Did you ever hear, “it’s unprofessional to mix emotions with work; if you do, your decisions will be impulsive and irrational.” Or, “you should not bring the stress from the workplace into a home; that would ruin your personal life”?

There’s certainly some merit in this approach of operating in compartments, but I belong to a different school.

After all, we are human, and emotions are natural. Suppressing our emotions just because we are in the work environment can do more harm – both to our own health and to our productivity at work.

On the other hand, if you are indifferent to the feelings of your colleagues, you will end up demotivating them, leading to a drop in their engagement levels. Disengaged teams are worse than absent workforce or attrition!

Instead, if you integrate emotions into work thoughtfully, by modulating your interactions with people appropriately, you can energize everyone and accomplish a lot more. This will involve, (1) understanding your own emotions and how they might affect others when you express them, and (2) making an effort to notice the feelings of others, and factor them into your interactions.

We can’t find more hours in a day, but we can certainly bring more energy into those hours to raise productivity. It is well known that emotions have a bigger bearing on energy – whether negative or positive – assuming the physical aspects like diet are taken care of.  

Before we figure out how to translate this thought into energy, it is worthwhile to understand emotions a little more granularly. From Aristotle’s list of fourteen distinct emotions in 4th Century BC to Plutchik’s Wheel of Eight Basic Emotions in 20th Century, or the more recent twelve discrete emotions measured by Carroll Izard, there are many theories – some going all the way up to thirty unique emotions. For now, let me use just the four irreducible emotions and share what impact they can make in the context of work: 

  1. Fear holds us back from challenging ourselves and picking stretched goals, or from taking risks to realise those goals; at times, a little fear can also propel the discovery of more creative alternatives to deal with contingencies.  
  2. Sadness, when channelled right, can help in introspection and learning from events that caused sadness in the first instance.
  3. Anger can communicate one’s frustration with the quality of a colleague’s work, prompting the desired action, but only when it is expressed in moderation. Uncontrolled anger can make people feel humiliated, damaging their morale.  
  4. Happiness comes, among other things, from recognition of one’s work, and fulfils the basic human need for belongingness. Teams with shared aspirations and identities strive to win.

Having got a sense of how different emotions can impact work, what’s the drill?

Think about that in three steps:   

  1. Awareness: Try to recognize whenever you are in a heightened emotional state, know how you typically express those emotions, and be aware of what impact it might have on others around you.
  2. Empathy: Identity with the emotions of people you are working with, through appreciative inquiry, active listening, and deep observation. Needless to say, avoid quick judgment and stereotyping. 
  3. Modulation: Don’t let your emotions rule your behaviour, nor be indifferent to the emotions of your team. Try to measure what you say or do, by assessing the implications of emotions outlined earlier.

When done right, expression of emotions – as opposed to suppression – leads to one’s own well-being. Moreover, carefully built emotional connections can unleash human energy that no other means can match!

S. Sivakumar

A senior business leader at ITC Ltd. He could hide behind lack of time but has healed himself, lost 35 kg and walks the talk on making time for yourself to get healthy.

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