An emotionally confusing world

Ever since Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ, there has been increasing acceptance of the role of emotions in the workplace. EQ has become a shorthand term for this aspect of intelligence and many very interesting tools and techniques have been developed as a result. But, in many cases, it is still talked about as if it were something distinctly separate from the rest of working life.

In truth, when it comes to dealing with emotions in the workplace we are still very much at first base. This is hardly surprising given the enormous variety of responses that the same event can produce in different people.

Take the case of Princess Diana. When she died in a car accident in Paris a few years ago, there were some interesting reactions. Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a long and moving speech in a churchyard suggesting that she was the princess of all our hearts. The leader of the British Opposition, William Hague, gave a rather short and uninvolved tribute. Ordinary people from all over the world sent flowers to Kensington Palace. Hundreds of thousands of these same ordinary people traveled to London to leave flowers as a mark of respect. The world's press camped out in London and Paris. The singer Elton John recorded a special version of "Candles in the Wind." A trust fund began to sell memorabilia—plates, mugs, pens—as if Diana were a saint. These ordinary items were sought by many as if they were holy relics. In contrast, many other people, both in private and in some serious articles in the press, attacked this national outpouring as being made up of bogus emotion for an ordinary but beautiful and rich media idol.

Who was right? What was an appropriate emotional response and what was not? Or were they all appropriate? The answers to these questions point up the difficulty of being sure any more, in these media-conscious days, of how to respond to something as universal as a tragic death.

Not surprisingly, it is equally difficult to establish exactly what place emotions should have in a contemporary workplace.

There were varying opinions from those I consulted. Jayne-Anne Gadhia thinks:

It is essential to show emotions, but in a controlled way. You must show passion and belief, but rarely anger. A leader needs to be able to touch people at a raw emotional level.

This last sentiment was echoed by many. Colin Marshall, chairman of British Airways, said:

It is a good thing for a leader to be seen as human. But one of a leader's most important responsibilities is keeping up employee morale and there will be times when uncertainty must be masked by a spirit of bravery. But you must always be truthful and realistic about prospects ahead.

Michael Bichard concurs with this need to motivate people by being real:

People relate to you as a human being. You do need to show emotion, but never fake it. Of course you have to display anger for effect sometimes.

Hilary Cropper, chief executive of the FI Group, inclines more toward the management of emotions:

I don't think you should show emotions at work. Yet you must obviously be emotional to make effective relationships. You have therefore, as a leader, to create a synthetic emotion, but one that is based on your genuine beliefs. Leadership is about deliberately creating a personality that is the right one for your company, and as such must involve playing a role. You need to be an actor, but it's not an act.

Joyce Taylor, managing director of Discovery Networks Europe, is more upbeat: "It is the positive emotions that are really important, elation, joy and optimism."

By contrast, the experienced industrial leader Sir Bob Reid, who has had to deliver some difficult news in his time, says:

It's very important to show you are really upset by some of the situations I've had to deal with in the oil and rail industries. Normally you must behave with equanimity, but for real issues, for example involving death, you must sometimes show your real emotions.

There would seem to be some negative emotions which are, by and large, unhelpful. These would include anger, fear, distress, and envy. By the same token, it would seem to be advantageous to show joy and pleasure.

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave several of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and check off items on our to-do list by each day’s end seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us.

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