How Being Honest About Your Emotions Improves Work Productivity

Reading Time: 9 Minutes

Contributed by Anna Thiele

Anna Thiele is a leadership strategist at Deliberate Directions. Anna graduated from Boise State with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and a Certificate in Leadership and Human Resources. Anna started in leadership roles in 2016 through the College of Western Idaho’s TIPPS camp. A year later she was promoted to management at Albertsons, where she enjoys training and coaching new employees. In her spare time, she rock climbs, backpacks, and rides her bike on the Boise Greenbelt.

We asked leaders in our community how being honest about their emotions improves productivity in their organizations. Here are their answers.

Effective Debate Requires Trust

Jennie Myers, Against

Jennie Myers is the co-founder of Against, a creative marketing agency in Boise, and the co-founder of the Society for Ideas. She has 20 years of experience in advertising.

When your work revolves around mining the depths of human experience for ideas that move hearts and minds, being vulnerable and honest with your team is critical.

Humans are emotional. If we deny our full selves in the process of our work then our work will never reach its full potential.

Getting to a great idea requires collaboration with other humans. It means having your personal ideas and beliefs challenged by the thinking of others. Some call this debate. Effective debate requires trust, and vulnerability is trust’s foundation.

The minute we author an idea, we lose objectivity. The more we work on it, and nuance it, the more we fall in love with it and the less capable we are of seeing its pitfalls.

One of two things will happen with a debated idea. It will either come out better because a flaw was addressed. Or it will come out reinforced having endured being challenged.

Emotional Intelligence is Key

Brad Miles, Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A is known for fast service, and their employees always respond to a “thank you” by saying “my pleasure” with a warm smile. This experience leaves customers wishing for more. But what exactly allows for this type of service?

Brad Miles, is the franchise owner of the Meridian Chick-fil-A location. He shares with us how he maintains exceptional customer service and strong employee retention through his own emotional management.

Emotional intelligence is key when it comes to emotional vulnerability. When my employees are upset, I know to wait a few days before I approach the situation to allow for a cool-down period.

Chick-fil-A is a small but mighty organization. On a slow day about 32 people are on the clock. If I am not able to utilize emotional intelligence, then my team is likely to fall apart.

I create a space that allows for everyone to have a voice. Every set of hands is a free brain and a free heart. So I prioritize and encourage everyone’s unique ideas and perspectives.

In addition, I believe in investing in my team from the moment they are hired. We do that through a simple equation:

“Great hiring + great training = great employee PLUS giving great systems and processes and emerging in a great culture”

Through this equation, a natural flow of managing emotions evolves throughout our team members.

Be Completely Yourself

Jos Zamzow, Zamzows Inc

Jos Zamzow is the Co-CEO of Zamzows Inc, says that being vulnerable is essential to developing trust.

I have a poster hanging at my office that reads, “Be so completely yourself that everyone else feels comfortable being themselves too!”

The leadership team must participate fully in developing trust, and insure that the organization’s culture embraces it as well.

When my people are open and honest about what they are feeling, it helps us get to the meat of an issue faster. When we can lean into differing opinions and really understand each other, we make better decisions faster.

The hard work is in building the trust in the team so that everyone can be open and honest and everyone else will have their back.

Trust is not given, it is earned. So it takes time.

I truly believe that if leaders set the tone, insist on psychological safety, and encourage openness and vulnerability on their team, they have harnessed pure magic.”

If You Want to Go Far, Go Together

Laura Boots, Starbucks

Laura Boots is a District Manager of Licensed Stores at Starbucks.

I believe it is critical that you bring your authentic self to whatever you do, both personally and professionally.

Your role as a leader is to bring everyone along in the journey, bringing your authentic self and asking those you work with to do the same. Be curious, ask questions, gain others’ insight.

I love the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Bravely contributing your perspective while being vulnerable to feedback and other perspectives can increase trust among your team. It can also create opportunities for growth in the work you do together.

