Leadership: Emotions at Work

  |   Personal Development Print Friendly and PDF

I think many of my professors and some of my bosses wanted managers to be like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. Spock, you will recall, was totally rational. Well, that just ain’t me. And it ain’t you, either.

In business, you deal with people. And when you deal with people, emotions are a part of the mix. If you’re a boss, someone who is responsible for the performance of a group, you can’t be successful without taking emotions into account. Here are some of my personal rules for dealing with emotions at work.

Emotions Are Part of Everything We Do

No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s analyzing market share or preparing for a challenging one-on-one with a team member, emotions are always part of the game. You neglect that at your peril.

You may already get this, lots of people do, but it was something I really struggled to learn. When people are angry, or worried, or weary, they don’t act the same way as when they’re happy, well-rested, and feeling safe. That’s why paying attention to the emotional climate on your team is critical if you want your team to succeed.

Negative Emotion Is Stronger Than Positive Emotion

You can blame this one on evolution. Remembering the bad things that had happened to them helped keep our ancestors safe. Negative emotions lodge more forcefully inside us than the positive emotions and they last longer, too.

The other problem with negative emotions is that when people associate someone, maybe you, with bad things, they throw up their defensive shields as soon as you show up. You can’t have a conversation when that. All you can do is lob messages over the defense shield.

That’s one reason why you, the boss, should show up a lot. That way, when you show up, it’s not an event, it’s just part of life. Then you can have conversations and build relationships.

Failure Is Negative, Learning Is Positive

Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has things they can do better. If you’re the boss, you can choose how you present those mistakes and those opportunities to grow.

You can present that mistake as something bad, or as an opportunity to learn. You can present that learning opportunity as fixing something that needs to be fixed, or as improvement.

Emotions Can Be Contagious

When you’re around somebody who’s really excited or really depressed, you tend to hook onto their emotion and start feeling the same way. And, if you’re the boss, you have an outsized power to affect the way other people feel.

Early in my career, I had the person who I will just call the worst boss ever. When he was feeling bad, he loved to share the feeling. We even had a saying about him. We said that, “When it rains on Bob, we all get wet.”

If you’re the boss, it’s your job to maintain the example in a positive workplace. That’s not always easy. It’s probably not fair. But it is your job.

Bottom Line

Emotions are a powerful part of every workplace. Negative emotions are stronger the positive emotions and all emotions can be contagious. If you’re the boss you have an outsized ability to influence the emotions of the group.

Reading Suggestion

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Ken Downer   |   27 Aug 2017   |   Reply

Great post! Too many of us focus on the rational/logical side and neglect the potency of our emotions, whether positive or negative. There’s an amazing power in a genuine smile at the right moment. We all can have emotional impact; when it comes from someone in a leadership position its influence is magnified.

Enjoyed these insights, thanks for sharing!

Wally Bock   |   27 Aug 2017   |   Reply

Thanks, Ken. I think we don’t have a choice about whether we will have an emotional impact. Our choices are about the emotional impact we want to have and what we will do to have that impact.