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Transcript: No separating emotion from the workplace

One of the basic tenants of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and control your emotions

Amanda Rohde/iStockphoto/Amanda Rohde/iStockphoto

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 Neal Ashkanasy, who is a professor from the University of Queensland in Australia.

Good afternoon, Neal.

NEAL ASHKANASY: Good afternoon, Karl.

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KM: Neal, you have done a lot of work on emotions. When I was back at IBM, back 25 years ago, if emotion reared its ugly head in a meeting we stopped for coffee because it was all about just the facts. Today we look at emotions quite differently – how should we look at our emotions in the workplace, Neal? What is your research telling us?

NA: We know today that emotions and thought cannot be separated: that if at IBM 25 years ago when people got emotional they went outside and had some coffee, that didn't change the fact that the emotions were still there. What people are trying to do when they go and get their coffee is regulate their emotions, or trying to cool down, but in fact regulation of emotions is actually an effortful business and often it is not complete.

KM: So, Neal, what you are telling us is that emotional regulation kind of puts emotions to the side and works with them, but that is very stressful. How should we then deal with emotions then in the work place? What should we do?

NA: The first thing we can do about it is to fess up, is to come clean with emotions and say, "Look, I understand that when we think, we are not going to get rid of our emotions. They are there all the time, and how are emotions effecting my thought processes?" That is a form of awareness that, probably, women are more aware of than men – research seems to show that's the case, but probably not much better than men. Most people have heard of something called "emotional intelligence." I am not going to get into the argument about it, of which there is a considerable amount of controversy, but one of the basic tenants of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and control your emotions and to do it in such a way that is natural, that you recognize the emotions when they are happening, and that you understand the way that they are colouring your decision making.

KM: So as a manager, my people have emotions. How do I allow them into the workplace in an appropriate manner, recognizing that there are there anyway, instead of trying to control them? How do I bring them positively and appropriately into the workplace? What advice do you have for managers?

NA: In answer to that question I often find myself in the situation, in a business setting, where I will interview a CEO and the CEO will say to me, "Look, in our organization we don't 'do' emotions. We don't allow it to happen. If anyone engages in emotional thoughts or behaviour, as far as we are concerned, they're out, and not only that I feel very strongly about that!" So the point there is that the manager who says that is completely unaware of the fact that emotions are colouring his or her thoughts. So, just by becoming aware that emotions play a role a manager can be much more effective. If a manager knows for instance that someone who is in a negative mood state becomes much more analytical, is trying to solve problems and trying to deal with things on a point-by-point basis, that type of thinking is different from a manager who is in a positive emotional state and therefore is going to be receptive to new ideas and thinking more broadly. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson calls it the "broadened theory" of emotions: When you are in a positive mood you tend to think broadly. Keep in mind that we are not talking here about strong emotions, we are not talking here about people losing their temper or people becoming hysterical with happiness and that sort of thing, but we are talking about those emotions that we deal with in the workplace every day and the way that they shape different thoughts, and just simply being aware of this is the first step to being able to maximize our performance.

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