Emotions at Work are Just Data to Get Better Results

Emotions are Just Data – Understand Them for Better Results at Work

There’s a common opinion that business is just about the facts, being rational and that it’s not personal. And we’ve all seen the following at work whether in others or ourselves:

• Disappointment about a project or promotion not coming to fruition,
• Stress about an impending deadline,
• Frustration about someone ‘s delay in getting you information you need,
• Excitement about a project about to launch, and
• Tears/crying.

So, emotions are present at work!

Emotional Intelligence at Work

Success at work requires intelligence – both intellectual and emotional. As people advance in their organizations, their role and success are more about how they motivate, inspire and collaborate with other people and less about “doing the work.” For example, a CFO’s success is not how well they complete a spreadsheet, it’s rather how well they lead their teams, influence other stakeholders and co-pilot with the other leaders.

Emotions as Data

Emotions are data. Just as sales, staff turnover, and market research are all data. The data needs to be analysed to become information that you can then action. Say your company is below the sales target this month. You analyse the data to determine what’s causing the low sales number until you identify the root cause, so you can find the appropriate solution and act on it.

And emotions are the same. They tell you something. The emotions we think of as “positive” are emotions we feel when our needs are being met. The emotions we think of as “negative” are emotions we feel when our needs are not being met. Same for other people. When someone is engaged and attentive, a need of theirs is being met (they are intellectually stimulated, hopeful about an idea, or being valued for example). When someone is frustrated, a need of there is not being met (they are not getting the answer they want, or fast enough for example).

Emotions at Work

According to research¹ by Cynthia D. Fisher at the School of Business, Bond University the most common negative emotions experienced in the workplace are:

•  Frustration/irritation
•  Worry/nervousness
•  Anger/aggravation
•  Dislike (of someone)
•  Disappointment/unhappiness

It’s these “negative” emotions that are perceived as more problematic at work so that will be the focus of this article, how to manage those emotions.

Managing Your Emotions

Managing your emotions at work is critical for your success as it allows you to have the impact you want to have.

1. Notice and name the emotion you are feeling. State (internally or externally) “I feel …” This allows you to accept the emotion rather than avoid it. Avoiding the emotion will have it linger longer. Try to notice your emotions as early as possible, before you are blind- sided by them.

2. Allow yourself to feel the emotion in your body. Again, this is counter-intuitive, and it will diffuse the emotion, for example you’ll feel a shirt and a sense of calm will arrive.

3. Ask what the need is behind the emotion. Ask what is the message in this emotion? Once you’ve identified the need you can then find a productive solution to satisfy the need. Often it can be as simple as asking for what you need (from yourself or another) with the emotional language removed as you don’t feel it anymore.

4. Discover your triggers. We are often ‘triggered’ by other people. When we’re triggered it’s rarely that person that is bothering us, it’s usually something about them that reminds you of a previous experience. Notice the people or their characteristics that bother you. Write them down.

5. Express your emotions in an appropriate way. Saying you are angry or upset by someone in a calm voice is okay, yelling or belittling someone is not okay. Focus on your feelings rather than assuming their intentions.

More ideas can be found here.

How to Manage Others

I believe a big part of a leader’s role is to help people feel good at work, have “positive” emotions about their work, their contribution and the organization. Here are some ways of dealing with “negative” emotions before building positive ones.

1. Notice people’s emotions. In school we are taught language and numerical literacy, start to learn emotional literacy so you can notice emotions and ‘name’ them (even if just to yourself initially). Here’s a link to a previous blog on Myths about Emotions. Being able to name something helps to start to understand it. Saying to someone “you seem frustrated” can make people feel seen and saying it in that way says you don’t know or assume, you sense.

2. Ask people how they feel then go deeper to find the unmet need. Don’t accept fine, great, ok – those aren’t emotions. Asking and really listening to understand means people don’t lose time or energy ‘stewing’. Ask them what they need to find out what’s behind the emotion. Once you (and they) know the need behind it, both of you can determine how to satisfy that if appropriate. Do this in private for psychological safety.

3. Acknowledge someone’s emotion. You can’t change their emotions; you aren’t responsible for making the emotion go away. Just as was recommended to you above in managing your own emotions, allow them to feel their emotions so it can dissipate, and they can move on faster rather than let it fester. Get comfortable with the discomfort, you’ll build loyalty and help them move forward faster. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

4. Encourage and support your staff to build up their emotional resilience. Provide programmes promoting physical and psychological wellbeing if possible. Encourage healthy eating, sleep, exercise, proper breaks during the workday, connecting with friends and family, going out in nature and talking about thoughts and feelings.

5. Give space. If things are heated or someone is consumed by their emotion, suggest a break or pause. Allow them to compose themselves or have them go out for a walk. Come back to the discussion when they are able. Talk to them about possible positive intentions of those involved and focus on solutions not judgements and accusations.

In summary, emotions are nothing to fear. In fact, you want to encourage emotions in a respectful way so that people don’t waste time worrying or being angry or frustrated. Freeing people of their “negative” emotions allows them to focus their emotional energy on more productivity. When dealing with the negative emotions you can then ask what’s needed for them to feel inspired, engaged and loyal?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in how to handle or manage emotions at work? What would make you more effective?

¹ “Emotions at Work: What Do People Feel and How Should we Measure it?” by Cynthia D. Fisher. School of Business Discussion Paper; No. 63, February 1997. © Copyright Cynthia D. Fisher and the School of Business, Bond University.

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