Our emotions are an essential part of two key aspects of management: deciding and inspiring. Clearly identified emotions can enable us to raise our awareness, develop our communication and refine our decision-making processes. However, emotions can also create stress, conflicts and suffering at work. How can we develop our emotional skills to be better managers?
When you have a better understanding of the emotional mechanisms at play in a group, you are better able to anticipate, manage and integrate them in a constructive manner, thus leading to better performance, cohesion and well-being. This vision is supported by numerous scientific studies as explained by Hugues Poissonnier, a professor of strategy, management and purchasing at Grenoble Ecole de Management.
"While it's easy to understand and implement the benefits of collaboration when all is well, it can become complicated to do so during a crisis. Yet, it is all the more important to collaborate during a crisis! It's the key to greater resilience in the face of challenges. In concrete terms, collaborating during a crisis can be illustrated by, for example, a buyer who reaches out to a supplier to understand their situation and reduce payment delays. Doing so however, requires convincing financial directors of the long-term benefits of such an approach," explains Hugues.
The primary role of fear
In an anxiety-provoking context, feeling threatened and uncertain creates fear. Once fear is in place, we tend to behave based on our reactions. "When fear is present, the natural tendency is to focus on whatever is perceived as the imminent danger. So we focus on short-term survival factors. And this, despite the fact that a truly resilient process will need to be co-constructed and cover a wider angle of perspectives." In such a context, how can we cultivate emotions through positive interactions with team members?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist, writer and meditation teacher, mindfulness is characterized by the effort to "consciously bring one's attention to focus on the experience that is taking place in the present moment without judging the situation." "We can say that mindfulness helps us 'unknit' the links between sensations, thoughts and emotions," adds Hugues. Christophe André, a psychiatrist and leader of mindfulness in France, explains that: "Mindfulness is an extremely powerful means of regulating emotions. It helps us take a step back from the emotions we're experiencing and it modifies the impact they will have on our vision of the world and our thought process." The French voice of nonviolent communication, Thomas D'Ansembourg, also highlights that: "Mindfulness translates to regular pauses throughout the day to take a 'psychological shower'".
"Cultivating emodiversity means leaving space for all of the emotions that occur throughout a day and identifying and accepting them as such," explains Hugues. "The two mistakes to avoid are: first, to try and cover up negative emotions, and second, to substitute one emotion for another. In most cases, conflicts arise because of anger that is expressed in an undesirable manner, and we will generally find fear to be the underlying factor."
Accepting what is
"Acceptation is an alternative to suffering, not action," highlights Christophe André. In other words: "To adopt a stoic vision enables us to distinguish between events that are dependent on our wishes and those that are not. Oftentimes, difficult emotions stem from elements that we cannot control and thus led to psychological exhaustion," adds Hugues.
Reducing mental overload
Another important challenge is for managers to reduce their mental workload. "This can simply mean standing up and walking a few steps to help energy flow and become aware of one's emotions," underlines Hugues. "The philosopher Nietzsche used to say: 'all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking'." By developing all of these emotional skills, managers can take care of their team members' health and help prevent burnouts.