Emotions at work

Emotions at work


Emotions colour the world as we perceive it, driving our behaviour and shaping decisions we make – we are human, after all. Advertisers and marketers know this, and tap into it to increase sales.

Everybody knows it, and we knowingly buy into it: it’s part of the deal, as it were.

Emotions at work in advertising

Take for example the annual anticipation around the John Lewis Christmas advert (and yes, ‘anticipation’ is an emotion in itself). See what they did there? We haven’t even seen it, and already we’re getting emotional.

Last year’s was about two friends, a bear and a hare, preparing for Christmas cheer and finding love. This year’s is about two fiends, a boy and a penguin, preparing for Christmas cheer and finding love. The whole thing couldn’t be more formulaic if they tried, but it doesn’t matter, because we love a bit of love in our Christmas ads:

The ad, launched a good six weeks before Christmas, helps us get into the mood by appealing to values many of us share, such as family values, friendship and loyalty, and of course, generosity. John Lewis is especially interested in that one.

Emotions at work – at work

The funny thing about emotions is that while we’re all quite happily crowding around Steve’s PC at work to coo over the cute John Lewis penguin, many of us would feel uncomfortable if Steve then opened the team meeting by asking each of us how we feel about our important project being delayed by three months.

Collectively melting over penguins and hares is acceptable because we are taking a break from work and are having a social moment where we let our colleagues into our personal lives for the length of a YouTube video. We feel connected to each other, and this makes us happy. Then we sigh a final ‘aah, that was cute’, shake it all off and switch back into our emotionally detached professional personas. Work, according to many of us, is a purely rational place requiring us to fire on all cognitive cylinders but few of our emotional ones, if possible none.

Coaching and emotions

Of course, the above is black-and-white and most of us will see more nuance than that, if only because emotions are a personal and subjective experience. Perhaps this is more about emotional literacy than anything.

Take for example ‘Fred’, who is a manager in a large non-profit organisation. Last week he remarked that he never knew what to say when a certain colleague asked how he felt about the meeting. Fred had noticed this colleague always asked everyone this question towards the end of meetings, and wondered about it.

When I asked him why the question was a difficult one, he replied that it made him uncomfortable to be invited into the emotive domain at work. Fred’s personal preference was to keep things rational so he knew where things were, and decisions could be made on well-understood arguments that could be reasoned dispassionately. And when I asked him what was important about that to him, he replied:

‘It’s likely to be harmonious that way, and that makes me happy. And above all else, I want to be happy at work, or I’d have to leave’. 

As he spoke the very words, a glint appeared in his eyes and a big grin spread across his face.

We spent a good 20 minutes conversing about emotions at work while creating an ’emotive landscape’ on the table using cards. Fred had no trouble whatsoever picking out the emotions he draws on at work and recognises in others, and talked me through the gradations he saw between helpful and obstructive emotions at work. When the landscape was complete, he took a picture on his iPad to show his wife.

Making emotions work

While talking and exploring Fred realised that he is very driven to check his colleagues too are happy at work and feels responsible for making sure they can be, if it is in his power to make a difference. His colleague’s motivation for asking how people feel about the meeting suddenly became much clearer to Fred. He decided to try the approach himself and find out if and how this changes the way he can positively influence his colleagues.

I’m curious and excited to find out how he’s getting on at our next session.


For more about the eMotive Cards I use in my practice, visit www.westwoodcoaching.co.uk

emotive cards: working with emotions


Emotions at work

Team Coaching vs Facilitation

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Team coaching and facilitation are closely related disciplines. Are there any real differences between the two, and if so, what is helpful to bear in mind when deciding on one or the other?

A question of definition

The meaning of the term facilitation is often assumed to be understood. A look on the Association of Facilitators site for example leads to excellent content including a Code of Practice, but no definition is given. Elsewhere subject matter experts such as John Heron are quoted to describe the dimensions of facilitation or the styles of facilitation.

This is what I mean by facilitation:

Facilitation is aimed at helping participants to explore and develop with the help of a neutral outsider – the facilitator – who brings a structured approach to the process.

Team coaching is defined by Hawkins and Smith in their excellent book Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consultancy as:

“enabling a team to function at more than the sum of its parts, by clarifying its mission and improving its external and internal relationships.”

Team coaching or facilitation?

First let’s deal with the obvious difference: team coaching always concerns a team, whereas facilitation doesn’t necessarily – it can also be a group of people coming together for the purpose of the session alone. Examples are conferences or workshops.

Let’s consider a team to be a collective of people who not only share a common goal, but are co-dependent on each other to achieve it, and (are expected to) behave accordingly.

It’s true that it isn’t clear where team coaching ends and facilitation begins. Let’s start with some similarities:

Team coaching

  • takes a structured approach to the session
  • may use tools
  • works to agreed objectives and desired outcomes
  • requires a coach to participate


  • takes a structured approach to the session
  • may use tools in session
  • works to agreed objectives and desired outcomes
  • requires a facilitator to participate

The clue is in the role of the outsider guiding the session along: coach and facilitator. Let’s look at those a bit more.

A coach is a professional who is skilled at eliciting helpful and focused conversation with individuals or groups, including teams. Coaches may use different approaches and techniques to stimulate this conversation, including tools which are also used in facilitation. They may work as a one-off with a coachee or group, but usually have a relationship lasting over two or more sessions.

A facilitator is skilled in guiding group processes to allow helpful collaboration, such as meaningful conversations to take place. As with team coaching, sessions are designed and prepared in advance, to allow the effective use of tools and group activities in the available time. It is not uncommon for facilitators to deliver one-off sessions focused on a specific goal or objective.

The difference: frequency, focus and relationships

As the above implies, a key difference between team coaching and facilitation is in the frequency of sessions: team coaching usually involves more than one session.

A second difference is in the the aims of team coaching compared to facilitation: team coaching  focuses on the team itself: its effectiveness, the barriers to success, how it functions and where it can use its strengths to maximise performance. It requires a different kind of participation from team members, who will be invited to evaluate their own part in the team’s success in various ways.

Facilitation very often focuses on specific aspects of a team’s role and responsibilities: the annual strategic review; target-setting or planning for the year ahead. Sessions can have a clear theme as well, such as leading change, and fit in seamlessly with a training or development programme.

A third difference is in the nature of the relationship between coach/facilitator and participants. The latter can more easily bring expertise into the session without undermining their relationship with the group, while a coach will try to avoid being seen as the expert so as to remain on an equal footing with the team.

One-off vs ongoing: a caveat

I don’t consider this to be a hard and fast rule, as I have both delivered one-off team coaching and ongoing facilitation. I always try to find out from clients whether the topics they need external support with are of an ongoing or unique or ‘seasonal’ nature. The way I will go about supporting a team will be quite different depending on the answer.