Helena Clayton | Where have our feelings gone?


Where have our feelings gone?

31 Oct 2016, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog

I was running a session as part of leadership programme for high potential leaders in a global organisation.

We’d got to the bit where we use FIRO-B, a psychometric tool that explores our relationship with our need for control, for closeness in our relationships and the degree to which we are open with other people. I became aware that a woman was frowning and trying to catch my eye.

‘What’, she eventually said, ‘did this possibly have to do with leadership?.

‘Why’, she added, ‘are we exploring all this  … touchy feely stuff?’

That was at least two years ago.  I have never forgotten it. Not least because my response mostly involved standing there like a fish and struggling to find the words to respond. Because nothing is more clear to me. Our awareness of our own internal processes and how we show up with others is core to leadership. How we feel about ourselves and other people matters deeply.

But also because I keep seeing this theme in my work and it’s bothering me. Drawing on recent experiences of coaching and facilitating leadership development, how come someone (of course, a composite of different someones)…

•  is so focused on delivering the tasks that he gets hardened to the feelings of the people involved and around him – and actually says to me he

•  doesn’t much care how they feel as long as the job gets done

•  says that feelings have no place in the workplace

•  says that giving people encouragement and appreciation leads to complacency

•  simply cannot name any of her feelings when invited to do so as part of a ‘check in’ at the start of an action learning set

•  is so disconnected with his own feelings that he’s utterly thrown – but completely engaged – when I encourage him to name and explore his anger and where that comes from, and connect with his feelings of vulnerability and his longing for someone to understand him


In her (highly recommended) book The Will To Change, the author bell hooks puts forward the view that our work and the way we are working today sets us up to have no space for emotional connection and that it creates a sense that we ‘should be willing to sacrifice emotional connection in order to get the job done’.

That makes me desperately sad. It rings true.  But equally, I am determined to find the words to persuade people that our emotional life has a valid place in our working life.

What’s your experience of this? Do you have similar stories?  And how do you respond?


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