Emotions at Work

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Very interesting question early in the morning today from a younger colleague – “How do you keep away emotions from work ?” . I thought it is worth expanding on the point of view I explained to her on the phone.

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I have often been told that we should not be emotional and instead we should be objective at work. That is rarely possible in real life in most scenarios – at least for me. So the closest to a good option in my mind is to manage these emotions as a “portfolio” so that I can survive and thrive without unnatural tactics. Before you ask me (since my colleague asked me today morning) – I will tell you that I do not practice breathing exercises or Yoga or chanting . Those are all probably good things to do – just that I have no first hand thoughts to offer.

So here we go .

Fear ,Anger and Courage are the ones that we need to confront the most given the consequences can be terrible. I feel both at times – and the way I control it is by thinking of the worst case. Am I going to lose a deal ? Lose a talented colleague from my team ? Can I fix this now or later? etc. Almost every single time I realize that the worst case is something I can mitigate. That is how I channelize these two emotions – I often convert them to courage to act.

Sadness and Joy – I do not hide Joy. When I am happy people know it. When I am sad – which is not often – people close to me can read it. On work, I feel sad most often when someone who should know better does a less than stellar job. I feel sad more often than I feel angry. And generally when the person realizes it – it helps them course correct.

Disgust , Surprise and Anticipation – Thankfully there are only two or three incidents in my entire career where I was truly disgusted. It just taught me to not work with certain kind of people. Surprise is actually a beautiful feeling in personal life – but unfortunately I am wired in a way that I do everything to avoid surprises at work. I try hard to not surprise anyone myself. I am not sure if this is good or bad – but the dislike for surprises is something I have to live with. I do a lot of anticipation – in the form of plan A/B/C . It is an intellectual pursuit that makes me feel good most of the time.

Trust and Respect – This is the ideal state of operation in my mind. Being liked at work or being feared at work are both long term problems for a leader. Obviously between the two – being liked is the pleasant and easier alternative . The world of business is not fair and often involves decisions that are hard on the people taking those and communicating it to others. If your objective is to be liked – you will be miserable when a hard decision needs to be taken, and others will feel a big let down. If you operate with fear as primary tactic – you will never have a motivated team. So the only real option is to aim for trust and respect as your operating parameters and help everyone get to a frame of mind that you will be fair in all cases.

Kindness and cruelty – This is pretty black and white . I heavily favor kindness. But there is a certain difficulty in how you execute on it. For example – let us say there is a colleague who cannot seem to operate at the next level to earn his promotion. The kind thing to do is to give him a chance to improve and then if he does not – tell him where he stands including the potential of leaving your team. The cruel thing is to tell him he is doing well and then fire him arbitrarily. Telling him that he is doing well when he is not – that falls under cruelty and not kindness in most cases. It is a thin line for a leader to traverse. I cannot say I have mastered it fully.

Shame, Pity and Envy – I do feel shame especially when I make mistakes repeatedly when I should learn and do better. I used to pity myself and feel envy for others – for a long time. That stopped after I got a better perspective from my mentors. There are always going to be some people who are better than you , were luckier than you etc and you are never going to be totally honest about evaluating yourself objectively. Once you make peace with that – Pity and Envy vanishes. It took me a long time to get there and I have had a few lapses – but generally I think I know when to catch myself these days and reorient my thinking.

(Cross-posted @ Vijay’s thoughts on all things big and small)

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