Can our feelings increase performance?

March 08, 2016

Please watch this 1,5 minute video first – and then I want to ask you two Q’s.

Thanks for playing along. So, now for my two questions.

How did you engage with this video? My guess is that you engaged with your feelings

Would the video have had the same impact if it had just quoted accident numbers or told you what to do? My guess is no.

Then allow me a third question; why would we then think that replacing emotions with rationality in the workplace makes for better performance?

I ask you this because there has been a recent debate about the appropriateness of feelings in the workplace. And it made me think of a talk I attended by Roger Steare, who is a professor and corporate philosopher, where he talked about the importance of empathy, love and values in the workplace. After all, if you want to change behaviors, achieve goals, collaborate with colleagues, treat clients or customers great etc. it all comes down to emotions!

Steare made the point that we have industrialized humanity in the workplace today. We are shaming relations and emotions out of the business world in the name of ‘professionalism’, and instead value transactions, numbers and rational thinking. In other words, we have made people into robots. This is a problem for a number of reasons.

We are emotional as humans
As this article in the Psychological Review shows, we might think we are smart and rational, but we are really highly emotional.  We carry our feelings with us at all times. And it also means that we take intuitive decisions, but rationalize them afterwards. So in short, if we suppress our feelings, we also suppress our ability to make good decisions.

We need authentic people
Suppressing our feelings also means suppressing who we are and our identity, which make us inauthentic and difficult to relate to for others. As Steare said in his talk, there are actually not many psychopaths in business, but many people that suppress their identity and empathy (i.e. psychopaths have no empathy. But not all people with no empathy are psychopaths). Not ideal for collaboration, motivation or creating great customer service, just to mention a few.

We need people, who are engaged at work
And when love, empathy and humanity are suppressed by the focus of creating growth-addicted, numbers fixated, command and control, fear-driven cultures, we end up disengaging people from their work. Because, as Steare pointed out, the DNA of humanity is to ask ‘how can we serve other people? How can I make a meaningful difference in another person’s life?

If you stop asking that question at work, and instead focus on the ‘rational’, you industrialize humanity and disengage people. As a Gallup study of work shows that 63% of people worldwide are disengaged in their work. Do we really need more? And might I remind you that lack of meaning (which you cannot create in a world of rationality) is a cause of stress, burnout and sick-leave?

So, we need MORE emotions in the workplace, not fewer.
Instead we need to start creating a safe space for emotions to influence our work in a positive way. Quoting Steare, even the military have abandoned command and control and are instead training soldiers to make decisions under stress.  We cannot have people changing persona twice a day –when they come into work and when they leave. We have to created workplaces where people can be authentic while at the same time do their job. We need leaders that are able to engage in the personal journey that we all are on. And not ones that derail it.

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