Leadership Lessons: Managing Workplace Emotions
Anita* was livid! Even after meticulously covering every aspect of the project, it failed because some linkages fell behind without a prior warning. The follow-up meeting quickly degenerated into a Bollywood blockbuster. Unscripted monologues, interspersed with lost tempers and tears, in an unequal measure; the interaction was all over the place… bad!
Her anger made Anita enemies within her peer group – future roadblocks. Her tears were an embarrassment. Worse, the gossip-mill concluded that Anita wasn’t professional enough to control herself – thereby dropping her readiness level a notch.
Anita eventually saved the project and got a gratifying rating. Happiness! Life was good again!
The workplace is an emotional roller-coaster. People display emotions all the time – anger, sadness, fear and sometimes even happiness. Not forgetting the emotional atheist – those poker-faced individuals who never react. Their way of demonstrating emotions is not demonstrating it. We’re professionals, after all! So, no matter how much people like Anita claim to be ‘passionate’ about their job, all they really demonstrate are emotions. There’s a fine line between the two. But, in reality, emotion is actually the antithesis of passion!
In the context of the workplace, passion is the zeal, the drive and the surrounding enthusiasm to do things right. Emotion, on the other hand, is the usual escape route when things go wrong.
Then again, emotions are human. People have feelings – which they are entitled to – provided they’ve met their job goals!
Effective leaders skillfully differentiate between emotion and passion. So that they can respect people’s emotions and then eliminate them, to enable objective business decision making.
So when faced with an emotionally charged situation, here’s a quick to-do list that will serve leaders at every level:
- Stay calm and in the full-listen mode: Staying calm and not getting influenced by the emotions on display is probably the most crucial yet difficult thing to do. Emotions can be so infectious and so manipulative! Employing the art of listening can work wonders here. Your silence will have a soothing effect. Keeping ears open can identify the real message lying buried under the paroxysm.
- Sift out the facts from the fuss: Emotions make people verbose. They talk – or yell – too much, yet say little. Anger over an untruth, the ecstasy of success, tears from the pain of failure – all contribute to the drift from fact to rhetoric. Quietly note down just the facts which will come in handy very soon.
- Focus the discussion on the current issue: During an emotional outburst, history, geography – the when and where – wander freely and aimlessly. The more important ‘what and how’ – the event that happened, or didn’t – gets lost somewhere. “Let’s not digress, please…” is a good way to bring jaywalking monologues back on track.
- Question the inconsistencies: Every episode will have some. Throw a sharp, thought-provoking question like “You said…could you clarify this please?” Eyebrows will rise and “Huh?” the person will ask. The mind will reboot and more coherent words, enunciated slowly and thoughtfully, will start emerging! There, we’re back on track again.
- Empathize: Trash the dictionary. Empathy is just a fancy, politically correct, corporate approved word. It actually means is: I hear you, now can you get back to work and fix the problem – by yesterday! Leaders display their personal histrionic skills when they say that they ‘empathize’. Not ‘sympathize’ – that sounds like pity. How condescending! The assertion of empathy works like magic. Make good use of it!
- The art of raising a hand: And slamming it on the table. This dramatic gesture, and its accompanying audio, often diffuses emotionally charged situations. Like a tight slap. Remember how, when everything seemed lost, the cinema hero of yore smacked his hysterical heroine? The same holds good in the workplace. For those with delicate hands, invest in a thick newspaper or a fat book! Hey, enough is enough! You’ve given time to blow off some steam. Now let’s talk turkey.
There is no taking away from the emotions that float about every organization. From the doorman to the CEO, everyone’s indulged in them at some point in time. It’s because of the human mental construct.
While most employees can get away with the occasional burst of fury, or narrating a personal tearjerker, leaders are not permitted this luxury. The stakes are just too high. Business loss, strained alliances and unhappy people result from an emotionally motivated corner office.
On the contrary, leaders must perfect the art of managing and making human emotions work to their advantage, and that of the organization. It is as important a skill as any other that leaders are expected to possess.
* name changed