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