Avoiding emotional debt


Emotional debt is a term coined to describe the detrimental use of quick fixes. This differs from an approach that is more difficult to implement and garners far better results long-term. Emotional debt is similar to the term ‘technical debt’, a phrase used by programmers to define a common tactic whereby quick fixes are applied to code but cause design inefficiencies and failures in time.

As with technical debt, the easy route is taken to resolve issues that hinder the efficiency and productivity of a team. But as we’ll discover the easier route isn’t always the best.

Without the right guidance teams naturally build up emotional debt. These unresolved conflicts, unanswered queries and frustrations, however, eventually come back up to the surface.

The weight of emotional debt can go on to impact a team’s ability to respond to and resolve challenges. By living in the present and not leaving emotions to build up for an easier life now and a harder job in the future, you can clear the risky emotional debt that burdens teams of all sizes.

Be aware of the law of ruts

Getting stuck in a rut is one thing we’re all guilty of at some point in our lives. In the workplace, hanging onto emotional debt can lead to various deep rooted problems. If left unresolved, these will cause issues not just in the future but during your every day.

It can be difficult to abide to what we refer to as the ‘law of ruts’. If you have an issue about another team member that’s been eating away at you for months or even years, making the person aware of it is risky business. Being open and honest about your emotions sooner - rather than later - will provide vital relief, even for long suffering people.

With honesty, you have the clearance to move on and step past the issue that will have no doubt hampered your working relationship.

The power of losing emotional debt

Blogger, author and lifelong optimist Hannah Braime best describes the powerful effect of losing emotional debt for an individual:

“We’re no longer reactive. We’re free to live in the present. We’re free to accept ourselves for who we are. Right now. We’re free to enjoy our positive coping mechanisms rather than rely on old unhealthy ones. We’re free to share more of ourselves with others.”

In workplaces and the teams at their heart, the same positive effects can be embraced when clearing emotional debt. Without the burden of those frustrations and negative feelings, you can be completely open to other team member’s experiences and ideas. You’ll also find the confidence to share yours for more cohesive, creative and collaborative relationships all-round.


Clearing debt comes with its risks

As we touched on, clearing emotional debt can be risky work. It’s not as simple as coming to a consensus about the issue that has long affected your working relationship. Clearing emotional debt now won’t prevent those quick fixes from occurring moment to moment in the future. People want easy lives and use these to sidestep drama and conflict as their day unfolds.

To clear emotional debt for good, you have to continuously take risks. When relieving yourself of this burden you may upset others or may even deal with feelings of vulnerability yourself.

Clearing emotional debt mindfully takes time and a lot of practice. Work with emotions, instead of hoping for the best. Take the unhurried approach to deal with challenges, difficult questions, hunches, and emotions as they become apparent.