Emotions as Business Data

Members of the leadership team of a major corporation recognized their limits as leaders. They had been hired because they were exceptionally smart, and had great, relevant experience. They had been able to bring their company considerable success. But, they knew that intellect alone was not enough for the long term. They had to improve their leadership skills to sustain their company’s momentum.

Wisely, their first step was to profile their leadership skills to identify specific strengths and weaknesses. They found that, as a group, they had a blind spot regarding emotion. They tended to ignore their own emotions to some degree and greatly ignored the emotions of other people, i.e., those whom they led. Their intellectual, analytical, results oriented training had not taught them to recognize emotions as relevant. These guys, however, were bright enough to see the damage that this flaw created in their relationships with those they lead.

Emotions, ours and those of others, are highly relevant data in business decision making. Paradoxically, if you just focus on the numbers, your numbers will be less than they can be. Fortunately, there is a solution. But first, let’s make the case for emotions as essential business data.

Your Feelings: Your emotions are important signals about what is happening in your environment. If you don’t notice what you are feeling, you may not accurately read situations. Then you might take the wrong action. As a business leader, that can cost you money.

For example, imagine that you are about to negotiate an important deal. You notice that you are surprisingly nervous. When you ask yourself why, you recognize that the man you are negotiating with tries to intimidate as a negotiating style. Your anxiety helped you recognize his pattern.

Armed with this observation, you are less likely to get intimidated. Had you ignored your feelings, you might not have recognized his tactics and, without realizing it, allowed yourself to go along with his demands. Now that you know what he’s up to, you are more likely to stay in control of your reactions. Knowing that your discomfort is merely a response to his style will help you to become calm. Consider the financial advantage of staying calm.

As another example, consider the man who finds himself aroused by an attractive new woman in his office. He is happily married. He has worked with many attractive women before and not had such intense reactions. He was not about to act on his feelings but was troubled by them. At first, he was upset with himself and tried to ignore the feelings. Then he learned that this woman had been involved with her boss from her previous job and had also had several affairs. Some people, both men and women, tend to sexualize relationships. Once this man recognized that he was responding to her tendency to sexualize interactions, not funny business of his own, he was more able to focus on business.

Their Feelings: Leaders who are skilled at reading the emotions of others are far more skilled at helping followers solve performance problems. For example, suppose that you are a sales manager. One of your sales people has sold a high ticket product for way too little money. You know this guy is too smart to normally make this deal. Yet, when you ask why he agreed to these terms, all you get is defensive rationalization.

Then you ask: “How does this customer make you feel?” Gradually you learn that the customer is having some heartbreaking personal problems. Your salesperson felt sad. Hearing the story, you feel sad yourself. Still the deal is wrong and you have to help your man not respond to his emotions in ways that undermine your business. Had you not asked about feelings, you would have been dealing with his defensiveness and gotten no where. Feelings matter and can turn into money.

Another example: You are leading a project meeting with your team. Normally your meetings are productive and energetic. Today, the mood is flat and so are the ideas. You could try to force it through, but experience tells you this will not lead to improvement.

So, you ask about their mood. They talk about the key employee who left the company yesterday. They aren’t sure they can do as well without her. With this emotional knowledge, you can solve the problem. You remind them that the employee who left, while great, was not the only one with good ideas. You identify specific contributions that the others have made. You can see their confidence grow and the mood change as they see that you believe in them. Now the meeting won’t be wasted.

Darwin saw the importance of emotions as he was developing his theory of survival of the fittest. Animals who can distinguish between friendly and vicious animals live another day. Likewise, those leaders who can read the emotions of their followers can make the most accurate and useful adaptations.

Action: Emotions are important business data. To read that data people need emotional self awareness and empathy. All of us know people who seem to come by these skills naturally. We also know people who wouldn’t know a feeling if it washed over them. Knowing such people, we might jump to the wrong conclusion, that emotional skill comes naturally or it doesn’t.

The good news is that these skills can be learned by everyone. There are proven methods that can help people learn how to read their own feelings more accurately. There are also methods to help us learn how to read other people’s emotions more accurately. When leaders enhance these skills, the research is clear - they can double what they add to the bottom line of their firm.

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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