How Women Rise – How much is too much? (Habit #10)

When it comes to showing up emotionally in the workplace, women are often perplexed by their reputation for showing too much emotion or, in some cases, not showing enough. This expectation and pursuit of a wonderfully balanced and consistently applied emotional demonstration seems to be more prominent for female employees than males and can put additional pressure on women. This can be a challenging one to nail and is something that you need to get clear on if you seek to move into higher leadership positions.

You may say, well, why is this only applicable to women? The short answer is that it is not. It is more prominent, though, due to the stereotypical belief that women are more emotional beings. It is this very conundrum that resulted in a powerful question in a radio interview last year when speaking on the same topic, and the presenter asked, “Well, who gets to decide how much is too much?”

This really got me thinking, how can women calibrate how much is too much and who gets to decide? Before we answer that, let’s look at what we mean by emotion.

When speaking about emotion, what springs to mind for you? Is it somebody getting visibly upset in the office? Is it somebody who is overly enthusiastic in situations when a more somber and serious mood may be more the norm? Emotions have a broad range, and when we discuss them, the attention goes to the impact of so-called negative emotions rather than so called-positive emotions. The best way to think of emotions is not whether they are positive or negative, rather if they are serving you positively or negatively.

One possible solution

Let’s look at how we can calibrate how much is too much. The best way for a person to understand if their emotional responses are suited to the situation in terms of intensity, frequency, and how the emotion is displayed is to ask for an external opinion. The power of observation from those who work closely with you provides you with an objective lens that is lost for yourself when under the emotional cloud. Asking for feedback on the impact of the behavior is always a powerful antidote. It is best to do this when your emotional state is in a calm and curious place.

The owner of the solution

Then who gets to decide how much is too much? You do! You get to decide whether you act on that feedback and adjust the way you show up along the emotional spectrum or not. Considering what the norm is in your workplace culture and whether that is the right fit for you going forward.

A good example of this comes from bestselling Author Sally Helgesen who speaks of habit 10: Too much in her book How Women Rise and warns that women are at risk of moving up the leadership ladder if they demonstrate too much emotion, words, and disclosure.

Sally describes a specific example of Rosa, an executive in a construction firm in Colombia. Rosa has construction projects all over the Amazon basin. A rare find to be a woman in her position in her part of the world and her sector. Rosa attributes her career success to her ability to harness her strong emotions and make them work in her favor. Early in Rosa’s career, she was often stereotyped as a volcanic Latina. Being described as too emotional once too often made Rosa determined to find a way to manage her emotion instead of letting it get in her way. Rosa worked hard to identify what emotion was coming up for her and for others when she was in challenging situations. She challenged herself to stay in observer mode until she could craft a powerful, confident, and measured response that harnessed the power of her felt emotions without letting the emotion override her. Rosa became adept at letting her intuition guide her and being more open about the emotion she was feeling to help people understand where she was coming from. Remaining grounded in passion and guided by perspective at the same time.

Two more tips

It is about managing your emotional response and tapping into the data your emotions provide to you, not suppressing your emotion to carry on in an anti-human way. The more you fake your emotions at work, the worse off you will be.

Dr. Susan David, Researcher and Author of Emotional Agility, says, “when we label our emotions accurately, we are more able to discern the precise cause of our feelings. And what scientists call the readiness potential in our brain is activated, allowing us to take concrete steps forward. But not just any steps—the right steps for us. Because our emotions are data.”

Dr. Marc Brackett echoes this in his research and book titled Permission to Feel, and he came up with a helpful acronym to help create the distance needed to calm the emotional reaction and choose the most appropriate response when triggered.

RULER is the name of Marc Brackett’s Center’s approach to teaching emotional intelligence, and it’s also an acronym for the five key skills:

Recognizing emotions in oneself and others

Understanding the causes and consequences of emotion

Labeling emotions with precise words

Expressing emotions, taking context and culture into consideration

Regulating emotions effectively to achieve goals and wellbeing


The habit of too much does not stop at emotion. It also applies to being too wordy and offering too much disclosure. According to Sally, women speak on average 20 000 words per day whereas men speak an average of 7000. This is typically described in the workplace as taking too much time to get to the point, overexplaining, offering multiple rationales, chatting during awkward pauses, and volunteering explanations instead of waiting to be asked.

Too much disclosure is concerning sharing too many personal details, which can lead to diminishing credibility by offering up your own insecurities that are felt by you but not necessarily seen by others. It can draw an inappropriate amount of attention to weaker points that may not even be real.

What can all this mean for women in the workplace? If you are already emotionally over the top, you are super wordy and tend to share too much. Will you be taken seriously for those leadership roles? Yes, you can if you learn to harness the force of your emotional power in the right way like Rosa, be more concise with your verbal communication, and be more selective when sharing your vulnerabilities or even checking if those vulnerabilities are the real deal in the first place or are they the big loud voice of your inner imposter.


Article was written by Simone Lawrence-Managing Partner, Executive Coach, and People Developer at The Ameliorate Group. Content inspired by the book called “How Women Rise” by Sally Helgesen-12 habits that hold women back from being successful in their careers and my own experience as an executive coach when coaching senior leaders in the workplace.

The Ameliorate Group, Learning Partner with Women@Work, is leadership and corporate coaching consultancy offering a range of bite-sized learning solutions to long-term development programs incorporating executive coaching to achieve organizational goals. The Ameliorate Group aims to superpower your teams and individual capability beyond what you thought was possible.

The first ‘How Woman Rise” program is available worldwide through The Ameliorate Group powered by Sally Helgesen. Creating more inclusive workplaces of the future through raising awareness of the habits that hold women back from being more successful in their careers. Encouraging both genders to engage in dialogue and co-creation of solutions and strategies to help women rise at work and business.