And when you work with love
You bind your self to yourself
And to one another,
And to God…
Work is love made visible.
– Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
Feel what you feel
Emotions get a bad rep at work. We are told to manage them. Control them. Hide them. Heaven forbids, someone sees you being an actual human expressing emotions at work. This approach to emotions does not serve us as individuals, nor does it serve our relationships. And it does not serve our organisations in the quest to be sustainably successful.
” What you and I feel at work has as much to do with what we are doing, and what others expect of people in our roles—and of someone who looks like us—as it does with our own inner lives. We readily accept that work shapes how we act and how we see ourselves, that others’ expectations subtly corner us. We rarely think the same may be true of our emotions — even private ones — as well. “
Being responsible for our emotions can look quite different from viewing them solely as something to be harnessed or hidden. When we consider our emotions as sources of intelligence, they can give us insight about the work we do, the culture of our organisations, and tell us about how we are in relationships.
Let’s take the most celebrated of all emotions, love. And where we can find it at work.
We are love-seeking beings
Brene Brown says that:
“ We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection. “
Love is one of the indicators of how well our lives are going. We are happy when we feel worthy of love, safety and belonging.
Love and culture (inclusion)
“Love, the most powerful of human emotions, the source of all creativity, collaboration, insight, and excellence, has been systematically drained from our lives – our work, teams, and classrooms.” – Marcus Buckingham, Love + Work
Do you love where you work?
Maybe you are someone who thinks it does not matter much whether you love where you work. You just want to get in, do the work, collect your pay, and leave. And that’s fair enough. Whatever your perspective, the culture at your work can affect you emotionally while at work and beyond.
Last month, a cousin called me to talk about the toxic environment she was working in and spoke of how deeply it was affecting her. The advice she was given (not from me) of ‘get over it’ did not sit well with her and was not an option for her. To ‘get over it’, meant that she would betray her own values, and that was adding to her emotional distress. The situation was not just a case of clashing personalities and bad behaviour. It was about the abuse of power, sexism, and a psychologically unsafe space.
We spend so much time at work, if the culture does not allow love to grow, then our love-seeking selves are left broken.
We don’t need another (patronising) analogy about ‘seats at tables’ and ‘being invited to the dance’. I think it detracts from the fact that behaviours, systems, and processes that promote and perpetuate exclusion impacts us in a fundamental and deep way – our sense of feeling worthy of love, safety, and belonging. The necessity for creating love-nurturing, inclusive cultures is clear. But not only does it satisfy one of our basic needs, it is as Buckingham states, “the source of all creativity, collaboration, insight, and excellence”. The coveted ingredients of success that organisations lust after!
When we let love back into our places of work and learning, we give everyone permission to open their hearts to everyone and to more possibilities. We truly see each other and the strengths we have to offer.
From a practical perspective, you can start by noticing and observing who is involved in certain conversations. Who is missing? Notice what we like and don’t like about the culture. What’s missing? It’s not that the people we have around us are bad. It’s about expanding what’s possible. How can we think differently about recruitment, onboarding, and promotion? What if we considered what life experiences might best suit the role we are hiring for, instead of only considering candidates based on previous experience or academic status.
Inclusion is not a corporate buzzword. It is an act of love.
bell hooks writes about a love ethic in All About Love. She says:
“The underlying values of a culture and its ethics shape and inform the way we speak and act. A love ethic presupposes that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well. To bring a love ethic to every dimension of our lives, our society would need to embrace change.”
What changes might organisations make to bring a love ethic into our workplaces?
Love what we do
One of the paths to leading a life of meaning and purpose is in doing work that you love. Start with asking yourself, ‘what do you love to do’. This might seem like an intimidating question. I often get the response of ‘I don’t know’. Or a too general, shallow response like, ‘I love to work with people’. As Buckingham points out, love lives in the details.
