First-Class Coach

Some of my female employees tend to bring their emotions into the workplace, which I find inappropriate.

by Miranda Kennett

They are high achievers, but I don't think their attitude in this respect does them any favours. Shouldn't people keep the lid on their emotions when they're at work?

A. There's a comforting myth that business decisions are all based on logic and objectivity. Comforting, because we are accustomed to prize these qualities. A myth, because emotions are omnipresent in the working environment, though often unacknowledged.

Of course, logic has its uses. It provides a common framework that can make arguments and decisions mutually understandable. The links in the chain are explicit and so flaws can be spotted. But none of us can thrive without recourse to emotions, positive and negative. Studies of the brain show that even simple decisions call on both sides of it, with emotional input providing a vital short cut for laborious left-brain activity.

Emotions can be useful to an organisation: aggression channelled into a drive to be the best; passion that drives a visionary leader or a painstaking employee; satisfaction that encourages us to work harder and better. Without emotion, how could any service organisation deliver anything approximating to customer care?

It is true that negative emotions can also be at play: defensiveness leading to hostility and poor co-operation, cynicism stifling creativity, for example. But far from achieving rationality, suppressing emotions can lead to a breakdown in logic. Our stiff-upper-lip training leads many people to ignore their negative feelings. This can lead to nervousness, mistrust and irrationality, and the resulting stress can have long-term consequences for our health, including stomach ulcers and cancer. Learning to express emotions in a way that doesn't impinge on others is recognised as an effective stress-buster, allowing us access to greater rationality.

Of course, there will always be people who misuse emotion: the over-aggressive man who bullies his staff; the woman who personalises everything and overdoes the drama; the person who manipulates others by exploiting their emotional responses. Such people are unaware or uncaring of how their behaviour affects others. They need some input on the negative impact of their actions.

Successful people have learned to recognise and work with emotions. They have developed skills in listening out for the emotional content of what people say and do. They give feedback on the way others make them feel: encouraging as well as negative. They create an environment in which others can download feelings that are getting in the way of their effectiveness, allowing them to move on and become productive again.

It's not surprising you have noticed more engagement in emotions in your female staff. Research shows that the structure of the female brain gives women an advantage in accessing and communicating their emotions. But they don't hold exclusive rights to this activity. If you want to increase your own emotional horsepower, start by tuning into your own emotions.

Ask yourself how you feel at intervals in your day. Notice what (and who) makes you feel good. The endorphins released are likely to help you perform even better. Spot what changes your mood adversely and how this influences your behaviour. You may see patterns emerging and so decide to try acting differently or thinking about things in a new way. Once you've become an expert on your own emotional state, you have a base to explore how others are feeling.

Many managers fear that taking on board other people's emotions will be so time-consuming that they'll neglect the 'real job', the one that requires logic and objectivity. But time spent in this way usually results in greater productivity, actually adding value to the business.

Economists have started to value companies on their emotional capital (EC) as well as their financial and intellectual capital. This EC measurement is based on elements such as staff loyalty and the preparedness of company workers to perform beyond the strict requirements of their job. The EC equation recognises that a highly motivated, loyal workforce can deliver significant competitive advantage and make a tangible impact on the organisation's bottom line - a good, logical reason to become more expert in emotional understanding.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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