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Transcript: How good managers control their emotions

A businesswoman is angry at work.

Josh Rinehults/Getty Images/iStockphoto

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. I am delighted to have a chance to talk to Quy Huy who is a senior strategy professor at INSEAD just outside of Paris.

Good afternoon, Quy.

QUY HUY – Good afternoon, Karl.

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KARL MOORE – A manager wants to have positive emotions and wants to avoid negative emotions, how does a manager, he or she, manage emotions successfully?

QUY HUY – To be able to manage emotions successfully, first of all, the managers have to be educated. It is usually, from my own experience of teaching very senior executives for many many years, that most executives do not have a systematic understand of the causes of emotions. For example, fear, anger, contempt, envy and these specific emotions, always exist in occasional life – it exists even without strategy execution but in the case of big change or in strategy execution, those emotion get amplified and can become collective.

Now if I was to ask you, "How do you differentiate what the causes are of fear or anger? How do you differentiate fear versus anger? Or how do you differentiate what the causes are of envy rather than anger?" Most executives will not have a clear understanding. "Well, fear is caused when I feel injustice." Well, injustice is only one partial cause of anger but it is one example but not the general cause of anger. So I teach executives to know exactly, based on scholarly research, the causes of each of these specific emotions.

It is interesting that you mentioned positive and negative emotions, but there are important differences among the positive emotions such as joy, which is the same thing as hope and elation or passion – those are opposite emotions but they have very different causes and have very different behavioural consequences. It is the same on the negative emotions side. I'll just mentioned examples of four or five negative emotions – sadness, depression, fear, anger/contempt, and envy for example. Those emotions are very prevalent in occasional life but they are all not the same. They have very different causes and they have very different consequences on the behaviour of an organization.

So first, they have to understand that to understand not to manage it because the more – it is like treating a disease, if you say, "I don't feel well," or "I don't feel good," the medical sciences would not be able to treat you very well, because what kind of medicine should we give you because you don't feel well? Or what medicine should we stop so that you feel good? It is the same metaphor for positive versus negative emotions.

So you have to be more specific and that is how I teach executives to really understand that. If you understand the specific causes, and why it matters, then you can go and treat each emotion, positive or negative, in the specific context and in a specific way. For example, they say anger is negative but it is not always a negative. If you can turn anger against your boss or against your peers into anger against your competitors, this could turn into a very negative/positive emotion for your organization – it's negative for your competitors but can be very positive for the organization.

So those are examples of how you have a much more finite understanding of the causes and how you can translate the potentially harmful effects of negative emotions into something that is positive for the organization.

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