I see it is an intimate question. It shows how well you know yourself, and how you honour that knowing. It is a necessarily vulnerable curiosity. Last week at a CPD event, I was participating in a strengths activity with two colleague coaches. One of the strengths that was highlighted by a peer from a personal story I shared, was ‘organiser’. My immediate response was “Yeah, I didn’t think I was much of an organiser…it’s not really a sexy strength!” I’m laughing as I type this. You see, I do love getting organised, applying a structure and knowing what the priorities are. It comes naturally to me, and I enjoy being able to see the path from my current position to where I want to get to. I know what sh*t needs to get done! (Thank you, Beth for gently reminding me of this.) But in that moment, I felt exposed and blurted out what my inner critic was nervously muttering, with the usual tune of ‘make people love you’. Like I said, we want to be loved.
Doing work that you love is more than expressing your strengths or talents. Our wellbeing and happiness benefits from us knowing what we love to do and finding work that allows us to express it. It is about making a contribution to something you care about, work that allows you to live your values. It is about finding joy in working towards something that may not be easy but is meaningful to you. It is how you stay in connection with yourself. And truly belonging to yourself.
My journey into coaching started with a manager handing me the StrengthsFinder book. It was the start of an exploration of who I could be, work that I might love, and what I could do in the world. It set me free from my limiting beliefs and led me to a path of meaning and purpose. Fourteen years on, I still have a deep appreciation for that moment.
Love in our teams
My number one parenting goal has been to instil Speak with Love in my children. I’ve added Listen Open-heartedly to this. I think these are powerful expressions of love and it creates space for authentic human connection. It is a practice that my family and I remind each other about and even the children call out. Because even though we love each other fiercely, we don’t always act in love. I use these mantras as the guiding light in all my conversations. I don’t always get it right – another work in progress – but I believe in this whole-heartedly. It is my way of living by a love ethic.
Moreover, it is a practical, actionable way of cultivating healthy relationships in our teams. One of my coaching clients is a young entrepreneur, who is trying to pull a team together. I asked him about what he has been listening out for in his discovery conversations with potential team members, and he was stumped. You see he was so concerned about telling people what he is about and what his dreams and goals are, and only listening to whether they agreed with him or not, that he wasn’t really listening to what was important to them or what could be possible together.
Speaking with love and listening open-heartedly are values that are particularly pertinent to giving feedback. Holding these as intentions, we can share advice for development and be open for learning in a way that is kind and impactful. Kim Scott refers to this ethic of caring personally and challenging directly, as Radical Candor. This is a foundational practice of high-performing teams.
There is a magical chemistry when you work in a team you love. The creativity flows. The connection between play and learning is present. You build on each other’s thinking and ideas and you work in a generative way that leads to sustainable solutions and amazing products. You can argue, disagree, push each other to learn and grow, and bring out the best in each other. And that is the kind of team we should get to spend a third of our lives working in.
My work loves
Personally, I’ve experienced love at work in all these forms. My favourite is the love in friendships of varying closeness at my different jobs. Friends who I’ve shared meals, drinks, and personal milestones with. Friends who have come to know my family and home. Friends who I’ve shared highs and lows, tears and jokes with, working on projects we cared about. Friends who I’ve started passion projects with. Friends who were just there with shared understanding of what its like to work where we do, under the same manager…much like siblings who are the only people who know what it’s like to grow up in your family. Through my friends at work, I’ve learned about different cultures, nationalities, and languages. The social connection I’ve shared with my favourite co-workers has been a source of nourishment, joy, and growth!
I can’t end this reflection on love at work without mentioning the joy of meeting the love of my life while working on a project together. It was a time that I came to realise that I did not want to be software developer anymore, but that I really liked being around them. Well, one in particular!
My wish is that you find a way to bring the love back to your work life.
Everywhere we learn that love is important, and yet we are bombarded by its failure. In the relam of the political, among the religious, in our families, and in our romantic lives, we see little indication that love informs decisions, strengthens our understanding of community, or keeps us together. This bleak picture in no way alters the nature of our longing. We still hope that love will prevail. We still believe in love’s promise. – bell hooks, All About Love