Emotions: are we really still leaving them at the door?

Last week a client told me that he believed he had to leave his emotions at the door when going to work.  Surprising because the guy was young, and worked for a cool, forward thinking company - who I thought would allow people to be themselves, and express their emotions whilst at work. But obviously, this is not the case. So, I was compelled to ask how it is that we still haven’t quite grasped the fact that our emotions are important.

Humans are Emotional Beings

When Daniel Goleman talked about emotional intelligence he highlighted the fact that humans are emotional beings, and that we cannot part with them. He insisted that we had better learn to work with our emotions if we want to be successful - and so surely we should not feel that we have to leave our emotions at the door when going to work. 

Emotional Intelligence

Have you ever been told directly that you need to improve your emotional intelligence in order to improve your performance at work?  Probably not.  Instead we are told that we need to improve our presence, stature, confidence, the ability to engage more effectively with others, to influence more widely, to be tolerate ambiguity and conflict more resiliently. However, it is important to realize that in order to improve any of these things; we must first work on our emotional intelligence.  

Emotions and the Body

Emotions are a bodily phenomena.  We know that they are expressed through the body.   They are not purely a ‘cerebral activity’.  Stanley Keleman highlighted the relationship between the emotions and the human body by arguing that our emotional life experience changes our physical form throughout our lifetime.  For example, a chest that has learned to collapse inwards and away perhaps through fear, shyness, timidity, will continue to do so and perpetuate those same feelings unless the 'owner' moves to ‘re-shape’.   

Daniel Goleman suggests that one of the fundamentals of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, paying attention to moods, emotions and their effect on others.   Often ignored, the body, offers us a fast insight into noticing how we and others are doing.   To develop our self-awareness we would do well to pay attention to how we are feeling, and where in the body we are feeling it.    The body in the end, can become our early warning system. 

Regulating our Emotions

We regulate our emotions through the body as well as feel them through the body.  Self-regulation is a major component to developing emotional and social intelligence.  Being able to self-regulate puts us in a much better position to co-ordinate and blend more effectively with others.  These are key skills to success in the work place, lost without emotional awareness and the early warnings the body shares with us. 

Blending with Others    

Another client needed to persuade and lead a cross cultural team with more finesse and greater intra-personal acuity.  The client needed to develop an awareness of the deeper social and cultural influences that shape us, as well as learning about her own patterns of influencing and persuasion. 

Goleman and Boyatzis refer to a social guidance system, described by scientists as the ultra rapid connection of emotions, beliefs and judgements, tied together in less than one-twentieth of a second by spindle cells.   Our spindle cells working so fast, tell us what we feel about someone, as well as how to respond to situations - what decisions to make, what priorities to set.  

In order therefore, to be able to influence and blend more effectively with her team, my client developed the skill of observing her own felt sense of her emotions and reactions.  This gave rise to her noticing more of how she felt about her team, the assessments she held about them and the reactions that these generated within her.   She entered a much more powerful place from which to self-regulate. 

Conclusion

Our bodily experience serves us well in developing our emotional range.  The body is omnipresent and therefore what we experience internally is reflected externally. It is important to know that we are in part the sum of our emotions because our emotional states affect the chemical cocktail being released into our bodies, and thereby affects, and shapes our physical form - something that we absolutely cannot leave at the door.   

If we seek to lead others, to influence, to be authentic and trustworthy then we need to befriend our internal landscape (i.e. be in touch with our emotions) in order that it can inform us and show us the way.  Finally, we must acknowledge that it is our relationship with others that determines our success in and out of the workplace, and therefore as this success ultimately comes down to the degree of emotional and social intelligence that we possess, surely our emotions need to be welcome at work.