Perspectives from ISB

Sheryl Sandberg once cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder at work. Bill Gates wrote to an engineer saying ‘‘This is the stupidest piece of code ever written’. After an engineer’s presentation, Jeff Bezos asked him “Why are you wasting my life?”.

Like them, have you ever been overwhelmed by emotions at work? Do you succumb to these emotions at work?

Emotions are integral to humans and limiting them to personal life is impossible. Emotions are fundamental to human life and are universal. We need to identify how and when emotions play a role at work and how we can evolve ourselves to handle them better.

Navigating Team Dynamics

At work, we usually function as a team and hence need to regularly interact with supervisors, peers, juniors and reports. Working together involves discussions, debates and decision-making. Studies conducted at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute demonstrated that it is impossible to make decisions without emotions. In a study, 69% of respondents felt that when someone gets emotional in the workplace, it makes the person seem more human.

Unforeseen Triggers

Although we function based on logic and reason during decision-making and workplace interactions, it doesn’t take long for the wave of emotions to overpower logic. The scrapping of a project after months of hard work, being overburdened compared to others in the team, being asked to move to a different department, being asked to deliver with unrealistic deadlines, being denied that promotion you had put your energies for, being insulted in a meeting, not being rewarded and recognised appropriately, tough feedback you hadn’t seen coming. These are a few situations that could trigger a wave of emotion in us. The emotions we experience at work could range from sadness to anger causing us to have a choked voice and/or shaky hands, to cry, snap, lash out papers or things, shout and scream at others. Hence it is of paramount for each of us to recognise our emotions, become aware of how they show up and evolve ourselves to express them constructively.

Mastering Effective Collaborations – Recognising Emotions

When interacting at work, it isn’t sufficient to be able to master our own emotions. Dale Carnegie says, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion”. Hence to function effectively and in a co-operative manner, we need to be able to recognise the emotions of the person in front of us – a teammate, a subordinate, a supervisor or a partner-team member. The study mentioned earlier demonstrated that 88% of all workers felt that being sensitive to others’ emotions at work is an asset.

Hence, our emotional reactions and responses to situations at work are paramount for our own sake and to build our reputation. As per the Center for Creative Leadership, 75 per cent of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including the inability to handle interpersonal problems, unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficulty or conflict, or inability to adapt to change or elicit trust.

Self-Reflection and Optimal Professional Behavior

There are various occasions on which our emotions show up at work. Our calmness may dwindle and we may lose our composure. Hence it is paramount to work on handling our emotions and restoring stability in our behaviour. Introspecting our interactions and responses to others, at the end of the day, can help us to work towards an optimal level of emotional play at work.

As a matter of fact, the software field is dominated by introverts who find it difficult to communicate. When emotions surge, some of us may remain silent and do nothing about it.  The journal also says that most software engineers are poor at verbalising how a task at hand affects others involved. When some of us choose to express the emotions we feel, we may sometimes endup expressing them incorrectly. Sadness, disappointment and anger are the most commonly felt emotions at work. We may end up crying, shouting or screaming at work. With introspection and practice, we can work on expressing ourselves constructively and balanced.

Gaining Control

Emotions are hardwired into us through genes or as learned behavior during younger days. However, like any other reflexes in our biology, it is possible to gain control and master them. Daniel Kahneman states in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” that it requires attention and effort to gain self-control and overpower our emotions. 

Emotions are a real part of humans, much like hiccups, sneezes and burps. They may show up in others without you causing them. Let us understand that emotions are normal at work and that we can work our way to move past them and handle them constructively for the common good of ourselves and the people around us.

Author’s Bio: Poonam Singhal is a Senior Computer Scientist at Adobe Systems, India. As a software developer, she works with teams across various functions, units, and geographies. She has completed her Emerging Leaders Program at the Indian School of Business. A mother, she is constantly learning to get the best of the two beautiful worlds— one that offers enormous learning and opportunities and the other that makes everything else worthwhile.

DISCLAIMER : The views expressed in this blog/article are author’s personal.

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