Book Notes: No Hard Feelings by Liz Fosslien, Mollie West Duffy

No Hard Feelings is about being human and harnessing the power of our emotions at work.

I stumbled upon Liz and Mollie on Instagram some time ago. And since I was working in an intense environment at the time, I found the illustrations relatable and hilarious. So when I heard about the book, I knew I have to get the paperback.

Ironically, I only got to reading it after I was no longer employed. Had I read it sooner, I'm sure my last few months would've been way more fun.

So if you're considering quitting your job, read No Hard feelings first!

If I had to describe it in one sentence, I'd say that...

No Hard Feelings is about us humans at work. And since we're not robots, we better stop trying to bottle up our human emotions and learn to harness them to be healthier, happier, and more productive.

Alright, I had to make it two sentences. It sounded awkward otherwise.

No Hard Feelings is about dealing with the hardships and the funships of being a human in a workplace. It's divided into chapters on health, motivation, decision making, and other areas where you can make your emotions work for you.

The book made me think about the workplace the way I thought about school and college back when I was a student. As a place full of diverse people, mixed emotions, and unique personalities.

So why pretend we're professional robots and "leave emotions at the door" to spend a large chunk of our lives with our humanness turned off?

Let's embrace our emotions in life and at work!


Why I liked this book

  • It's super relatable. If you've ever been employed, you'll find something in No Hard Feelings that will make you laugh. Or cry. I don't cry about work, but if I did, the book would've been perfect. It will definitely make you think.
  • It's science-backed and funny. When it comes to books, this is my favorite combination. No Hard Feelings is both helpful and entertaining.
  • The illustrations are hilarious. I generally only listen to audiobooks, so No Hard Feelings is a rare exception. Get the paperback, you'll enjoy it so much more!

My favorite ideas from this book

Emotions are an important part of us

We're humans, not robots. It makes no sense to suppress our emotions if they make us better people in life and at work.

Instead, we should learn to use emotions to our advantage. Studies show it can make us healthier, happier, more productive and motivated, and ultimately more valuable to our employers.

What's not to like about it?

How much emotion: passport photo vs drunk pics

The scale goes from "how you look in your passport photo" to "how you look in drunk pics". You should be somewhere around 70%.

This is my favorite idea of the whole book since it aligns with how I look at life in general. In fact, I tried keeping this in mind for my latest passport photo!

"Professional" doesn't have to equal "stuffed shirt". I'm sure you've had at least a few of those in your life. Classmates, perhaps. Colleagues. They're just no fun to be around.

When I was a kid, I assumed being a real adult means being serious. Solemn. Joyless. This thought terrified me. And I almost grew up to be one like that but managed to yank myself out of it.

Life's too short to be too serious about it. Embrace your emotions!

Don't feel bad about feeling bad

There will be bad days. You will feel bad. It's fine. Don't fret about it.

Toxic positivity isn't the solution. Judging yourself is counterproductive. Instead, learn to deal with negative emotions through mindfulness, compassion, reappraisal, and action. And by taking breaks.

If you feel anxious, start by acknowledging your anxiety. Don't react to it, just look at it. Try to understand the root cause of it. It's often not what you think it is. Then act decisively to address the issue, and focus on what you can control.

Being able to distance myself from my emotions is one of the most powerful things I've learned when practicing mindfulness. It's not easy at first, but when you figure it out it's very liberating.

Don't judge yourself for your emotions. Instead, ask yourself "what would I do if my friend felt this way?" I'd never call a good friend a loser and a piece of shit for feeling bad, yet it has often been my go-to response to my own emotions in the past.

We're used to being too harsh on ourselves, but it doesn't have to be this way. Be your own best friend.

I'm also a big fan of emotional reappraisal and swift action: "I'm anxious" > "I'm excited" > "Let's do it!". I call this leaning into it.

Emotional reappraisal has been immensely helpful to me in all kinds of situations, from making presentations all the way to skydiving. Stepping out of the L-410 hatch at 4,000 meters is way more fun when I'm excited, not anxious.

