July 7th, 2012

Managing Emotions In The Workplace

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Some managers operate as if their employees are robots. They say,  “Stop your whining.  Suppress your emotions and get the job done.” Understanding the comprehensive makeup of human beings, we realize this drill sergeant, all-business, hard-nosed approach is unrealistic ,and in the long run, counterproductive to the organization’s growth.

Managers must understand that, on all levels of interaction,  emotion and reason (logic) are both connected. Thousands of decisions are facilitated, daily,  by these opposing drivers.  At any given point in the process, one driver might override the other.  But never are they totally separate from each other.


This Is The Workplace. No Emotions Allowed!!!


Let’s take a moment to examine the hemispheric, neurotransmitting, cranium-enclosed encephalon  … most often referred to as the mind.  Sometimes critical decisions are made by the conscious mind where the decision maker  is fully aware of the options and painstaking process of elimination that renders a single solution. Other times, it’s the subconscious mind that sorts through an endless array of possibilities and then awakens the decision maker  in the middle of the night with an unexpected epiphany.

The creative process that leads to a tangible solution  is elusive and difficult to characterize. Scientists often attribute “creativity” to the right hemisphere of the brain where holistic, intuitive, synthesized thinking takes place. But most business experts  will tell you when it comes down to the rationale and logic necessary to bring a project to a successful conclusion, the left brain, responsible for logic, numbers, analysis and sequences,  is fully engaged.

Thus, when emotions rise to the forefront of the process, why would  a manager tell an employee to get himself or herself together and operate only with one side of his or her brain? In essence, the manager is really asking the employee to do the impossible … like asking them to  breathe out of only one lung.

“I don’t like Suzanne.”

This statement reflects a counterproductive attitude and has the potential to kill an entire project.  It shouldn’t be that way. People should be able to separate their personal feelings from the work at hand. But we know better. Yet, some managers try to force logic into the equation by threatening both parties to either work together or hit the road.

Successfully managing emotions begins with recognizing its irrevocable connection to the workplace and the huge impact it has on our day-to-day lives.  Think about it this way. The objective is not to eliminate emotions from the workplace, but to separate the good from the bad, and then weed out the bad.

Imagine the CEO crying at a Christmas party when the announcement is made the company was able to build a school in Africa or feed one hundred needy families in the community.  Imagine how emotions flowed when NASA orchestrated its first successful liftoff after the 1986 Challenger explosion. Would you want to eliminate that scene simply because it’s emotionally driven?

Now think about two team members who refused to speak to each over a long-standing dispute. Would you want that kind of emotionally driven behavior to continue? Somewhere along the line, anger, frustration and resentment have set in. You can’t just bully the offended parties into pretending it never happened.

Managing emotions in this situation may involve bringing the combatants together in a face-to-face sit-down with a third party mediator, or forcing the parties to submit in writing their perception of the root cause of the dispute, which, by the way may be complicated and multi-layered and interrupted differently by each party. The main thing is to sit down with the parties to make them aware of the long-term consequences of their collective behavior.  Then, move toward repairing the riff, fully aware the triggers you discover may not be the least bit logical or worthy of the dissention they’ve caused.

It’s always a good idea to have the opposing parties to get to know each other better. That requires spending time around each other. Most of us can remember a situation in our careers where we said, “I didn’t like her at first. But once I got to know her…”

If you understand my story, if you understand that I grew up dirt poor, eating out of trash cans, then you understand why I bring my lunch and why I’m so tight with the budget;  or that a young blond fuzzy with a pointed nose stole my husband. That’s why I don’t like Suzanne who, by the way, looks just like her.

We may not get Suzanne to lower her dresses and start carrying a Bible. However, we can have the opposing party spend enough time with her to realize she is not the women who stole her husband.

Here’s the whole point. As a manager,  you cannot bully emotions out of the workplace. The inclination to do so may reflect a void in your own personal management skills.  After all, it’s so much easier to ostracize, threaten and even dismiss an employee, than to employ sophisticated mentoring and nurturing skill you haven’t yet acquired.  Consider emotional obstacles a challenge to up your game. Jack Welch,  legendary former CEO of GE, use to say it’s better to thoroughly water your garden than to spend time pulling up weeds. You can’t kick out everyone. Otherwise, you’ll have to leave too.

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