Caution: Emotions at work

Phil Willcox explains why you just can’t get away from emotions at work, and why it’s so important to pay attention to them.

The workplace is a fascinating thing! In my experience, the relationships that I and others hold can either be the crowning glory or the dramatic end to successful work.

Emotion displays itself in many ways: in our face, in our voice, the way we speak, the words we choose and our body language. But before we go any further, we need to consider context.

Emotions, relationships and interaction are dynamic things. What I mean by that is that they change in the moment, they pull from the past and they look into the future. Imagine you are having a one-to-one or a performance review with your line manager, for example:

  • You pull from the past as you are talking about the work you have done. This can bring a wide range of emotions, maybe pride, or disappointment, or frustration. These may be a replay of emotions from the past, how you felt at the time.
  • You will also be concerned or aware about the future. You don’t want to commit to work you may not be able to do or to say something that could affect how others see you in the future.

So although the emotions in this type of interaction are in the present, they are inextricably linked to the past and project into the future.

So what does all this have to do with relationships in the workplace? Well we all have things and relationships at work that we care about, take pride in, get annoyed about, aspire towards etc and so emotions are present every day. So I encourage you to pay more attention to what is and is not being said:

  • Listen for the language people use.
  • Notice how interacting with different people makes you feel.
  • When do you pick up on emotions from other people?
  • What emotions do you pick up quickest?
  • Are you more susceptible to ‘emotional contagion’ when talking about a particular topic, and if so why?

We can all be more effective in the relationships we have, by paying more attention to the emotions of those we work with. Why should you bother and/or why should you care? Well, if you’re a leader, people perform better when you engage their emotions – after all, logic will not get you up after you’ve been knocked down. If you’re in learning, then when emotion is present in learning it makes memories stronger. Ultimately, the emotional connection someone has to their organisation is an indicator of their levels of engagement. Emotions are everywhere in the workplace, so let’s embrace and actively work with them.

If you want to practice spotting emotions then click here to view a short video which is a fantastic example of how emotions can both pull from the past and link in to the future.




About Phil Willcox

Phil has made a promise: to make work better by placing emotion at the heart of work. He fuses academic achievements (MSc in Emotion, Deception and Credibility) with his real life practitioner experience (nearly 20 years in the fields of HR and learning and development). Phil has carved out a niche as an expert in all things emotion and has made himself a formidable source of actionable insight for those looking to create amazing workplaces. Find him on twitter @philwillcox

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