Emotional Inclusion: Breaking Stigmas, Fostering Authenticity


A picture of the cover of the book entitled Emotional Inclusion. My partner Jyo and I are working on a program for early career professionals. During our early design conversations, emotional intelligence came up. The way I was taught about emotional intelligence felt too heady to me, and I mentioned that I think we should shift to talking about emotional inclusion.

The next day, I saw a post on LinkedIn by Paul Ladipo, a diversity and inclusion expert, that spoke of emotional intelligence, and I commented about the need for emotional inclusion. I wrote:

“I have come to use emotional inclusion over emotional intelligence. Too many perceive “manage” emotions as control and hide them. I think we need to get better at including emotions with care. There are no good/bad emotions. They all provide information on needs that are met or unmet. IMO”

You may be familiar with emotional intelligence, but are you familiar with emotional inclusion?


In the book Emotional Inclusion: A Humanizing Revolution at Work, author De Dieu says it “is the action of prioritizing the emotional needs of the workforce in a medical, sustainable, and confidential way.”

I am not sure I agree. For me, it feels more like an approach that values and includes all emotions without judgment. As you read the book, which I highly recommend, this is what she is getting to. It should involve recognizing and accepting the full spectrum of emotions as valid and informative rather than categorizing them as positive or negative. In this approach, there is an emphasis on creating a safe space for individuals to express their feelings openly and explore the underlying needs that these emotions signal.

Breaking the Stigma

There is a stigma around showing emotions at work, even after years of emotional intelligence training. De Dieu suggests that “an emotionally inclusive workplace tackles stigma as its top priority.”

Plus, the double bind comes in hard on this one in that women and men are treated differently. Women are seen as unprofessional and men are often revered, especially when the more vulnerable emotions arise. The author points this out as well.

I have slowly been trying to de-stigmatize emotions and well-being in the conservation community, but it is a struggle. Some who adhere to the stigma have called my work “rainbows and lollipops” or said, “You’re too much.” It makes sense since the field is still very male-dominated, at least at higher levels of authority, and was developed entirely for and by men. These collective stigmas are going to be difficult to break.

As per what I do in every workshop, I ask people to rank how they are feeling today. I often ask them to tell me how they are arriving today in a word. This helps me gauge where people are. I tell those that are not doing as well to relax. I almost always have a follow-up I send out and they are always welcome to contact me later. For those doing well, I ask them to support me and others and invite them to lean into the work.

Other ways I attempt to break the stigma are;

  • Including the emotions wheel and asking people to name emotions during some of my workshops. Or I ask them how many of the emotions they could easily name in themselves and others. I might also ask them to rank their ability to notice and welcome emotions.
  • Inserting feelings-related reflection questions regularly into workshops and asking people to share responses in chat and aloud. People seem to be more willing to participate in chat and I am okay with that until we can all share aloud.

Plus, I regularly write about emotional topics. Thankfully, The Wildlife Society has welcomed the topic by including four articles related to wellbeing in The Wildlife Professional magazine. I have also been invited to speak to wildlife groups, and we cannot talk about well-being without talking about emotions.

The workshops around eco-emotions and trauma are, at their core, required to include all emotions. 

De Dieu goes even further by stating that how this stigma plays out in the workplace “is people acting robotically even as they grapple with suffering.” They go further to say that “Stigmas act as brakes for emotional inclusion and impede employees from being accepted and respected for being humane.” We need more humanity in our workplaces as is indicated by all the research on low well-being at work. Do an internet search and you will see. 

What emotional inclusion can do?

When invite emotions in my workshops, there seem to be two camps. One that still resists (from the stigma) and another that is relieved they can speak their truth. For this authenticity to arrive, I must welcome all emotions, non-judgmentally. Often, when the first person shows up authentically and vulnerable, it usually opens others to share more.

I was validated when reading this part of the book – “How vulnerability shows up in our everyday lives at work is through talking about mistakes that we might have made, taking a chance that might lead to a rejection, sharing personal information that we have kept quiet on before, and speaking up about things that bother us, versus bottling them up and ignoring them. In other words, opening up is the starting step in our journey to building better workplaces. But here is the catch: there cannot be emotional exposure without emotional inclusion. Unless we harbour workplace cultures that actively encourage employees to speak up with no fear, that actively endorse humanity and fallibility, then, let us face it, very few will take the leap.”

In other words, emotional inclusion helps us open to reality and welcome our full selves. It allows us to be bolder and more innovative. Further, the authors state “Being emotionally exclusive will …catalyze fear, mistrust, estrangement, and separation.” So, the opposite is trust and collaboration. And we are going to need more of those in the future.

Met or Unmet Needs

When I use an emotions wheel in workshops (I prefer Gottman’s), I say that each emotion provides information. For example, frustration is often asking for clarity and insecurity might be asking for validation.

I follow the principles of Individual Psychology as proposed by Alfred Adler. In my study and training, I have found the three main human needs to be safety, belonging, and significance. When we bring in the emotions and then these three needs, we can often get to the heart of what needs are being unmet (in the case of the more negative-oriented emotions).

Try it sometime. When a negative emotion comes up, ask yourself which of the three needs is at play here. Once you know the real need underneath the emotion, we can act and respond more appropriately to each situation.

Be kind and patient

My journey to emotional inclusion has been a long one. Emotions were not allowed in my family and they still aren’t today. I’ve been on a journey for myself and I’ve slowly experimented with different ways to bring emotions into the work I do.

This work takes time. The stigma and cultural norms around showing up with emotions are still strong. I encourage anyone attempting this work to be patient, kind, and compassionate with yourself and those around you.

Take small steps. Experiment. Perhaps start by reading the book. 

Want more innovation, boldness, collaboration, and trust in your workplace? Consider emotional inclusion!

Contact me for information on the workshops that can help your team grow your emotional capabilities.

You can find the book on Amazon or Penguin Random House SEA. 
Here is a TedX by the author: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cfCvgXyWOM

Written by Michelle Doerr (edited with assistance from AI)

Tags: #emotional inclusion #emotional intelligence #emotions
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