Intelligent Emotions – at Work

“Hardwired to connect with each other, we do so through emotions. Our brains, bodies and minds are inseparable from the emotions that animate them. Emotions are at the nexus of thought and action, of self and other, of person and environment.”  Diana Fosha, Daniel Siegel & Marion Solomon, The Healing Power of Emotions

Driven by major advances in neuroscience in the mid –  to late ‘90’s, the concept of emotional intelligence entered the lexicon of the American workplace. Through his ground breaking books on emotional intelligence (and the most requested article to date for the Harvard Business Review) former NYT science writer Daniel Goleman has contributed to a growing understanding  about the practical application of emotions in the workplace. Since that time there have been dozens of books written exploring the topic.  Seminars on development of the “competencies” of emotional intelligence (like our own)  have been offered in hundreds of companies globally.

In our work, development of the skillful use of one’s emotions is foundational. Whether we are talking about leadership, conflict, generational diversity or team building – elevating emotional competency is at the core. Taking an informal tally of our audiences, it seems that about a third has some knowledge or experience with this thing called “emotional intelligence.” It’s also not uncommon for us to encounter some level of skepticism about the role and value of emotional development in the workplace.   These attitudes reflect the larger cultural confusion about the functions and purpose of feelings. Despite greater societal acceptance of psychology and mind-body research, most of us arrive in adulthood with a surprising lack of understanding how and why we feel what we do. Generally much of Western culture still values our rational mind over our emotional mind. Today’s science shows they are more integrated than seperate.

We still see emotions as uncontrollable, unpredictable, sloppy – and even weak.  This is particularly salient in the workplace.  There are many reasons for this, too many to explore in this post, but belief in the myth of the separation between business life – and personal life – is behind a great deal of the misunderstanding. There is a vast difference between acting out emotionally – and consciously expressing what we feel. It takes skill and courage to express what we actually need and want – which is what emotions are conveying. Too many people we encounter actually operate from the erroneous belief that emotions are fixed.  They believe that we are stuck with our limited emotional repertoires.  No wonder we are turned off – and even hostile to our emotional lives.

What would you say if we asked you to name the emotions that most optimize your work?

When we ask people we work with to name the emotions they experience in themselves and others as most prevalent at work – the responses follow a very familiar pattern.

Frustration

Impatience

Annoyance

Anxiety

Fear

Anger

Resentment

While it isn’t always such a gloomy list (occasionally passion, even happiness  shows up) this list of emotions seem to drive the engine in many of today’s workplaces. No wonder there is so much conflict, mistrust and stress associated with work. Now let’s return to the original question – Which emotions most optimize how you do your work?   How about –patience, optimism, calmness, satisfaction, enthusiasm, encoragement, inspiration, curiosity and determination to name a few?
The bottom line is that we cannot do our work without being emotional – the question is what emotions are we cultivating to do it? The good news is that we are not at the mercy of our emotions.  The science is in – the emotional brain has enormous plasticity.We can channel and shape our feelings in ways that maximize their brilliance and practicality if we learn to retool our early conditioning and beliefs about the nature of emotions.
Our beliefs about emotions can be an enormous obstacle to developing the capability to use our emotions intelligently – and with great purpose. Making a commitment to work with the mind and the heart is the essence of emotional intelligence. Nothing could be more a more practical – or rational business decision.

Louise Altman, Intentional Communication Consultant
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