Lead Through Attitude, Actions, and Results

Ronda Conger, CBH Homes

With 27 years of experience in homebuilding, Ronda Conger is now the Vice President of CBH Homes.

It is important to me as a leader that I am unshakeable. I work hard to give out peace, calm and love to my crew.

Isn’t it the leader’s job to remain calm in the storm? I definitely share things that are or were hard for me and what I felt during it.

My job as the leader is to show the way and lead the way through my attitude, my actions, and my results.

Work productivity is improved when you feel safe, trusted and loved. The most shared emotion you are going to feel on my team is love.

Be Seen As Real People

Deanna Turner, Idaho Central Credit Union

Deanna Turner is the Vice President of Business Relationship at Idaho Central Credit Union. She has 42 years of experience in financial services.

I have found that being vulnerable and leading with authenticity and transparency make us “human” in the eyes of those we lead.

Rather than just being seen as an “authority,” our followers see us as real people. This provides a foundation of trust and respect, and creates a safe environment for team members to be vulnerable as well.

Through this process, a family-like bond is created. We commit to showing up and being the best we can be for each other.

It is through mutual trust and respect that outstanding teams are created and productivity soars!

Opening Up Can be Scary

Lisa Hamilton, CapEd Credit Union

Lisa Hamilton is a Business Development Manager with 9 years of experience with CapEd Credit Union.

Being vulnerable and honest about your emotions includes taking some risks. For this reason, opening up to others can be scary for some leaders.

When a team witnesses their leader being vulnerable, this creates trust among the team and strengthens relationships.

Many employees are disengaged and not emotionally connected at work, which can lead to less productivity. When the hierarchy is replaced with authentic leadership vulnerability, the social connection is more trustworthy and this improves employee performance.

A Business Is a Journey to Find Truth

Matt Dalley, Simply Eloped

It’s normal for business owners to get so excited about the end result that they lose sight of the moments in between. This is why it’s important to remember why we started.

Matt Daley, co-founder at Simply Eloped, shares his experience keeping control of his emotions and focusing on his company’s vision.

I think that starting a business is a journey to find truth. Early on, you have a vision of what the future could look like and you get there by trying a bunch of things.

Some of those things work and bring you closer to the truth about how to actualize your vision. Lying, fudging numbers, being dishonest about how you feel, etc, all create a false reality that pulls employees away from the truth. This runs counter to the key part of building a business – finding truth.

Additionally, I think suppressing emotions causes mental health problems. It’s much more difficult (and surely unproductive) to resolve these later than to let your emotions run their course from the onset.

Vulnerability and Empathy Help to Build Connections

Steve Exceen, Ride for 22

Did you know Idaho has the highest veteran suicide rate in the United States? Veterans often come home and have a hard time relating their experiences to civilians.

Steve Exceen is the founder of Ride for 22, which provides resources for families of fallen heroes.

Being vulnerable is extremely important within my organization, especially when helping families who have been left behind after losing a loved one to suicide.

Being vulnerable helps me connect and build trust with families and volunteers. Being empathetic helps with building social connections with other veterans and family members. This helps with understanding their thinking and needs, which is essential to complete our mission.

A Trusting and Inclusive Workplace Is a Productive Workplace

Brent Taylor, Wyakin Foundation

Brent Taylor is the President and CEO of the Wyakin Foundation, which connects wounded veterans to fulfilling civilian futures.

Vulnerability goes hand-in-hand with authenticity and humility, which I believe are the most important attributes of any leader.

Being authentic and honest with our emotions establishes two critical elements of a productive and collaborative work culture.

The first is trust. Withholding our emotions from those around us sends a signal that we don’t trust them enough to be honest. Authenticity sends a strong message that we trust our teammates to see us as we really are.

The second is inclusion. If we aren’t authentic as leaders, it signals to our teammates that they are expected to do likewise – that authenticity is not accepted in our workplace. A workplace that lacks authenticity is not inclusive, as it creates a culture that tells everyone they can’t be their genuine selves. That culture is exclusive by nature.

