Emotions at work

So, I did my first TEDx speech last week in Toulon. I thought that I’d share the video, the presentation and some key points which I may develop in later articles.

First the video:

And the slides:

Two worlds and daily transitions

Every day, we live in two worlds which have very distinct rules. We experience these two worlds, sociologists write about them and coaches help us balance life between them. In our personal world, we can be ourselves, express ourselves with authenticity, and express our emotions. We are with our families, friends and social circle. We share values with them such as trust, support, love, friendship, etc… In our professional world, relationships are very different, more formal. There are rules and codes of conduct about what to wear, how to communicate and how to behave. There are expectations about our performance through contracts and transactions.

And the keywords in that world are: efficiency, productivity, objectives, KPI, value creation, sustainability… And every day, we transition or commute between these two worlds. Each of us, has their own way to make the transition: the clothes that you wear, the rituals you do every day, and the professional mask you put on. The frontier is pretty clear between these two worlds even if the occasional faux pas happens, but the collective will quickly remind you of the rules and codes of that world.

So how do we stay authentic while adapting to world of work?

Well every day we put on a mask, that allows us to be efficient at work. We exhibit behaviors that the company is expecting of us: in many companies there are explicit models of behaviors, especially for managers and leaders. The organisation expects the capacity to influence others, proactivity and risk-taking, result orientation and performance control.

And it does look like sometimes, that the organisation is expecting people to behave like psychopaths. If we compare the models of behaviors in organisations and the various psychopath behavior scales, they look way too similar. Indeed, a psychopath’s emotional detachment, manipulation skills, and result orientation, make him pretty efficient in the workplace.

Psychopath mask and mirror neurons

Although it seems that to survive in the workplace we would need to wear a psychopath mask, our mirror neurons prohibit us to be insensitive to others. We are emotional humans inside a protective shell that we wear at work. It is an illusion to think that we do not have emotions at work or to believe that emotions should not exist in the office.

Taming the emotional dragon at work

We should not confuse emotions with the behaviors they trigger. Yes, these behaviors can sometimes be destructive, scary, and unacceptable. However, it is important to acknowledge and accept emotions for they are useful and can find their place at work. So instead of killing the dragon, the emotional monster, we need to tame the animal so we can make better use of the emotions and master our behaviors. Even though the notion of emotional intelligence has been talked about for years, in practice managers and leaders do not seem to have completely integrated this idea or developed the skills in their job. First, they have very little emotional vocabulary and low self-awareness. And secondly people still have trouble accepting emotions, they consider them as a weakness because they fear the judgement of others, and they are scared of being vulnerable.

Emotions augmented managers

So, what I am suggesting, is that managers (because they can be models throughout an organisation) should be emotions augmented managers: accepting and using their emotions and those of others, as well as mastering their behaviors. This does not mean they will eliminate emotions, it means they will channel them so that they can be put to good use in the organisation.

3 examples of powerful emotions at work

  1. Expressing and channelling anger can help change the world. Anger gives you the energy, the motivation and perseverance to break down obstacles, to fight against injustice and to drive change.
  2. Expressing your emotions during a conflict situation can help restore the human to human relationship between the parties.
  3. Connecting with others with emotions can be very powerful especially for entrepreneurs who need to influence and convince investors, clients, and business partners through a pitch or a presentation.

And in your daily work, emotions can help you connect with other members of the team. So instead of putting on your psychopath mask at the office and reply “I’m good” to someone who asked “How are you?”. You could say something true, authentic, and take the risk of being yourself.

I was very happy and moved to have shared about this subject that I hold dear to my heart during this TEDx and I hope that we can restore the human factor at the heart of organisations and that we can let emotions take their rightful place at work.

Author: Stéphanie

Stéphanie has developed an extensive practice of executive coaching in London for more than 10 years. She now coaches CEOs and top executives to help them with team creation and development as well as business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.

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