Emotions Are A Normal Part Of Entrepreneurial Life

Shannon Waller

Handling Strong Emotions


“Have confidence and stay calm when dealing with emotionally-charged situations. They’re a normal part of entrepreneurial life.”

Team Success Handbook

No safety net = strong emotions.

One of the things I’ve noticed that’s vital to entrepreneurial teamwork is the ability to handle strong emotions.

Being an entrepreneur means there is nothing between you and the marketplace. If your clients like what you do, they let you know. And if they don’t like what you’re doing, they let you know that too. There’s no one there to cushion the blow or mediate the feedback. In the sometimes unpredictable, innovative entrepreneurial world, things don’t always go as planned, and we feel strongly about the results.

It also takes a lot of strong emotions to get a business started and to take on the risks. All the business owners I know often lie awake at night, intensely aware that they’re responsible for the livelihood and well-being of their team and their families, not to mention their clients.

It takes heart and passion, not just a strong intellect, to strike out on your own. Some people are more expressive, and others more reserved, but all successful entrepreneurs care deeply about their companies.

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A big change from corporate life.

For team members working with entrepreneurs, it’s important to recognize that strong emotions are a normal part of entrepreneurial life. For those coming from more corporate or bureaucratic environments, this can be quite a shock.

Most corporate managers I know frown on displays of strong emotion, either positive or negative. It doesn’t feel appropriate. That doesn’t mean, though, that people don’t feel strongly, only that it’s not okay to show it. It still comes out in snide comments, side conversations after meetings, and office politics and power struggles.

What you see is what you get.

In making the transition to an entrepreneurial environment, it can take some time to get used to the more open displays of emotion. In fact, it’s one of the things I really appreciate about working with entrepreneurs—I can always count on them to be open and honest about how they’re feeling. What you see is what you get. You don’t have to guess. I like that! Working with people who are real and genuine is so much easier than working with people who are faking it or pretending.

Originally I assumed that it was only the entrepreneur’s emotions that people need to deal with, until I received some great coaching from one of my team clients. She said, “It’s not my entrepreneur’s emotions I need to handle, it’s my own!” Absolutely. We all need to manage our own responses to situations to make sure they don’t get out of control.

A tried-and-true strategy.

So how do you deal with strong emotions? When’s someone’s upset, we usually want to make them feel better, and we’ll say, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”

Instead, one of the tried-and-true strategies is to “mirror,” or validate. For example, reflect back to the person what they’ve said with a very similar type of energy. You don’t have to get upset yourself, but you might say, “Wow, you’re really upset about this situation. This is really bothering you.” All of a sudden, by mirroring or by empathizing with that person, they feel heard.

This is what parents do with babies. We reflect back a baby’s expression, we coo back at them, and the child learns in that process. We’re activating what are called mirror neurons in the brain, and it works just as well with adults as it does with babies and children.

When you reflect back to people, they’re able to de-escalate their emotions. They no longer have to persuade you of the validity of what they’re feeling, and they can then move from their powerful emotional brain into their rational brain.

Highly recommended reading.

If you’d like to read more about this, there are two fabulous books that I highly recommend. The first one is Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, by Mark Goulston. The other is Connected Parenting by Jennifer Kolari. No matter who you’re communicating with, these books give you new techniques and strategies to keep you calm in emotionally-charged situations. Enjoy!

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