A few months ago, Regina, a woman I met at a conference, complained to me about the fact that her boss always tells her that she’s too passionate. “I think that’s code for ‘You’re too loud,’ or ‘You’re being irrational.’ I don’t want to change who I am to get a promotion, but I get the feeling he’s not giving it to me because I don’t fit his mold,” Regina explained. Her contradictory feelings were palpable. On the one hand she didn’t want to change and on the other, she could easily see how her passion was getting in the way of her promotion.
As Bond University Professor Cynthia Fisher, who studies emotions at work, has discovered, there are several negative emotions that could interfere not only with a promotion, but with your professional reputation. They include: anger or aggravation, worry or nervousness, disappointment or unhappiness; irritation or frustration, and dislike.
A lot of us contend with similar issues daily at our jobs or as owners of small businesses: We speak louder than others, we gesticulate too much, the passion just pours out of us and there’s nothing we can do about it. Or is there?
There is plenty we can do without sacrificing our personality or betraying our culture. The secret is to understand your audience.
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MODULATE YOUR PASSION
Different audiences react differently. Ask any politician and they’ll tell you that they don’t deliver the same speech in New York that they do in Nebraska. If you are talking to a group of Latinos, they are more likely to expect and welcome your intensity. But when your audience is dominated by Anglos, keeping the volume of your passion at high, might not be as productive as you’d want. So what do you do to manage your passion in a strategic way?
• Ask friends and colleagues for honest feedback. Sometimes, it works best if you ask via email, so people can “hide” behind their words. Simply ask: “Do you think I could benefit from toning down the passion with which I express myself? See what they say. Ask people you know will be honest with you.
• Practice at home or with a good friend. Communicate about an idea, product or point of view taking your passion down a notch. Don’t gesticulate that much, keep your tone a little lower, and place a little bit less emphasis on your statements. Pay attention at how it feels and ask your friend for feedback.
• Implement your new delivery to a group of Anglo colleagues and note their reaction. Are they more receptive to your ideas? Do they seem to engage more with you?
RESPECT YOUR STYLE
Your style is everything. It’s what is most particular about you so I would never suggest that you change it. Only that you recognize your strengths and manipulate them slightly to your advantage. If the results of keeping your passion at the highest volume are not as productive as you hope, then turn the volume down a bit. Sometimes, people are turned-off by those who have a different style and don’t bother to pay enough attention to see that behind it, there may just be someone they’d really like to get to know. Or that they might hear some brilliant ideas that could benefit them and their companies. You open up this possibility when you adjust the volume to your audience.
Passion in itself is not a negative trait to be discarded. On the contrary, it guides people towards what interests you and it makes you more attractive, which in turn makes people become more receptive to what you have to say.