At the time, I was a relatively new associate at the small law firm in Seattle where I spent the majority of my litigation career. Around mid-day, I ran into one of the more senior attorneys in the file room, and noticed that he looked very tired. "How are you?", I asked.
Now, I must digress briefly to point out that I spent the first 17 years of my life in Germany, where "how are you?" was not used as a cursory greeting to be met with a rote response of "fine". So I was rather taken aback when this attorney - with whom I had an excellent working relationship - looked me straight in the eye and said something along the lines of "you are not really interested in how I am doing". I was not sure how to respond, so I did not pursue the question further at the time. (I did learn later that he was exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated for a variety of reasons.)
The NYT piece makes the point that "We can't change what we don't notice. Denying or avoiding feelings doesn't make them go away, nor does it lessen their impact on us, even if it's unconscious. Noticing and naming emotions gives us the chance to take a step back and make choices about what to do with them."
The legal profession is not exactly "touchy-feely", and the majority of attorneys I know are even less comfortable around emotion than most non-attorneys. We tend to be linear thinkers, problem-solvers, and Type A personalities. We excel at dealing in cold hard facts.
But humans and human interactions are messy. They are rarely fact-based, but instead are driven by feelings and emotions. Being able to notice those emotions - in ourselves, our family members, our co-workers, our clients, and even in those we perceive to be our adversaries - and allowing them to be named is ultimately the only effective way to deal with them and get to the facts.
As a mediator, I frequently ask my clients how they are feeling. Giving them permission to talk about their feelings, and assuring them that I am listening, can be one of the most effective ways to allow them to move past their emotions and into productive negotiations.
This is not to say that we should wear our emotions on our sleeves at all times. There is, of course, a time and a place to deal with them. What is important is to create such a time and place, so that our unexpressed feelings do not have a negative impact on our work and our lives.