Don’t leave your emotions at home

BY Francois Wilbers
Work Dynamics’s Managing Director and Executive Consulting Psychologist
Francois Wilbers established Worked Dynamics in 1993. He holds a M.Com. (Personnel Management) (Cum Laude) and MBA degree, and is currently completing his Ph.D in consulting psychology.

The positive role of emotions in business

Emotionality is often portrayed as the opposite of rationality in the workplace. Managers or supervisors will often caution employees to leave their emotions at home or to keep their affective experiences at work within a relatively neutral range. Likewise the role of emotions in decision making attracts little attention from researchers. Decision making is viewed as a cognitive process of gathering information, formulating various alternatives, considering the pros and cons of each alternative and choosing the alternative that will yield the most positive consequences.

Ongoing debate

The debate over whether the subjective experience of emotions is functional or inappropriate for a specific situation is been ongoing. Some will argue that feelings are a source of unwanted bias and thus need to be properly regulated. Others maintain that feelings play an adaptive role in decision making and benefits personal well-being. Whether emotions are functional or dysfunctional for decision making is largely dependent upon how people experience those emotions and what they do about them during decision making. Individuals can experience intense emotions during decision making while simultaneously regulating the possible biases induced by those emotions, both of which may positively contribute to their decision-making performance.

How the mind functions.

It is important to understand how the human mind functions when it comes to decision making. As a minimum, the human mind comprises three basic functions: cognition, emotion and volition.


Elements of the cognition function includes analysing, comparing, assuming, inferring, and evaluating. The cognitive function is concerned with conceptualising, reasoning, and figuring things out.

The emotion function deals with our internal monitor, which informs us whether we are doing well or poorly in any given situation. Human beings experience a broad array of emotions from happiness to sadness, from empathy to apathy, from hope to despair, from love to hate, etc.

The third function, our ultimate driving force, is the formation of volition. It consists of our agendas, purposes, goals, values, desires, drives, motivations and commitments. This is the mind’s engine, which revs us up and moves us forward towards some action, slows us down, or causes us to back away from an action.

Although these components are theoretically distinct they operate in a dynamic relationship with each other. They consistently influencing one another in mutual and reciprocal ways. Wherever there is thinking, some related drive and emotion exist and vice versa. Research has shown that decision makers who are not aware of their emotional state at the moment of decision making tend to make poorer decisions due to the emotions that they are ignoring. Instead decision makers who are more aware of their emotions and being able to describe them clearly tend to make better decisions.

Despite the fact that cognition, feeling and volition are equally important functions of the mind, it is cognition, or thinking, which is the key to the other two. If we want to change a feeling, we must identify the thinking that ultimately leads to the feeling. If we want to change a desire, again it is the thinking underlying the drive that must be identified and altered, if our behaviour is to alter.

Negative and positive emotions.

There are different emotions we can ascribe to each and every decision we make. One is a positive emotion, and the second is a negative emotion (see table 1). The positive emotion is the emotion we strive towards to reach a decisive successful decision. The negative emotion causes indecisiveness or in most cases our procrastination, which could lead us to a wrong conclusion.


