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Monday, 17 October 2011

Emotional Mastery – 10 tips for managing emotions

In recent weeks, I have been reading an excellent book about management called “Conscious Business”, written by Fred Kofman.

Topics included in this book range from leadership and conflict management, to effective communication and accepting responsibility for one’s actions, all of which are brilliantly presented and discussed in great depth.

Chapter 8 illustrates the concept of ‘Emotional Mastery’, and was of particular interest to me, given that much of my work recently has focused on team building and conflict management.

The inability to manage emotions (in particular ‘negative’ emotions) at work is a serious issue, and one that can be extremely damaging to leadership. It is often when we become careless with managing emotions that the dark side of personality emerges. When emotions get the better of us, we suddenly revert to our biologically in-built response to stressors, threats and danger: flight, flight or freeze.

But it does not need to be this way. Yes, emotional mastery requires patience and a great deal of practice, and individual differences play a crucial role when it comes to the frequency and intensity with which we feel positive and negative emotions (the Adjustment scale of the Hogan Personality Inventory is a strong indicator of resilience, for instance). But when deployed effectively, Emotional Mastery can go a long way to prevent lasting damage to our reputation, while co-currently promoting cohesion and understanding at work.

Tips for yourself:

1) Self-Awareness: this implies taking a step back in order to truly ‘observe’ and analyse our emotion(s) with a degree of perspective. What is the emotion(s) we are feeling?  It is important to give the emotion(s) in question space to ‘breathe’.

2) Self-Acceptance:  how many times have you felt ashamed for feeling angry, or jealous? Yet being judgemental about the way we feel is counterproductive. Emotions are hard-wired automatic responses and their presence is outside our control. You can’t help feeling the way you feel, so moving towards true acceptance is cited as hugely useful.

3) Self-Regulation: now that we have taken a step back, understood and accepted our emotion(s), we can learn to regulate them. This does not mean repressing or fighting them, but simply adjusting our response so that it becomes appropriate for our audience and the environment. The ability to regulate your emotions responses and impulses (which again varies significantly among individuals) plays a crucial role here.

4)  Self-Inquiry: this step involves identifying the root cause of the emotion in order to be able to differentiate facts from fiction. Indeed, at the source of many emotions is a distorted perception of how others are treating us, or the ‘real’ message they are trying to convey. Commonly presenting thoughts such as these can lead to distorted perception. Is our emotion justified? Are we misinterpreting others’ behaviours and intentions?

5)  Self-Expression: having understood and implemented the previous steps, we are now better able to express our emotions with honesty and respect (based on true understanding and acceptance of the emotions themselves). When we are not ‘possessed’ by the emotion, it is easier for us to tell others how something they said or did triggered a specific emotional response, opening the door to honest and productive dialogue instead of conflict.

Tips for working with others’ emotions:

1) Recognition: by observing someone else’s body language and behaviour we can make ‘inferences’ concerning the emotions that they may be feeling. Again, the emphasis here is on inferences – it is impossible to read someone else’s mind, so it is important to acknowledge the limitations of our opinions. The very nature of observing how you think somebody may be feeling can lead to open and creative conversation. 

2) Acceptance: this tip can be a real challenge, especially when faced with someone else’s anger. Anger inevitably triggers defensiveness, a normal and biologically logical response (referring again to the flight, flight or freeze human response system). Still, we must accept and validate the emotions of others without judgement. This makes a lot of sense; try to tell an angry person to relax, or don’t be angry, or worse suggest that there is no need to be angry. What reactions do you think this may trigger? Yes, anger levels are likely to increase. 

3) Defusing: it is very easy to engage in a heated argument and become an active participant in its escalation. However, the best reaction sometimes is to not react at all in order to reduce the intensity of the emotion(s).  Escalation can easily lead to increasing the emotion (and the conflict) rather than defusing it. 

