Emotions at Work

Yesterday I came across an article by Stever Robbins on the HBS site that talks about handling strong emotions at work. Progress!

I wrote a little piece for stickyminds a while ago, First Things First. My premise was (and is) that believing emotions have no place at work doesn’t make them go away… ignoring emotions cause them to slurp out in odd and unexpected ways. Our brains are wired for emotion… so what part of our brain would we leave at home if we checked our emotions at the workplace door? My piece looks at acknowledging emotions so that people can actually focus on the work.

Stever’s article looks at a more volatile situation. The situation he describes is this: There are 3 VPs and one is promoted. The other two aren’t. What happens next isn’t pretty: This has led to resentment among the other team members. The fallout has been demotivation horizontally and vertically.

Emotional fallout – anger, jealousy, resentment – aren’t reserved for overlooked VPs.

These emotions can bubble up at any level. I see this a lot when one person is promoted from within a group. At best, these feelings are transitory. People deal with it and move on. At worst, one person holds on to his resentment and turns his anger towards the person who was promoted:

Sarah was promoted to manage the group of developers she’d worked with as peers for three years. John, one of the developers, believes that he deserved the promotion that Sarah received. He starts looking critically at everything Sarah does. When Sarah tries work collaboratively with the team on setting priorities, John interprets her actions as trying to get other people to do her job. He speculates on how he would do things and judges Sarah harshly when she does things differently than he would. Pretty soon John is tearing Sarah down to other team members and snipping at her in meetings.

If you are managing a group where you see this happening (whether it’s related to a promotion or not), consider Stever’s advice for working through the emotions.

But what if you recognize yourself in this story?

Shift the focus off the other person and see what’s happening for you.

Start with the facts: some other person gotten a promotion.

Look the meaning you’re making of the facts. What is the story you are telling yourself about the situation?

What feelings do you have about the situation?

How do you feel about having that feeling?

What happens if you tell yourself a different story?