Emotional Management

Dave was unhappy. His staff was angry with him. Excited about a project, they had asked to work overtime. Dave would have approved the request, but his boss had emphatically told him to rein in expenses. So Dave denied the request. Now, with the staff angry, he knew from experience that their productivity would be lousy until this cloud passed over. Every time there was an upset, it showed itself in performance.

Dave sat in his office at the end of this dismal day. He was initially shaken when the apparition appeared. But the spirit smiled sympathetically: “You’ve had a bad day.” Dave, appreciating the support, relaxed: “I wish my workers would leave their emotions at home. Feelings just get in the way!” The spirit smiled again: “Many managers have had the same thought. Let me show you what it actually would be like to get your wish.”

The spirit took Dave to the staff area. Dave watched his staff with amazement. His people were lifeless. They moved as if wearing lead boots. There was little talking, which at first Dave thought might be good. But as he watched, he could see that the simplest cooperative steps were missed for lack of communication. Dave asked the spirit, “Didn’t Jack see what Sally needed?” “He noticed, but without feelings, he did not care to help,” replied the spirit. Dave then asked, “Why are they moving so slowly? They look lazy.” “Without emotion, they have no motivation,” said the spirit. “Motivation comes from caring.”

Finally Dave said, “OK. I’ve seen enough. But I can’t see a way out. Emotions disrupt our work, but without them nothing happens. What should I do?” The spirit smiled again. “Asking the right question is the biggest part of the battle,” he said. “Now we can get somewhere.”

“You can’t wish people’s feelings away, any more than you can ask for the wind not to blow. Feelings are a part of human nature. But you can learn how to work intelligently with emotions.” The idea of combining emotions and intelligence seemed nonsensical, but Dave suspended his disbelief to see where this could go.

“There is a four step cycle with emotions,” the spirit began. “Knowing the cycle can help you work intelligently, not only with your staff’s feelings but also with your own. The smarter you work with feelings, the more success you’ll have in business.”

“First, people experience an emotion, like the anger your staff had today. People experience anger in different ways. Some people may notice a physical change; maybe they clench their teeth. Others first notice their anger by the impulses that they have, maybe wanting to yell. Still others notice anger from their thoughts, such as ‘He’s always doing this to us’, whether it’s true or not.”

“Next, emotions lead our thoughts in certain directions. We can’t pay attention to everything simultaneously. We select our focus based on whatever we care about most at that moment. Caring is an emotional process. When your staff was angry at you, they cared about a lost opportunity and lost control. This led them to focus on all of the times that they have been upset with you in the past. Your acts of kindness and support, also a part of your relationship with them, were not a part of their focus at that time.”

“Third, to work with emotions intelligently, you have to understand where they come from. In this case, the staff was excited to work overtime to nail down some tough issues on their project. When you, rather curtly and without explanation, told them they could not use their own judgment, they felt threatened. People respond in one of two ways to threat, either with anxiety or anger.”

“Fourth, and here’s the payoff, once you understand where feelings come from, you can take steps to manage them. To be clear, while you can learn to control your own emotions, you cannot control anyone else’s feelings. You can, however, create conditions for your staff that invite feelings that will be more conducive to your goals than ‘rage at the boss.’ For example, had you thought about it, could you have predicted the response you got from your denial?”

“Yes,” Dave moaned with frustration. “But what could I do? I really had no choice. You just want me to cater to them!”

“A common mistake,” chided the spirit. “Working with the feelings of your staff does not mean giving them whatever they want. But you could have given them information and genuine appreciation. What if you had said something like this? ‘I’m delighted that you are all so gung ho about what we are doing that you would spend extra time away from your families. Unfortunately, our hands our tied. I have gotten word from upstairs that money is so tight right now that I cannot approve overtime.’”

Dave could see that his staff may have responded differently. It is possible that some of the staff might still have been angry. Realistically, though, he could see that providing what the spirit suggested would have invited the staff to have different emotions, perhaps disappointment and frustration. These milder emotions are much less disruptive to the pace of work and less damaging to the relationship Dave has with his people.

“Thanks, you’ve been a big help.” Dave told the spirit. “But I feel a little overwhelmed. You make it sound easier than I suspect it really is. I don’t know how to respond to every situation I face.”

The spirit answered: “You are already two steps ahead of where you were. Most important, you asked the right question. And, now you know the four steps of emotional management. Learning what you need to do in each situation takes practice, perhaps with a little guidance. Call me when you need me.”

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., which helps individuals and companies perform at their peak. He can be reached at (540) 774-1927, or by e-mail at dana.ackley@eqleader.net.

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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