“Don’t be emotional!” and other nonsense advice

<Reproduced with permission from Forbes>

“Professionals don’t get emotional”

“Don’t feel, you’re at work!”

Emotions have long been regarded as a nuisance in the workplace. The ideal professional actor has to always demonstrate an air of cool nonchalance while they show they are utterly logical and supremely cerebral or else they will negatively affect the business they are in.

This assumption has been left largely unchallenged for tens of years.

In time, the topic of showing any emotion at work has come to be seen as a major weakness, a terrible fault in the character of the worker exhibiting it.

Despite the advent of topics such as emotional intelligence and all the work that coaches do with leaders everywhere to outline the benefits of understanding and, if we’re really good, using emotions, most company heads are happy to fiercely protect their “no feelings, ever, I’m a consummate professional” stance and bring in others to deal with those bits.

The term in itself of “getting emotional” has come to be regarded as a near-insult in most settings as it signifies an undesirable state in the work environment where the protagonist may do or say something extreme and it is associated with histrionics and dramatic moments.

While professional settings benefit from social contracts around the behavior of its workers where being polite, elegant and trustworthy is necessary to keep the beehive going, the assumption that all must be calculated, frigid and stiff at all times has inserted itself in the collective psychic of organizations and has become a de facto rule that penalizes feelings and any of their manifestation.

To feel or to objectively decide?
“Emotions cloud rational judgment and we need the latter to make fair, effective decisions for the running of the business so they have to be shunned and repressed by default.” is the adage that most leaders would firmly agree with today.

But is this the truth? Is acting out of feeling or as a result of an emotion a priori bad? Without going into the mechanism of what the difference is between the two and into a discussion of the various types of primary emotions and resulting feelings, we have to examine if there is any data to A-B test decisions made “emotionally” versus “rationally” and we have to ask ourselves if indeed it is possible to separate ourselves from our inner selves for the sake of a professional environment convention.

“Future of Jobs” report from the World Economic Forum of a few years ago predicted Emotional Intelligence to surpass Decision Making skills as one of the must-have skills by 2020. Seeing how we’re entering 2019 any day now, this seems impossibly optimistic but it’s nonetheless a great trend that anyone in charge of thinking of the future of organizations should pay attention to.

Outsourcing feelings?
Over the last 15-20 years, Design as a discipline has gathered strength and momentum. It seems like it is finally on its way to becoming the rightful replacement for strategy and in a world that adapts to rapid technology enhancers become the dictator of direction for the organization, which is really good news for the consumers as they are so much more likely to get what they need.

A veteran designer told me the other day “they need us so we do the uncomfortable, fluffy bits for them”. He suggests, the establishment brings designers in because they are officially mandated and allowed to examine the feelings of consumers and then advocate for them. A task which we know is uncomfortable to the numbers-driven-emotionless-executive.

In some organizations, the reason design has made its way in the boardroom and hasn’t stayed in the labor on the prototype level is because in addition to understanding and verbalizing consumers’ feelings they also do so for the leaders of the company. They have the comfort level and the necessary courage to talk about and underline emotions that are universally valid and not only personal and that acts as a useful proxy to those who refuse to access them.

The Diversity Clinch
Nowadays, every organization worth its salt spends countless amounts of money and time debating what it is that they can do so that their workforce becomes exponentially more diverse and reflects the make-up of society.

Trouble is, some of the groups that they need to have more of, are seen as being the opposite of their homogenous body of workers when it comes to their level of comfort about emotions.

Women, in particular, have long been policed out of their feelings with a derogatory comment, eye rolls and loss of trust every time they have come even close to expressing them. In time, “you are being emotional” has become an insult readily thrown around in boardrooms and retail shops lockers alike.

How can they help?
As armies of executive coaches will attest, getting leaders to get back in touch with their feelings and develop emotional intelligence so that they can then learn to experience emotion and utilize it for empathic and connected decision making, is a tall order.

After years in the business, they are firmly invested in the idea that competency excludes emotions. The more fit-for-the-task they want to appear the more they must express they are devoid of emotion and free of any association hence eminently qualified to make decisions with complete impartiality. It’s part of any executive’s armor and “never getting emotional” is a badge of pride.

There are but a very few leaders who learned that there is value in not playing the robot but embracing their humanity and making it work for them instead but these leaders will continue to be winning while their counterparts will slowly see that being unable to tap into their intuition, their gut feelings and their raw emotions to use as source for decision making will only prove a disadvantage in an era when we are building entities far better at delivering data-driven, impartial, non-biased decisions.

The Age of the Machine
Having (and expressing) emotions is the only thing separating us from machines. We live in times of equal measure excitement as dread when it comes to the effects automation and AI will have on our lives and whether or not we will have a job at all in 10-15 years but paradoxically, we keep trying to up the machines at their own game – logical, rational thought and spend too little time honing our emotions and responses.

Emotions are uncomfortable, they are difficult, they are politically incorrect, they are hard to manage and police, they are undesirable in a professional environment, experiencing them overtly is frowned upon and seen as a weakness.

With that said, when not only felt but “employed”, when intentionally acknowledged and utilized they are also elevating, inspiring, leveling, enriching and invaluable.

For the machines reading this, emotions are still our secret sauce, our competitive advantage, and I have a feeling that all the data that leads you to conclude we’ll roll over and give it up is wrong, and us humans will surprise you by finding ways to turn them into a win.

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