The traditional view that professionals must mask emotions and appear balanced and in control at all times in the office is being challenged by the findings of neuroscience. Emotion in fact plays a much larger role in business decisions than most of us would care to admit.
Indeed the question of whether emotion has a place in the office is a moot one. It IS there – the key question is how should we deal with it?
Neuroscience is providing insight to why we react and behave the way we do – and leadership would do well to consider some of these findings.
The nature of decision-making
A famous neuroscience experiment on a man whose brain’s emotional centre was inactive demonstrated that decision-making is not possible without emotions. Even basic decisions like what to eat became impossible.
So emotions are essentially signposts for courses of action; they point out the right direction for us to take.
We do not retain information well without emotion either. We make emotional connections to facts, opinions, objects – practically everything! If there is no emotion, there is no engagement and things tend to go ‘in one ear and out the other’.
This demonstrates that denying emotion its rightful place in the make-up of a professional is not just unrealistic; it is counter-productive.
The need to express
The need to express one’s self is one of the most basic human needs; to do this effectively we must create a workplace where people are comfortable to do this.
Most work environments aim to diminish the role of emotions; to keep emotion outside the door in meetings. Neuroscience tells us that this ‘masking’ of emotions is detrimental to productivity and positive results.
Trying to keep one’s emotions in check can be like controlling an elephant. Without the right understanding of the beast, the right training, and some controls in place, the elephant has the power to take the upper hand at any time.
Leaders are therefore better off accepting that emotions do exist, but providing people with the tools to diminish their impact. Clearly we cannot let emotion run wild and take over – an elephant can cause havoc after all; accept their power and learn to deal with them better.
‘Labeling’ of emotions is one strategy that helps people keep control of their emotions. Being able to identify and name emotions means it is less likely that they will hijack our thinking and lead to rash decision-making.
The balancing act
Of course we need the higher thinking, rational, logical aspects of the brain to make optimal decisions; but it is a mistake to think that this is the only part we need. Without an active ‘limbic’ system (which is the centre of the brain that controls emotion, behaviour, and long-term memory) we become useless automatons unable to make a decision.
Neuroscientists estimate that over 90 percent of behaviour is generated outside of consciousness; which means that we’d better get used to the idea that emotions play a critical role at work, and we should start introducing better ways to deal with them.