Are emotions good for business?

I love Dragon’s Den. It’s a fantastic bit of reality TV which I enjoy. And I hate reality TV. So this is one of the few I indulge in. It’s in season 8 which goes to show how strong the show is. The format of the show is simple enough. Pitch your product to a panel of investors (“dragon’s”) and if they believe enough in you and your product, they’ll give you the investment you’re looking for, and take some equity in your business.

The presentations are what I like best about the show. You have to have a good product, but sometimes that isn’t enough. If you can’t sell it, they won’t buy it. In one of the winning pitches last week, the presenter cried because of the praise heaped on her by Theo Paphitis (one of the dragons). I cried out on Twitter that crying is cheating in presentations – and I stand by that.

It prompted a conversation with a fellow L&Der, Stella Collins, around what emotions are allowed to be displayed in the workplace. And this is an interesting topic. So let’s have a peek at what research tells us.

The question isn’t so much do emotions have a place at work, I think it’s more, how emotionally intelligent are your workforce? This also ties in with the Intelligent Behaviours theory I’ve been working on. First let’s look at an emotionally intelligent workforce.

First, it’s important to recap what emotional intelligence is. It’s a form of multiple intelligences, and Daniel Goleman took selective work and coined the term emotional intelligence (EI or sometimes referred to as EQ). He argues that EQ is distinctly different from IQ in that it can be something which can be learned over time, where IQ is a static ability. Within this, he describes five broad sets of behaviours that you should remain conscious of if you want to be successful in your dealings with others: social skills, self regulation, self motivation, empathy and self awareness. Over the years, a variety of measurement tools have been developed to identify areas of weakness and strength in EQ and subsequent techniques to help develop your overall EQ. Some of these that come to mind are Baron EQi and Consulting Tools 360 EQ tool.

Having an emotionally intelligent workforce means you need a team of people (not necessarily managers) who understand what it means to be emotionally intelligent, how to respond to others, and how to develop others capabilities of being emotionally intelligent. For example, if Bob is angry and is shouting at Berk, the first port of call for most people will be to turn a blind eye and gossip about it later, then for someone to make a complaint to HR, then for some formal action being taken, and all of it on both employees formal records. That’s hardly what Bob or Berk want to happen, regardless of how inappropriate their behaviour.

If someone is emotionally competent though, they will be able to deal with the situation immediately, with autonomy and confidence. This means, addressing Bob initially and taking him away from the situation, letting him vent, empathising with him, understanding what brought him to that level of anger, and then allowing him some time away from the desk and team. It’s about taking Berk aside and doing the same thing. And then, if both are agreeable it’s about getting them in the same room and being open with one another about their disagreement, and once it’s been aired and genuinely resolved, they go back to their team.

This sounds all rosy, but this is a blog post and I’m limited by how much I can elaborate. But you can quite comfortably see there is a process driven way of dealing with this, and there’s having an Intelligent Behaviour mindset as I’ve described.

Equally, if Bernie is upset and starts crying, how do you react to this? Typical behaviour may be to just shy away from dealing with it, and probably recommending he go home for the rest of the day, and on his return ask him how he is, but not really deal with it. Or you can allow him to go away and cry, seek him out, and then talk with him to find out why he’s so upset. If it’s something which can’t be dealt with there and then, is it something which will be a barrier to him working for the rest of the day? If it is, then he should go home as there’s no sense in him being at work. If it isn’t then you need to provide some coaching for him so he can focus on the work ahead for the rest of the day. You then touch base again at the end of the day and find out how he is before he goes home. The next day you catch up with him one last time, just to ensure he’s ok.

What some large companies would tend to do in this situation is to send either of the people above to a counsellor of some sort and seek professional help. And that may be appropriate for a small percentage of the workforce, but for most situations on a day to day basis, an Intelligent Behaviour mindset suggests there’s a much better way to deal with people when they’re displaying strong emotions.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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