Let’s redefine how we think about “emotions” at work.

Let's redefine how we think about "emotions" at work.

When it comes to leading change, the major issue for so many organizations is they don’t understand “emotion.”

I’ve been in so many calls, conferences, workshops, etc. where “emotion” means something subjective like how happy or engaged people feel.

Don’t ask me how I feel when I hear the words “psychological safety” 😛

What most people miss is the way that suppressed emotions distort how we think. Say I’m angry with my wife. I’m going to bring that anger to work whether I like it or not. And though I might pride myself for “rising above” the anger and “focusing on work,” ultimately that anger is going to be distracting at best. It’s going to work its way into every conversation, design session, management meeting, etc. It’s going to affect what I can perceive and distort the solutions I can create.

When all the individuals in an organization consciously repress their emotions, then the whole organization will suffer from distorted thinking. There are a million examples of how that’s happening in the world today. But because “emotion” is so stigmatized, it’s ignored at the leadership table. By doing so, the root cause to so many real, practical problems is suppressed and made invisible. Really, really smart and highly paid people are missing what’s right in front of them because their thinking has been narrowed.

It’s a major cultural problem.

Some of this suppressed emotion is “localized.” I.e. some of this emotion is related to the anger, grief, insecurity, overwhelm, etc. that is so many people’s experience of life today. (Myself included.) Many organizations outsource this localized emotion through coaching or EAP programs, hoping they can sweep it under the rug. They call it a “mental health” issue, which unfairly makes it individual. But the more insidious elephant in the room is the FEAR OF CHANGE. When suppressed, the fear of change can distort the decision-making process of the individuals that make up the organization—and therefore the organization as a whole.

Given the amount of change in the world, almost all of us are experiencing the fear of change. No wonder McKinsey says 70% of transformation efforts fail.

There are certainly ways to work with fears of change, both as individuals and an organization. One way to start is by letting the elephant into the room. It’s not that “emotions” have no place in business. Emotions are *already* in business. All business is nothing more than a series of emotional relationships: between executives and leaders, a brand and its audiences, an engineer and its users, and on and on…

Start by asking folks “how are you *really* feeling?” And when someone asks how you’re really feeling, you can reply by telling the *real* truth.

As more leaders understand that a successful business transformation involves addressing and working with fears of change, they’ll inevitably embrace this evolution in thinking about “emotion.”

Why not be among the first? It gets easier the more you do it 😀