A trusting and inclusive workplace is a productive workplace.

Practice Cognitive Intervention

Cindi Le Brett, Mudd Mediation LLC

Cindi Le Brett is a certified professional mediator at Mudd Mediation. In her work, emotions are critical and expected. This makes it essential for her to nurture space for vulnerability and trust.

For a mediator, it’s crucial to understand your own personal triggers when emotions boil up with clients.

The circumstances in divorce touch all parties; no one is exempt. There is always the possibility of feeling professionally attacked or “targeted” by a client who questions our work process.

Over the years, I’ve learned to develop a system for psychologically walking myself out of a response that would convey my own vulnerabilities.

Addressing similar life experiences with clients can evoke a professional’s own emotions. Consequently, we have to be honest about what makes us feel particularly vulnerable and practice cognitive intervention to remain productive with the clients’ goals—and help resolve their own fears and needs.

Acts of Vulnerability Get People Out of High Conflict Situations

Simran Crowley, 5 Rivers Mediation

Simran Crowley is a certified professional mediator at 5 Rivers Mediation.

As a mediator, I coach individuals on how to communicate productively so they can get to the heart of their issues and find resolution.

In my coaching, I ask questions that get to the core of the emotions people are feeling. Only once emotions are dealt with can the real issues surface and collaboration begin.

I am usually the first person to model vulnerability and emotional expression. If I can find a connection to make, I typically do.

When others see the stage that I set for communication and understand that they are safe to be vulnerable in my space, they typically shed free from the mask they put on for the world and can communicate from their heart.

These emotional expressions and acts of vulnerability are the magic trick that gets people out of long-standing high conflict situations and in a space to collaborate with one another. Because of this, vulnerability is one of the most essential skills of an emotionally intelligent leader.

For more insights, read Simran’s article,  “Vulnerability and Honest Emotions in the Workplace.”

Vulnerability Bridges a Human Connection

Palina Louangketh, Idaho Museum of International Diaspora

In some cases, the best way to practice vulnerability is to let go of your ideas of how things are supposed to be and to listen instead. Set aside preconceived notions of normal and allow someone to walk you through their journey. Remember that people are a part of the same shared experience, no matter when or how they got here.

Palina Louaungketh, founder and executive director of the Idaho Museum of International Dispora, works to bridge the gap of human connection through shared experiences.

I have had many special opportunities to deeply connect with peoples of diaspora background – those who have been involuntarily displaced from their homelands.

It is humbling and inspiring to be invited into their hearts as they relive their journey of survival to resiliency, and to see how they preserve the legacy of their cultural heritage with unwavering optimism.

The emotional vulnerability shared between us bridges a special human connection as we learn about each other’s human story and the importance of culture preservation.

Embracing vulnerability takes courage. It requires a level of trust in the continuum of how one naturally processes that vulnerable state to achieving the state of inspiration.

Tell It Like You See It

Holly Hudson, Boise Cascade

Holly Hudson is the Director of Human Resources at Boise Cascade. For her, the key to effective communication is “telling it like it is” in a respectful way.

At Boise Cascade we’ve always had a saying, “There’s no crying in wood products.”

We are candid and thick-skinned and never take anything personally. This allows us to pivot quickly when making decisions and that’s what makes us successful.

That’s not to say we aren’t respectful and professional in our comments but we tell it like we see it.

As long as our intent is driven with the backdrop of integrity and striving for excellence that leads to better business results, then our value compass is aligned.”


Vulnerability plays an important role in your company’s employee retention and productivity.

If you aren’t in a position to influence a team, meet and talk to the people who are. If you are in a position, but you don’t know where to start, we at Deliberate Directions are happy to assist you. You’re welcome to sign up for a complimentary Compass Consultation today.

It takes a leader to set the tone for a company. It takes a team to embody that tone. It begins and ends with vulnerability.

Align your compass and set the direction for your team!

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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