And don't forget the chill pill. Take breaks. Be unproductive. Step away from work. Science shows it helps, and in science we trust.

Boredom sucks, but you can fix it

There was a study that showed that bored people gave themselves more intense electric shocks than those who felt sad or neutral. Shocking!

Jobs are different, and the reasons for boredom are different. But you can almost always do something about it.

If you don't find your work meaningful, see if you can find a way to increase your autonomy to be more in control. More autonomy means more happiness, motivation, and productivity.

Best Buy once pursued an initiative (Results-Only Work Environment) that let employees plan their own activities and "run free like unicorns" as long as they achieved the results. It was a success, it made them more motivated and increased their performance. It was later axed by the new top management.

Top managers hate unicorns. Unless it's about the valuation. If your management doesn't believe in autonomy, try job crafting to give yourself more control over your work by making small tweaks to your work processes.

As Daniel Pink, author of Drive put it, "Ask yourself: 'Is there one small thing within my own realm I can do differently tomorrow?' The answer is almost always yes".

Work friends also make the workplace more exciting. Find a few! A Confidant will be your support, an Inspiration will be your mentor, a Frenemy will keep your competitive spirit alive.

And never, ever stop learning. When you stop learning, you stop caring. When you stop caring, you get bored and demotivated. Then you quit.

Know when it's time to go.

Use emotions to make better decisions

Studies show that discarding emotions leads to worse decisions. But not all emotions are created equal.

Relevant emotions like anticipation, anxiety, regret, and envy are directly tied to the choice you're facing. They can help you make better decisions.

Pay more attention to the things you anticipate more, understand and proactively address anxieties, minimize regret and use envy as an indicator of what you really want.

Irrelevant emotions like excitement, sadness, anger, and stress are usually unrelated to the decision at hand. They cloud your judgment and are harmful. Learn to discard them when making decisions.

Know your decision-making tendencies. Maximizers gather as much info as possible, satisficers are happy with good enough.

"Good enough is almost always good enough", Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice.

Limit your options if needed. Then go make that decision!

Great teamwork relies on psychological safety

Teams perform better when people aren't afraid to share their opinions and make mistakes. Psychological safety means more motivation and productivity.

This sounds like duh, but many companies still don't get it for some reason. You don't bully people into productivity. You don't force people to not make mistakes.

I've worked on various projects in different teams and companies. The places where people were encouraged to speak out, experiment, and make mistakes have always seen the most productivity and motivation in the long run.

Psychological safety can be undermined by the bad actors within the company, such as jerks, dissenters, and slackers.

A study of bad apples has shown that a disruptive team member can cause a 30-40% drop in the team's performance. Another study has come up with the Magic Relationship Ratio: you need five positive interactions to make up for a single negative one to retain a healthy relationship.

I'm not sure about you, but I treat all my teammates as a family. Not really, but I'm sure the ratio can be applied to a work environment.

It's up to management to instill the idea of a psychologically safe environment and to deal with the bad actors disrupting it. If you're a manager, ask "What's one thing I can do to help the team feel safer taking risks?"

Task conflicts vs relationship conflicts

Not all conflicts are the same. Task conflicts ("I hate your idea") are different from relationship conflicts ("I hate you").

Task conflicts are generative and can help push the team further in the right direction.

Relationship conflicts, or personality-driven arguments, are destructive and should be avoided whenever possible.

You need a framework to make sure task conflicts stay generative. It's easy to inadvertently make things personal in the heat of a conflict.

Use emotions to get feedback and handle criticism

Feedback is different, and different people are used to giving and receiving feedback in different ways.

But honest feedback and objective criticism is an important part of personal and professional growth. You don't improve without feedback.

"A friend tells you that you have food on your face. A non-friend doesn't give you the bad news because they don't want to feel uncomfortable!", Tom Lehman, CEO at Genius.

