Sunday, March 10, 2013

Harnessing Emotions at Workplace: The Model of Intelligent Emotional Balance (IEB)

Emotions are strong feelings that people have.  Emotions can be positive as well as negative. Typical emotions, positive and negative, are happiness and sadness, liking and disliking, calmness and anger, politeness and bluntness, confidence and fear, friendship and enmity, trust and mistrust, kindness and jealousy, gentleness and aggression, so on. Given that organizations are nothing but groups of people, it is but natural that emotions are a part and parcel of a typical workplace. The emotional profile of a manager or a leader, in fact, gets identified as a dominant characteristic of a manager or a leader as his or her management and leadership style, and becomes a visible and consistently felt experience for the larger organization. There is often a misplaced view that in organizations negative emotions must necessarily be eliminated and positive emotions mandatorily embedded at the work place. This is a simplistic view of how business processes and organizational behaviors work.

There have been several theories of emotions from the centuries’ prior days of Aristotle to the contemporary days of Stephen Covey, highlighting the need to understand human emotions and for achieving mastery over emotions. In fact, the phrases “emotional balance”, “emotional quotient” and “emotional intelligence” have spawned several journal articles and management books on how executives could achieve mastery over their emotions to be effective at the workplace. Important as these are, there is a need to view emotional management at the workplace in terms of intelligent business process management rather than only as an introverted framework of behavioral correction. Fundamental to the concern on management of emotions is the fact that emotions could affect rational thinking and actions. The paradox of human emotions is rendered more complex when organizations are expected to be embodiments of logical and rational approaches in the conduct of their businesses on one hand, while being driven by hues of emotion such as aggression and passion in achieving superior performance on the other.
For most part, emotions need contexts to express themselves. The contextual basis of emotions is that the gap between expectations and accomplishments sets the tone for emotions. If the leader is a stickler for perfection, a perfect process or a perfect outcome from his subordinate makes him or her happy while a shoddy process and outcome makes the leader angry. In the same interaction, if the subordinate knows what perfection is, he or she would display confidence or fear while presenting the process or product. From the simple example that has been considered, it is clear that emotions emerge from the gaps between that exist between expectations and outcomes. The other contextual part of emotions is that people come into organizations as bundles of emotions themselves. In addition, people tend to be of different personality types which will invariably influence how people emote at the workplace. Many employees also do not adequately understand the nexus between their individual roles and performance and corporate goals and outcomes, and anticipate rewards independent of performance. The alignment or gap between career objectives and career growth also leads to emotional dynamics.
Emotions are sharpened by the way they are expressed.  The culture of expression, if it is positive enhances the helpful impact of positive emotions and moderates the erosive impact of negative emotions. The culture of expression, if negative, achieves exactly the opposite. The expressions of verbal language, positive or negative, are further accentuated positively or attenuated negatively by the body language, positive or negative. The part that communication plays in moderating or amplifying emotions is not well understood. Effective and controlled communication is part of emotional balance in organizations. Emotions are not necessarily correlated to circumstances. Crisis situations, contrary to perceptions of chaos, helplessness and stress, may actually bring out positive emotions of sharing and caring, and of strength and stability amongst the team members. On the other hand, luxurious outcomes may bring out negative emotions of envy and jealousy, and of mistrust and aggression among them. The paradox of the contextual perspectives is that emotions are impacted by a number of internal and external contexts.
It is also incorrect to assume that positive emotions are always beneficial and negative ones detrimental. If team members are not mature enough and instead are subservient to emotions in appraising performance, performance management would be at a discount. In such cases, people may get formatted into emotional archetypes as they and their supervisors lack the ability to differentiate task delivery from emotional wrapping. Emotions, whether positive or negative, are likely to introduce skew, bias and halo effects in relationships if emotions are not objectively and discriminatingly expressed or understood. Emotional balancing may help the groups manage positive or negative performance in a stable manner only if emotional expression is indexed to the context of task delivery of individuals, teams and organizations. If managers and teams, as well as cross-functional peers ensure clear target setting with joint ownership, clarity and alignment on objectives and resources and evaluation criteria, the chances for emotional upheavals, positive or negative, would be minimized. 