4 & 5) Inquiry & Listening: what is the other person thinking? Who/what has triggered the emotions they seem to be experiencing? The key here is to help others express their needs and interests in order to understand their position. We can support others in their emotional expression without sacrificing our own needs and interests.

These tips for yourself and others go some way to help us understand how emotions can be better managed; it is useful to remember however that we can’t live without emotions, nor we can make decisions without them. But, as Fred Kofman eloquently shows us, we can work towards enjoying the benefits and avoiding the drawbacks they may bring.

Andrea Facchini, MSc.
Business Psychologist

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The power of culture and engagement: an apple and its amazing story

Take a look at a company logo. What do you see? An image? A story? A brand? A way of living?

A logo is a powerful thing. Today, after hearing about the sad news of Steve Jobs’ passing I took my iPhone, turned it around and just stared at the apple logo. For the first time, I saw much more than a simple design, an image, or just a brand: I saw an incredible story.

I saw the creation of a visionary leader, decades of hard work, passion, drive, struggles and victories. In essence, I saw entrepreneurialism for what I always intended it to be: bold, courageous, inspiring, innovative, driven by the desire of making the world a better place, without ever losing sight of the end user – our clients. And I also saw a wonderful reminder of the kind of impact that a single human being is capable of achieving within his/her lifetime.


Jobs demonstrated that power and conformity were not necessary to becoming the number 1 company in the world. The almost flat, untraditional organisational culture that he shaped as a leader was so strong and consistent that it became perceptible in every aspect of the business. I found myself often surprised as to how he would introduce the most incredible and awaited products in front of a world audience wearing a humble pair of jeans and a jumper. But it did not end at a board level: go to any Apple store today and you will find an amazing diversity in the workforce, whether this concerns style, age or backgrounds. You will also see the “artefacts” that embody Steve’s vision, style and impeccable standards.

“Impossible” was a word that clearly did not exist in Jobs’ dictionary – he would simply use his influence, drive and determination to make the “impossible”, well, “possible”. Accounts of “working with Jobs”, narrated by colleagues old and new, describe a tough, nit-picking and often temperamental leader – but also a leader who consistently (and unconditionally) lived and worked by his business values.

In this unconditional culture, some may argue, you were either in or out. But clearly he possessed the ability to build and maintain a high performing team, to “drag” people into his vision without compromising on the quality of his work.

But how did he achieve that?

He did not act without integrity. Yes, Jobs pursued near-impossible standards – and never ever attempted to cut corners. But the more he demanded of others, the more he demanded of himself. When projects or products were axed, he shared his reasoning with his colleagues. When saying: “This is the most amazing product we ever made”, he genuinely believed that. Authenticity in leadership is exhilarating, contagious and can be felt across the organisation. Though tough and intimidating at times, he surely “talked the talk and walked the walk”, leading by example.

The Apple story also reminded me why I love the Motives, Values and Preferences Inventory so much. This amazing assessment allows us to identify the key motivational drivers and values of an organisation, a leader, or a team, giving us an accurate, timely and comprehensive picture that helps us (and our clients) work together towards achieving alignment, cohesion and true engagement.

When employees experience the level of engagement described by those who have worked with Jobs, they happily walk the extra mile and put the extra hour in not because they have to – but because they want to. They will go back to the drawing board when their ideas get axed instead of leaving the organisation. When employees work towards a greater, collective purpose individual differences are more easily understood rather than rejected.

To quote a previous Apple employee: “ The quest to make the world a better place doesn't happen by coddling egos or releasing mediocre products. The culture of excellence and attention to detail was rooted at the top”.

So thank you Steve for reminding us that the road to excellence is not an easy one, but one that is so rewarding once we reach our destination. And thank you for reminding us that, while imperfection is a part of leadership, authenticity is much more of a rare find.

But when found, it can really make the “impossible”, well, “possible”.

Andrea Facchini, MSc.
Business Psychologist
Facchini Consulting Limited