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Transcript: Like people, organizations have emotional ups and downs

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to a colleague from Australia's University of Queensland, Neal Ashkanasy.

Good morning, Neal.

NEAL ASHKANASY – Good morning, Karl.

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KM – We have heard a lot about emotional quotient, which is the individual, but do organizations have emotions or an emotional states as well?

NA – Yes, we know that now. The sociologists, especially one sociologist named Joseph de Riviera, has demonstrated through their studies that ... you can palpably feel the emotional state in an organization. I am sure that everyone who is watching this interview will agree with me that they have experienced it. You go into an organization and you don't know what it is, but something about this organization is exciting, people seem to be walking around and smiling, they have got a bounce in their step, and you go into another organization and people are downcast ... Thinking of an example, my wife and I visited what today is St. Petersburg, which was once Leningrad in Russia in 1975, during the Brezhnev years, and talk about a negative place – everybody was looking at their feet and walking around with long expressions on their face, so this spreads right throughout the organization and, in this case, a whole culture.

We know there is something called emotional contagion, we even know that inside our brains there are these things called mirror neurons so that if somebody is in a happy state our brain automatically goes into a happy state. So there are lots of reasons why a collective will pick up positive and negative vibes from members of the organizations. Just as individuals can have ups and downs in their emotional states, organizations can too. Just as individuals can experience positive and negative at the same time, an organization can too. An organization that is approaching a major target will be a very exciting place to be in but also it's going to be pretty full-on in terms of people are not really laughing, they are working flat out but there is an excitement. So you can have these two going on at the same time.

KM – So if emotions can be across an organization, it strikes me that senior leaders should try to manage those emotional states – is that something they should do and, if so, how do they do it?

NA – There are two ways to manage states – one is to fake it. It seems pretty obvious but you look at shop assistants at any day they often engage in emotional labour. This is the work that they do to fake their emotions. You can do emotional labour by smiling like this, or you can do it through method acting – you can actually experience positive states. Or you can be working at an organization where you don't have to fake it at all, where there generally is the positive. This happens right through the organization and my colleague, Ron Humphrey, refers to this as leading with emotional labour – that it is possible for the managers in an organization, the CEOs, etc., to, instead of faking emotions, actually manage that organization so that there is actually real positive vibes.

As soon as someone starts faking emotions then people start picking up on that after a while and this can lead to perceptions of insincerity, perceptions of lack of trust, and etc. So these are some of the things that can happen. It is largely an extent of genuineness, sometimes called authentic management these days, and that there is a genuine transparency about the process.

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