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Why exploring emotions at work really matters

I work with a lot of people in business, who care about understanding the impact they have on others. One thing they must be great at, is getting to know themselves really well. To do that they have to be up for being open, vulnerable, and exploring the range of emotions they exhibit.

I’ve found that in some working environments, this can be more of a challenge for people to embrace.

For example, on a £billion Offshore Wind Energy installation, a strong safety culture and team ethic requires these traits. Yet often, the characters working in these high hazard environments instinctively see themselves as tough, capable, together, and driven, and certainly not always vulnerable enough to actually explore their emotions.

What’s interesting is that emotions are all around us: every moment we are expressive in some way, whether this be helpful or not. These are important signals of how individuals and groups are doing, which is tied to how a team operates and how the job then gets done.

So, when a crew is installing an offshore wind turbine, in order to stay safe, one thing that really matters is whether they genuinely care about one another. Do they care enough that they would intervene when they saw a teammate acting unsafely?

In the best teams, there are few barriers to exploring how we are with each other at work. We are deeply social creatures, and we all care for other people. It’s not taboo to talk about how much we love our family and friends or things in the world that are precious to us – it’s personal, and it’s essential in business.

So the challenge is to work through these psychological barriers and group power dynamics: to sail past our own voices that may say ‘Dare I speak up? Will I be laughed at if I say I care about a colleague? Will it be too weird to talk about the quality of our team relationships? How open and vulnerable can I be?’

When I work with groups, when we are sat in a simple circle, some often say that being “open and vulnerable” is somehow “therapy” or “counseling” and therefore the initial reaction can be to defend against doing the work.

Some of my opening perspectives with any work are:

“This work may feel and look therapeutic - but it ain’t therapy – it’s business”.

“There are no pink fluffy toys here, and there are no trees to hug”

“These are not soft skills, this is the hard work – the human work – that you already know how to do.”

From an anthropological view, this is not dissimilar to how tribal elders in ancient cultures would deal with issues around a campfire: stripping back everything except the conversation. They reflect, listen, and come up with the answer by “being together” fully – which we are all capable of.

Question - How powerful are you at exploring different emotions at work?

Steve Holliday
Leadership & Organisational Change Specialist, Lacerta Consulting Service Ltd