Another hypothesis could be that industry context would determine the emotional texture of an organization. Market and customer facing organizations may be postulated to be more emotionally sensitive compared to manufacturing organizations. Domains like advertising and consumer research may be considered to be more emotionally interactive than others. In practice, however, emotional sensitivity and responsiveness is related more to expectations-accomplishments gap and expressions-communications competency levels, independent of any domain or industry. The organizations and team members of the movie industry which is dominated by emotive artistic elements in all its aspects, for example, has all the interpersonal emotional fallibilities as any other industrial organization; if at all, the movie industry seems to have an even greater level of emotional dynamics. 
Tolerances and controls
As in engineering design, the theory of tolerances plays a vital role in emotional management too. People, in the organizational context, must observe tolerances in mutual expression of emotions. While not all emotions may be appropriate in an organizational context, there are a few which have relevance. While a gentle, trusting, caring, sharing and joyous emotional outlook may enhance positive energy in a team, excessive levels of such positive emotions could be counter-productive. While fun at work is desirable, it cannot be only fun at work to the detriment of stretch and challenge at work. At the same time, an aggressive, evaluative, demanding, consolidating and somber emotional outlook may bring out the right amount of fear and adrenal rush in the face of adversity or complacence. While fear is the key to compliance and achievement, fearful authoritarianism cannot be endorsed to the detriment of creativity and innovation at work. Clearly, only if teams are able to play upon their positive and negative emotions within fine tolerances that are synergistic in organizational context, emotions can be helpful.    
At the core of intelligent emotional balance lies the ability to understand the emotional sensitivity of self and others, and develop the ability to control the emergence and expression of emotions in organizationally appropriate manner. This approach does not mean that people should or would lose their spontaneity. It merely recognizes that an organization has certain primary performance metrics to deliver on a day to day basis. A culture of emotional sensitivity, in fact, helps the team modulate performance expectations and delivery achievements. The model of intelligent emotional balance has three vital components; the first, understanding the importance of a person’s own and his team members’ emotional proclivities,  the second, an understanding of the tolerances within which mutual emotions become synergistic rather than antagonistic and the third, a competence to control emotions to be supportive of a virtuous organizational culture. An ability to retain rationality, objectivity and logic in the face of exciting opportunities and depressing setbacks alike with the just right touch of humanism helps spread the positive vibrations of energy across the organization.
IEB model in practice
An organization can achieve intelligent emotional balance when its leaders practice the optimal business processes that enable a sense of fulfillment in day to day work and thereby enabling appropriate emotional balance.  The optimum business process does not end merely with objective setting or questioning but incorporates problem solving where required.  A leader who sets a challenging technical task for his subordinate logically expects the subordinate to deliver, failing which finds it rational to take the subordinate to task. The IEB model, in this case, expects that the leader does not merely stop at expressing his unhappiness but also empathizes with the subordinate’s incapacity to deliver and sets about to work with the subordinate to develop a solution. Once the subordinate develops the solution to the leader’s satisfaction, the leader joyously celebrates with the subordinate, thus wiping clean the earlier unhappiness and opening a new chapter of collaboration.  In another case where the subordinate succeeds in terms of delivery, the leader celebrates with the subordinate first but goes on to prescribe a higher level of challenge for the subordinate that leads the organization onto a path of continuous achievement and fulfillment.
A purely emotional view of achievement leads to a sense of complacence and distances the participants from the competitive scenario that exists in the outside business world. Setting expectations appropriately, reinforcing competencies commensurately, providing resources adequately, evaluating results objectively, coaching for improved results empathetically, learning from failures confidently and celebrating successes with humility provides an optimal intelligent emotional balance in an organization. The leaders and managers can help facilitate institution of intelligent emotional balance by being themselves role models of the following: (i) equidistance from, or equal attachment to, functions and people, (ii) adaptive of rational and emotionally balanced objective business and communication processes, (iii) focused on competency development and task delivery, (iv) controlled and titrated in experiencing and expression of emotions, (v) learning openly from setbacks and failures, and (vi) optimally celebrating successes with humility. The foregoing leadership model would help institutionalize the broader Intelligent Emotional Balance (IEB) model on a sustainable basis in the organization.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on March 10, 2013

1 comment:

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