Give feedback thoughtfully, and tell your coworkers how you prefer to receive it Helpful criticism isn't to make people feel bad, it's to help them grow.

"Make it wonderful to tell you hard shit", Mark Rabkin, VP at Facebook.

Still, difficult and emotional conversations will inevitably arise. Get value out of them by labeling and understanding your emotions.

Emotions are contagious, emotional culture matters

Pay attention to your emotions because they can go viral.

The emotions of a grumpy coworker or a pissed manager can rub off on you and have a ripple effect on those around you.

There were periods in my life when I was a Negative Nancy without realizing it. It's easy to turn into one if you're not careful. You start by being grumpy about the weather, and before you know it complaining is your go-to reaction.

I ended up eradicating my Negative Nancy by being mindful about those impulses and consciously stopping them. There's also Tim Ferris's No-Complaint Experiment if you're into challenges.

It pays off on a larger scale. Studies show that organizations with negative emotional cultures have higher turnover rates and worse results.

You can have a positive influence on your organization's emotional culture by being kind, acknowledging the humanness of those around you and celebrating the emotions you value.

It's not about the big gestures either. Micro-actions also help create a culture of belonging. Help a new hire get to know the rest of the team. Share your coffee break with someone. Thank those who go out of your way to help you.

And avoid grumps and complainers.

Leadership is a skill, not a role

You can be a leader no matter what your role is. It's about what you do, not who you are.

Be a better leader by improving your emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Good leaders understand the source of their emotions, modulate their feelings to shield the team, and manage individually without micromanaging.

"The best managers are good shit umbrellas. When the shit hits the fan, they do what they can to protect their team from the emotional fallout."

I've worked under good and bad leaders. I was a crappy leader myself in the early stages of my entrepreneurial journey when I didn't know better. I was a micromanager who was full of shit, to put it bluntly. Self-awareness helped me become a better one.

People are different, and leadership styles are different. The best leaders don't bottle up their emotions. They can be selectively vulnerable while being determined and presenting a clear path forward.

Learn from those you manage, prioritize yourself and seek support from those around you. Understand the challenges you're facing and take decisive steps to address them.

Things are rough, but I have faith in you guys. We'll get through it.

The core emotional skills

The perception of the emotion often comes from you. When you think of a face as a "resting bitch face", this perception comes from you.

Building healthy relationships with those around you requires being aware and conscious of your own emotions, and using the core emotional skills to manage them.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to acknowledge, understand, and express emotions. It's a set of filters you pass your emotions through to make them more effective:

  • Acknowledge ("I'm anxious")
  • Understand ("I'm nervous because of the deadline")
  • Express ("Hey, I trust you'll get this done. I just get anxious about deadlines")

Emotional regulation is the ability to deal with strong emotions via:

  • Reappraisal, or reframing how you see the situation.
  • Suppression, or actively avoiding the emotion by shifting focus.
  • Response control, such as taking a deep breath to calm down.

Emotional agility is the ability to unhook and interact with your emotions on a deeper level:

  1. Notice a difficult emotion. If a coworker makes you feel annoyed, pause and observe the feeling: "I'm annoyed".
  2. Label it. Be granular, add texture. Instead of thinking "I'm annoyed", think "I'm worried we won't have time to make the changes my coworker is suggesting".
  3. Understand the need behind it, don't dwell. How would you rather feel? "I want to feel calm, so I need to ensure the project stays on track."
  4. Express it clearly and in detail. "Your changes are good, but the schedule is tight. It's crucial we make the deadline. What changes do we have time for? Let's find a way to make this work."

I wasn't even aware of how emotions work until I was 20-something. It took an identity crisis to gain the ability to observe myself from the outside. It felt weird to realize I lived for 20+ years on autopilot.

Learn to observe yourself. Learn to think. Learn to work with your emotions.

A whole new world awaits you on the other side.


I highly recommend you get No Hard Feelings because there's so much more to it.

But if you're interested in my 5000+ words of notes from the book, hit me up on Twitter.