Table 1

Positive Emotions Negative Emotions
Having courage is the beginning stage for developing total self-respect. Without courage or determination there would be a tendency for one to become disillusioned or afraid of all unknown factors.
Virtually all annoyances begin with resentment, which is to say resentment of yourself and eventually resentment of others. Once you function angrily, insensibility prevails. Once you allow another to irritate you, you place yourself into a position of apathy or unconcern towards the situation.
Without courage one cannot be empathic. Therefore to be empathic or to have empathy we must be able to be determined the needs of others as well as our own needs. To feel is incredibly momentous because without the ability to feel it is impossible for anyone to have total faith in themselves.
Irritating situations breed coldness or unconcern for yourself and others. The combination of anger and apathy causes loss of understanding and determination which is detrimental to the achievement of even the lowest positive reaction to decisions or circumstances. Apathetic emotions cause egotistical responses.
Displaying personal faith requires a great deal of courage and empathy. Understanding yourself creates a trustful environment in which you can expect others to believe in you as well. Having faith in yourself gives the message to others to trust in you.
Being conceited is developing self-fulfilling prophecies which in most cases are negatively inclined. The self-fulfilling prophecies are caused by your unconcern and resentment of others. Conceit creates despair or sadness and produces wishful thinking patterns and normally hinders your ability to have faith.
Developing a sense of freedom requires a vast amount of personal faith and courage, but once you do have faith and courage your understanding of all that surrounds you is amplified. Freedom can never be taken lightly, especially when you seek independence; not independence particularly from others but independence from your own limitations.
Haplessness is caused by annoyance or unconcern for yourself. Sadness is nothing short of giving up on yourself. Needless to say pessimism establishes doubt which will create further hardships or sadness. Disparity reduces the ability of seeing situations as they really are. The cause of despair is the outcome of conceit, and having a jaded view of life. If despair is the outcome then it means that you are prepared to wallow in your emotional quagmire and foolishly believe that the problem you are facing will rectify itself.
GratitudeBeing able to praise yourself requires freedom or independence from others. Acknowledging you have reached certain goals in your life develops enhanced courage or determination to succeed in other endeavors. You will win the personal recognition you so desire by understanding that your only limitations are the limitations you perceive to be there. DoubtA principal cause of doubt is your own inability to act upon events in a spontaneous manner; particularly with anger, frustration or resentment, but in the main, because of personal indecision. Doubt and fear are the most common negative emotions you can display.
Having hope is a result of previous recognition or praise received. Having faith in yourself develops a sense of security. Being courageous and understanding develops stronger confidence.
Feeling envious or jealous is attributed to your own concerns about the inability to be as successful as others. Being envious of others revolves around self-doubt; your personal negative vanities; and your lack of concern for yourself.
The thoughts of pleasurable excursions will give you hope and make you be thankful for all your past understandings and determination. To be joyful it is necessary to trust your inner-most feelings. Believing in yourself and others creates happiness and lets you triumph over adversity.
Fear is one of the most critical negative emotions we can experience since it causes the more profound and dangerous negative emotions such as hate, guilt and greed to come to the surface. The cause of the emotional anxiety is the outcome of your past failures. The past failures were brought about by not properly preparing yourself beforehand and believing life is fatalistic
After overcoming many of the odds which were placed in your path, you are now striving to express the love for yourself and the love of others through the actions of courage and understanding, faith and hope, freedom and joy.
Wanting something more than what it is worth, or wishing something which is not required produces the emotion of greed. Desires if used in a constructive way, can reap huge benefits, while desiring something without paying the cost of the desire leads to guilt. The omnipotent impatient attitude of greed places you in a stage of total despair and renders the need desire useless, which then produces the final outcome of guilt.
Compassion, being tender and being charitable, having sympathy but not degrading ourselves. Once you achieve the feeling of compassion, reaching the ultimate stage of total self-respect becomes easy.
Walking around with guilt in yourself is one of the most unpleasant negative emotions. Guilt cannot be overcome without realizing you cannot change the past but you can definitely change the future. Nursing an emotional hang-over which guilt is, is self-flagellation and serves no purpose but to lead you to the lowest negative emotion which is hate; hate for yourself and hate for others.
The feeling of self-respect can very rarely be measured in words because respect for self and for others can only be obtained or felt after mastering the negative emotions, the nine other positive emotions and pride.
The lowest type of hate is self-hate. Hate for others is only a reflection of yourself. Blaming others for your follies will never rectify the problems. The more a person hates, the more self-destructive he or she becomes. The bitterness, acrimony and loathing of yourself results in total self-destruction. The hostility attracts other negative circumstances such as revenge by those who seek the vulnerability of hateful creatures and these creatures become the victims of their own circumstance.


Removal of barriers

Decision making in the real world is characterised by time-pressure, vague and competing goals, extreme consequences, complex information integration and uncertain information does not follow normative models and perhaps should not. To be in touch with their feelings and emotions in organisations, managers and leaders may need to carefully re-examine common beliefs, norms, languages, and practices that devalue, discourage, and constrain experiencing and expressing their feelings and emotions. These cognitive, normative, and behavioral barriers in their organisations should be removed, which might involve a tremendous amount of re-education and unlearning.

By attending and differentiating between emotions one can reduce the possible bias that emotions may introduce during decision making. This will require knowledge of the different emotions, their underlying meanings, and the relationships of the emotions with each other. Within the business context managers and leaders may need to carefully re-examine common beliefs, norms, languages and practices that devalue, discourage and constrain experiencing and expressing emotions. These cognitive, normative barriers should be removed and managers or leaders should be capacitated to describe and differentiate negative feelings during decision making.

Case study

An organisation went through a very difficult time and the management realised that the only way that the organization would survive was to cut down in its activities. This realisation was simply the result of a cognitive process of gathering information, analysing, comparing, assuming, inferring, and evaluating. The expected consequences of cutting down the activities of the organisation included job losses and retrenchments. Naturally this needed to be done in accordance with the Labour Relations Act to avoid any claims against the organisation by affected employees. Once again a very rational argument within the cognitive domain. When management opts to follow this path the outcome is having employees with many years of experience unemployed and, with this, the associated negative experiences for the employees and their families.

In this instance, emotions such as empathy and compassion for the affected employees were expressed and evaluated in the decision making process. The decision was to assist the affected employees to acquire practical skills and set them up in their own small businesses. A project manager was appointed to assist these small business owners to market their product and services, as well as providing other management support. The organisation undertook to sponsor the remuneration of the project manager for a period of five years. These businesses performed so well that they managed to become self-sustainable and they could afford to pay the project manager themselves after three years. Everything considered, the decision where emotions were dealt with appropriately was a better decision than if it were based only on rational arguments.