Have you ever been uncomfortable around someone at the office without knowing exactly why? At times – especially at work – people who are struggling with something may try to hide their true feelings. This incongruence can appear to others as though the person is wearing a mask. Many of us will wonder if the issue has something to do with us, and while it usually doesn’t, the energy can be contagious and disruptive.

Take Jack, for example, a CEO walking into a meeting with his senior management team. Jack is smiling, saying he’s fine when asked, but displaying body language that suggests otherwise. Non-verbal signs such as a clenched jaw, diverted eyes, exaggerated sighing, or red, watery eyes are a dead giveaway. The tension is palpable and everyone is distracted, wondering if they are the reason Jack is upset. What is the likelihood of engagement and productivity in this meeting? Creativity and innovation? Probably low.

Research shows that incongruent people cause the blood pressure of those they’re interacting with to rise, making it harder for everyone to think clearly.

Now suppose Jack has cultivated exceptional leadership skills, including emotional intelligence and the advanced practice of increasing his tolerance for vulnerability. Imagine the collective sigh of relief when Jack says “Hey guys, I just want to let you know I may seem a bit distracted because of a difficulty outside of work. I’m taking care of it and want you to know it has nothing to do with this meeting or anyone here in the room”.  With this information on the table, it is much more likely that the team will be better able to engage, resulting in a more productive meeting.

A leader who can build an atmosphere of professional trust and support – where people can acknowledge they are experiencing personal challenges without sharing the details – will reap the rewards of a highly functioning team.