have any experience like that, and do you have any future ideas for book you’d like to explore?
I remember rewriting the section on emotional labor, which is the often invisible and unpaid work we do to fulfill the emotional expectations of a job, so that it came across as less exasperated haha. Sadly, I think many women have felt pressured to laugh at an unfunny joke or be overly supportive of a male colleague. That said, the book my soul needed me to write was one that enabled people to feel better at work, and I think being obviously exasperated wouldn’t have served that goal.
I’m fascinated by how different two work environments can feel. I’d love to visit ten workplaces (e.g. a law firm, an investment bank, an art studio, a tech company, etc) and better understand all the seemingly subtle gestures, actions, and artifacts that create an emotional culture. And beyond that, I’d love to write and illustrate a book about a girl named Disaster who solves problems using math!
There are a ton of memes out making fun of Office Talk, like how “Per my last email…” is a work-appropriate way of saying “Can you not read?” How can we avoid these email side eyes and create better communication (even though they are sometimes sooo fun to send).
Haha I’m guilty of making some of those memes!
Two pieces of advice for making digital communication less passive aggressive: Emotionally proofread your emails, and address your emotions… offline.
An emotional proofread is exactly what it sounds like: a spell check for tone. Say you quickly typed out an email that says, “Let’s talk.” If you take a moment to re-read what you wrote from the recipient's perspective, you’ll probably realize your words sound curt. You can then edit to convey what you really meant, which might be, “These are good suggestions, let’s discuss how to work them into the draft.” So much less anxiety-inducing for the reader!
If an email makes you enraged or euphoric, wait a bit to write back if you can. Even better, talk face-to-face when you’ve calmed down. There are so many missing cues in email (facial expressions, posture, tone, hand gestures) that you’re much likelier to make an emotional situation worse if you only rely on text. Too much potential for miscommunication!
Many of our readers are women in creative fields, often times working as freelancers. What’s the most important piece of advice we can take from NHF?
Don’t feel bad about feeling bad! It’s a completely normal part of the creative process to have some emotional lows. Understand that these lows are temporary, and cut yourself a little slack. Research shows that people who accept their negative emotions without judging themselves are much better at coping with stress than people who beat themselves up for having feelings.
The concept of a “workplace” seems looser than ever with video conferencing, chat and almost constant connectedness. People are connected more, yet interfacing less– and that leaves room for misunderstanding. In your opinion, do virtual workplaces and gig economies make it more important for emotional training?
Definitely! It’s twice as hard to create a culture of belonging among remote workers, especially if everyone usually communicates only via email or Slack. I think one of the most important things to keep in mind with remote workers is the “out of sight, out of mind” trap. When we work with others in person, we compliment each other after meetings, in the hall, or over drinks. But people who work in separate places have fewer chances to receive this kind of informal feedback. Often, the only things they say to each other are along the lines of “this needs to be improved,” or “this is due then.” So pay each other compliments! Take fifteen minutes to jump on a Hangout and actually just hang out! You’re less likely to have misunderstanding with people you know and care about personally.
Bonus question. Real talk, how many exclamation points are too many for a work email? Asking mostly for myself.
Great question. ;)
Liz is a design consultant whose clients include Salesforce, Ernst & Young, and the Stanford d.School and whose personal projects have been featured by The Economist, The Financial Times, CNN, and NPR. Liz most recently served as the Creative Director for Parliament, a firm that facilitates collaboration between Fortune 500 executives and best-selling business book authors.