The link between emotions and behaviours

It’s not often I can point to a learning event and on reflection think to myself, but damn that changed my life. There have been two such occasions thus far. The first was attending a facilitation skills training course with Roffey Park. That course taught me a lot about group dynamics, about how I interact with them, and how much I enjoy group based solutions. The second was my MBTI Step I training. I left that training thinking I could rule the world (I still think this) armed with just this tool. It offered me an easy way to recognise behaviours in myself, in others and different ways I can use the tool to provide different ways of working.

This year, I attended a course called Emotional Skills and Competencies with DPG Plc. It was a three day training course, and I wrote about my immediate reflections after each day (Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3). Now some time has passed, and I’ve been able to reflect back on the course, I’m convinced that this training, or future forms of it, will form the cornerstone of what we know as emotional intelligence training. The training focused on helping to understand the work by Dr Paul Ekman. Readers of this blog will know I hold this guy in very high regard. His work and research has helped to identify seven universally recognisable emotions – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, anger and contempt.

We learned how to recognise the ‘microexpressions’ that accompany each emotion on a person’s face. This was really interesting, and we got plenty of practice, as well as practising making the facial expressions ourselves. In line with this, we also spent time reflecting on what happens within us when we feel these specific emotions. This was a great form of self awareness. We learned that there is an emotional timeline we all go through. From the moment something triggers an emotion in us, and the moment we become aware of it, 1/25th of a second passes. Once we become aware, is the point at which we can start to think about how we deal with this emotion.

The other piece I’ve been reflecting heavily on is the research into body language. The hardest thing, and at the same time the most attractive thing, about body language is finding some universal truths that exist. Outside of the microexpressions we display on our faces, there are no other universal body language signs. There a lot, and I mean a lot of ‘experts’ in the field who would like us to believe that they have the answers to underlying motivations and desires based on a person’s body language. Unfortunately most are just not basing their work on research. They’re basing it on lay observations which most of us could make if we took the time to study it better. And, importantly, most are basing it solely on the context of the culture they are in.

I came across this excellent journal article by Dr Ekman (Emotional and Conversational Nonverbal Signals) which perfectly describes how we can understand body language. He explains there are three forms of body language we can look for: emblems, illustrators and manipulators.

Emblems are those body language signals which have specific cultural significance. For example, a thumbs up signal may be assumed to mean ordinarily ‘yes’, or ‘I’m good’, or ‘well done’. However, when deep sea diving it means that you need to go up to the surface. Even before you take the deep sea diving difference into account, you can see how the one signal can mean different things in everyday context.

Illustrators are those which help to support the verbal message. In most cases this is where we use our hands to be expressive in some way. For example, “I first stopped at the shop, then went to the car, then realised I forgot something.” While doing this someone may count off on their fingers in order to illustrate the number of times something occurred, or they may use their hands to indicate moving from one point to the other in a recurring fashion.

Manipulators are those where the person is using one part of the body to touch another part in a habitual way. For example, while talking about something I may cover my mouth with my hand without realising. Or I may have a habit of stroking my ear when talking about a particular topic. We can’t infer what this movements may mean, just that they are a habitual thing the person does.

When you look at those three ‘channels’ of communication, it really helps to make clear that context makes all the difference when you notice the way someone is acting. The key thing that helps to provide the context, is gaining a clear understanding of the person’s ‘base line’. That is, what does normal behaviour look like for them? When you notice a significant change in what they are doing is where you know something has caused them to shift. And where you notice behaviours like this, is where careful conversation can take place to help uncover what’s going on there.

For me, I’ve been taking all of the above into account and can look at what’s happening both within me and then with others. There is a lot to be done to help share this out, and it’s quite early days for this training to be as mainstream as going through psychometric training, but I have no doubt it will get there. As I alluded to above, this is one of those courses where I have been able to take the learning and apply it directly to the work I do. I am more confident in how I understand working with others, and the take home point for me is that it provides the foundation for all I understand about emotional intelligence and conversations.

Emotional presentations

Today, I’ve been delivering a course on presentation skills. I’ve written before about why this is such a valuable skill to have. The complete range of skills that become important in a presentation are not simply limited to standing and delivering a presentation. Self-awareness, use of gestures, non-verbal communication, assertiveness, time management, influencing skills, perceptions of power – all of these things and more become so apparent and transparent. It’s no wonder they can cause great anxiety.

Some presentations though, are just so powerful, even the presenter underestimates what they’re about to embark on. These are often personal in nature, and have a deep meaning that the presenter hasn’t resolved how they feel about themselves. What ends up happening is the presenter, when delivering the presentation, finds themself caught up in unexpected emotion. This is no bad thing as it shows the audience the presenter clearly cares about the topic. What it can do though, is unhinge the presenter to an extent they can’t carry on.

I’ve seen examples of this at wedding speeches, eulogies at funerals, and when recounting personal experiences to illustrate a point in presentations. You can’t help being touched when this happens. As I’ve just said, it doesn’t detract from the presentation. It does create some uncertainty in the audience though about how to react. Do we applaud to encourage you to carry on? Do we stay silent to allow you to compose yourself? Does someone come up to you and get you a glass of water? There is no clear etiquette about this. And nor do I think should there be.

I would like to share what you can do to help yourself for these types of presentation. Unsurprisingly, practise is at the forefront of what needs to happen. The reason people get caught off guard by their own reaction to the topic, is because they’ve not actually stood up and said it out loud. Actually hearing yourself speak, and being mindful of your feelings is a powerful thing. When people say, oh I’ve written it down, I don’t need to practise it out loud, they only do themselves a disservice. And they potentially so themselves a knock in social confidence. Practising helps you to become self-aware of what you are experiencing, and how this impacts your presentation.

A clear structure is of vital importance in an emotional presentation. You stay within the parameters of what you have written and this helps to maintain your focus. Often, when people are overcome with emotion it is because they decide to ad lib, and they haven’t prepared for this. Ad libbing is all good, and creates a true sense of genuine feeling from the presenter, but this has to be tempered. Your emotions can overtake your rational self at such speed and unexpectedness that you are thrown off track. The structure of your presentation allows you to go off course if necessary, and if you find yourself being overcome, you come straight back to where you needed to be.

The hardest thing about being overcome with emotion is allowing it to happen. That almost sounds counter-intuitive. Why would you allow yourself to become emotional? Because, emotions have a funny habit of staying around until you have dealt with them. You may think, oh I just need a glass of water and I just need to man up. And once you carry on, you get swung by a left hook from your own emotions again. Because you dismissed them. Fool on you for not listening to yourself. Being mindful of what you’re feeling and allowing it to happen is a powerful feeling of awareness. Laughing at a joke because it is funny helps the audience warm to you. Equally, displaying sad emotion because you feel it, shows your connection to the material.

I think something which is not considered when delivering an emotional presentation is the way you deliver it. Are you allowed to show it is a rehearsed speech? Is the presentation meant to be so carefully delivered? Are you meant to reveal personal feelings? Yes, yes, yes. People can get hung up on, oh but it was so controlled, and they didn’t reveal their genuine self. Have you ever delivered an emotional presentation? Do you know it is a success in itself to be able to stand there and deliver it while containing yourself?

And here’s something which doesn’t happen often enough. You need to de-brief with someone after. A full and proper de-brief of how you experienced the presentation. Not the content of it, but your own management of what you are thinking and feeling. You’ve just stood and delivered something which deeply resonated with you. Our psyche demands we resolve this in some way. Coffee with a friend, crying on a shoulder, laughing at the world, whatever it may be, it needs to happen. You learn from this, and you grow from the experience.

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.