Here’s How You Show Too Much Passion at Work
Passion should be a good thing. In an article in The Washington Post titled “How Cleaning The Office Coffee Pot Could Help Protect Your Job,” Jena McGregor discusses how employees who enthusiastically embrace their company, or those with “affective organizational commitment,” are less likely to lose their jobs.
The theory goes that under current employment conditions, “when pay-for-performance schemes are de rigueur, when more and more people work remotely and when many people may be jaded about company loyalty after years of employers showing none of their own,” volunteering to work after-hours, helping a new employee adjust to the company, and even wiping the counters in the break room may help employees shine above their coworkers – and ultimately retain their jobs.
After all, what employer doesn’t love someone who goes the extra mile – especially without being asked?
In general, we consider passion to be a very positive attribute. In leaders, it’s coveted. Former GE CEO Jack Welch often says that energy is the most important asset in leadership. But is there such a thing as exhibiting too much passion in the workplace? Is there a point where exuberance has diminishing returns or starts to work against you?
In my leadership development work, I’ve seen passion sometimes backfire. Organizational cultures have unspoken expectations for what’s appropriate. Consider entrepreneurial vigor that makes you a star performer in a Silicon Valley start-up might go against the grain in a stodgy law firm in Charleston. Most people would like to be seen as determined go-getters not eager beavers.
How do you strike the right balance, especially if your personality is naturally enthusiastic? Here are some considerations:
Make your passion sincere.
Genuine passion can be contagious, but false shows of excitement are off-putting. People can see through your feigned interest via your nonverbal signals and these types of white lies can muddy relationships and the office environment. Any kindness inherent in your act may be seen as playing politics.
Be selective about what you put your full energy behind. You also want to make sure it’s level appropriate or sends the right message. If you’re trying to get people to see you as a leader, it’s far more impactful to put extra effort into a high-visibility project than into showing the new intern around.
People pay attention to where you put your energy to determine your own values. We all have a finite amount of time so be energetic about what matters to you and others. As the writer J. M. Barrie said, “Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” The lesson: don’t make more work for yourself by projecting passion that isn’t really there.
Or, as author Ray Bradbury aptly put it, “If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.”
Calibrate your energy to those around you.
When you’re in a room with others, pause to gauge the energy around you. You should generally match it, unless you are strategically trying to change it – for example, a leader trying to enliven a team.
During a calm and collected meeting where everyone is seated, being the one person speaking loudly and moving around will change the entire nature of the meeting, and can even derail it. If you’re the cause of that, your colleagues can hold it against you.
An easy strategy is to mirror others’ body language. By mimicking the behavior of others in the room, you can increase comfort and camaraderie. Nicholas Boothman, author of the book, How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds or Less, explains that “when you synchronize your body language to match another’s posture and gestures, that individual will feel comfortable with you and think you are like them. Since we all want to do business with people we are comfortable with, it works in our favor to adjust our posture and nonverbal signals to match the other.”
Understand the difference between “harmonious passion” and “obsessive passion.”
According to Robert J. Vallerand’s Dualistic Model of Passion, passion can manifest in one of two ways: harmonious and obsessive. Those with harmonious passion will engage in their work because they inherently love it; it makes them happy.
People with harmonious passion “have a sense of control of their work, and their work is in harmony with their other activities in life. At the same time, they know when to disengage, and are better at turning off the work switch when they wish to enjoy other activities or when further engagement becomes too risky.” They feel good about their work, are physically and psychologically healthier, have more positive self-esteem, feel more creative, and have higher levels of concentration. These are the people we like to be around because they lift our own mood and energy.
On the other hand, there are people who exhibit obsessive passion. They have an uncontrollable, knee-jerk urge to do a job, which leads them to feel more conflicted between their passion and the other activities in their life. Obsessive passion leads to burnout and lower work satisfaction, and those who experience it tend to have lower self-esteem and exhibit more self-defensive behavior, such as aggression. These are the people who stress us out to be around.
In other words, not all passion is created equal. Make sure you’re exhibiting the right, healthy kind of enthusiasm as both kinds rub off on others.
Balance your enthusiasm with a dose of realism.
It’s believed that Confucius first said that if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. While that may be true, everyone needs to be exposed to other aspects of life to maintain perspective.
You don’t want to come across as the office zealot, and you also don’t want to exhaust all of your energy and burn out. Take the time to step away from work and make sure to schedule real breaks for yourself. Check in with those you trust to get a sense of how you’re coming across, and how your presence is impacting others. (You can find my tool for presence feedback here.)
To stay on the harmonious side of passion, stay in touch with why you’re doing what you’re doing. Certainly we don’t have to love everything about our work, but for the activities we put our full energy behind, it helps if they give us true, internal satisfaction.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
Photo credit: imagerymajestic
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