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Check Your Emotions at the Door! NOT!!

Aug 22, 2022

I am sitting in a business owner's office after he has told me all of the things that are wrong with his organization. And then it happens...he says the words I knew were boiling to the surface, "They just need to check their emotions at the door when they come to work!" Really?! So many things went through my mind in that moment, but here is what I said, "You did not." His response, "What do you mean I did not!!" By this time he is getting red in the face, his breathing and heartbeat have accelerated (I can tell his heartbeat has accelerated by the vein bulging out on the side of his head). So I calmly say, "What are you feeling right now?" He said, "I am angry! Frustrated! What is wrong with these people...emotions have no place at work!" And then I remain silent...for an uncomfortable amount of time. It takes longer than I think for this owner to realize what just happened. And then the moment I have been waiting for arrives. To his credit, he realized that what he was accusing his people of, he had just displayed. This was a turning point for this owner, and years later, he is a very different leader because of this.

There are a couple of things I would like to focus on in this true story:

  • People are not going to be able to check their emotions at the door. As a matter of fact, leaders do not want that! If you take out excitement, satisfaction, reward, belonging, hope, and joy, you take out the source of energy and motivation that people need to meet the next challenge or take advantage of the next opportunity.
  • Why did it take the owner what seemed a long time to realize his display of emotion? Because that is what emotion does, especially strong emotions. Emotions can suppress the higher cognitive functions like critical thinking, problem solving, strategic thinking. The truth is that it takes several seconds for the flush of neurochemicals released by an emotion to clear from the brain. Remember the old saying, "Count to 10 when you are mad?" There is real science behind that.

Now, think of a time recently when you experienced strong emotions. What was the situation, what was your reaction, did you find it difficult to think clearly and objectively, in reflection, would you go back and change something you said or did if you could?

Emotions are not complex in their makeup. They are neurochemicals released in the brain that do two primary things, provide information and energy to tell you to do something. Here is where they get complex. Emotions do not always come by themselves. Actually, they tend to come in a cascade of emotions. In addition, your brain wants to engage the old "fight, flight, freeze" response when certain emotions kick in. This may have been great when running from a bear or a tiger, not so much in the modern workplace. This is when the higher cognitive thinking skills are harder to access.

Emotional complexity in the team dynamic

This is the final part of a 6 part series on high performing teams. While this topic is coming last, it is probably the most important of the 6. Our world has become more complex, the pace of change is constantly accelerating, and even the nature of the workplace has changed. High performing teams have figured out how to navigate the emotional complexity of the new workplace...and that could also be their home. This starts with the team leader.

How do high performing teams navigate the emotional complexity in our world today? It starts with some key elements:

  • A clear understanding of expectations
  • A commitment to the team by each team member
  • A set of accountability practices that keep the team focused on what is important
  • An ongoing process of reflection (what worked and what did not work and why)
  • Celebrating wins to lock in winning attitudes, learning, and provide energy and motivation for the next set of challenges

Notice that most of these key elements are not directly related to emotional drivers...but from these come a set of emotional drivers that create and sustain success.

In the past 6 weeks, we have seen new data on what makes a team a high performing team:


These are just a few of the characteristics in high performing teams. We also know that leadership impact is critical to team success. Is the leader an inspirational leader or a leader that simply enforces. There is a massive difference in outcomes between the two leadership styles, with inspirational leadership creating far better results.

Something interesting is happening in high performing teams. There is something present that is missing from other teams. A true success pathway and a clear set of accountabilities, both for the team and for the individual team members in their role.

Liberating Structures

It may seem odd that emotional complexity can be better navigated with structure and practices. But think about this. If you create what I call "liberating structures", structures and practices that free people up to engage their best effort, then you are going to see greater success. The outcome of this from an emotional perspective is more satisfaction, enjoyment, hope, reward, and excitement. The very emotional drivers that provide energy and motivation to achieve. Have you ever heard the phrase, "success breeds success?" This is true but the reality is that it is the learning and the emotional drivers from past success that empowers future success. It literally can become a cycle of success.

Equipping People to Prosper

If you have visited our website, the first thing you will see is the phrase, "Equipping People to Prosper." When you look at this in the context of navigating emotional complexity in the workplace, it is equipping people with the skill set most predictive of future success...emotional intelligence. Why emotional intelligence? Because this skill set is the only one that will truly help people navigate emotions for better outcomes. Suppressing emotions will only lead to unwanted outcomes. Emoting all over other people leads to drama and a potentially uncomfortable work environment.

The emotional burden people are carrying has increase 300% in the last few years. This comes directly from a research study done by Six Seconds, the largest emotional intelligence community in the world. This makes sense when you think of everything that has happened...COVID, changes in the workplace, schools being closed, mixed signals from just about every direction, uncertainty.

If we truly want high performing teams, we have to start with creating the certainty team members need to focus on what is most important. While we cannot remove the emotional detractors present in people's lives, we can equip them to navigate these for better outcomes. People want to be successful, to achieve, to experience wins. So let us find ways to help them do just that!

Copyright © 2022 EQFIT® - Author: Steven Goodner All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law. For permissions contact: [email protected]

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