Imagine a boardroom full of people trying to solve complex issues. Chances are the level of emotions may be displayed in the room depending on the hierarchy of the leaders, where the top leader in the room is in a better position to display her emotions. The employee in the lowest tier of the leadership tries hard to hide her emotions. The western civilization has embraced the ethos of an emotionally amputated decision-making roundtable where the solutions are more technical and less emotionally comprehensible.
It is true that technical solutions can be utilitarian compared to an entirely emotionally motivated action. Purely emotionally driven behavior can lead to an uncontrollable situation with mob-like conduct spreading like wildfire. Hitler’s Nazi Germany was a good example of this. The propaganda created by Hitler at the time exploited the emotions of the people and stirred up hatred that leads to violence and hostility towards people who seemed different from them. The Milgram Shock experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University highlights the conflict an individual experiences between obedience to an authority figure and personal conscience. Milgram questioned whether Adolf Eichmann, German high official and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust and his officers were accomplices or were just following orders. The experiment involved “killing” innocent humans by administering a shock. It was finally concluded from the experiment that ordinary people follow orders easily if coming from an authority figure. Subsequently, the authority figure can also misuse their power and autonomy to make irrational decisions.
What role does emotion have in all this? When we are stuck in a situation such as the above, either as a leader or a follower, dig into those feelings. Explore the emotion and check if it is in favor of morality. Aristotle argues that virtues regulate our emotions. Whether it is true or not can we not explore the virtues that we possess, for instance, fear of people different from us by trying to understand these people by getting to know them through their culture and develop courage? Can we not dig into these emotions and find out if they arise out of an old mindset and family belief or is it in line with the current boisterous time that we live in? If these emotions are pragmatic and guide us to a more principled path then surely revelation of these emotions can aid in the situation. Extreme measures are taken to hide emotions in organizations but isn’t it time to change this outlook and use these to our advantage. Leaders could embrace this by incorporating positive emotions such as gratitude in the organization. These emotions can also lead to reciprocal altruistic behavior by persuading the other individual to boost their morale reinforcement further.
Displaying positive emotions help in recreating positive experiences again in life and subsequently, reliving these positive experiences create a kind of adaptability in people, in the sense that negative and unfortunate experiences can be interpreted in a positive way. This is in relation to adaptation theory that suggests that under normal circumstances, people tend to adapt to positive variations in the environment. They reach a state of hedonic neutrality. Increasing gratitude can prevent this fall and people appreciate it even in hard and adverse situations by interpreting it in a more positive light. This means even when an employee is having a rough day at work, the feeling or the remembrance that the employee is with helpful people in a good environment can help them feel better about the situation.
Going back to the story of Hitler and Nazi Germany, the Jews looked different from them. Hitler was bothered by how different they looked and stayed away from them in his younger days. I wonder if Hitler had explored his emotions and questioned his hatred and tried to create a sense of psychological safety for himself by getting to know them, the hatred would not have spread like wildfire. Leaders of organizations could create a sense of psychological safety too by getting to know the people who work for them and create history for leaders of tomorrow by showcasing empathy and gratitude in making positive influences. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place to be if we nourish our human side to harness a future that we would like our future generation to live in?
Hamna Siddique is a career and leadership coach focusing on confidence and personal development.
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