Build Trust by Owning up to Your Emotions

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TrustworthyWe often think we can get away with denying how we’re feeling. How often do we pretend we’re doing fine when things aren’t running smoothly? But no matter how good your poker face is, other people can detect your emotional state simply by consciously becoming attuned to it. So don’t deny what you’re feeling. If your words and actions aren’t congruent with your emotions, you’ll be perceived as disingenuous, or untrustworthy.

This reminds me of the time that my boss, George, called me into his office and said he had just received an angry complaint from one of our largest customers. He explained the customer’s concerns and asked me to address them. I could detect that he was upset by the customer’s phone call, yet he acted calm and cool, as if he wasn’t fazed at all. I finally said “Well, I’m sorry you had to receive such an upsetting call first thing Monday morning.” He immediately snapped “I’m not upset”, but I knew he was. My trust of him instantly went down a notch. If he couldn’t own up to what he was feeling, what else was he being dishonest about?

It’s great if you can authentically remain calm and cool in the heat of the adversity that inevitably creeps into business environments, but most people can’t. If you can’t, it’s time to realize that you’re not fooling everyone, even if you’re a pro at hiding all emotion from your face and body language. Researchers are learning lots about group emotions, and they’re confirming what many of us have known all along: it’s possible to accurately detect the emotions of others by reading them somatically. This works especially well when the other person is experiencing intense emotions.

Emotions are contagious in a group, automatically passing among people who are in nearby proximity or close communication. Emotions can be transmitted among a group even independent of action and words, and this usually occurs without the awareness of those involved. However, when a person stays mindful of their own emotional state, not allowing it to be affected by others, and at the same time consciously becomes aware of the emotions of others, they can accurately read others’ emotions. Their nervous system literally acts as an antenna tuned to the emotions of others, and they can detect how others are feeling.

This underlines the importance of being authentic, with congruence between how you say you’re doing and how you’re actually feeling. If you’re not congruent, you run the risk of losing the trust of co-workers and clients.

As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a thought leader sharing ideas on how to create a more just and peaceful world. She is also a CIO, and in this role she has led large organizations with hundreds of employees through challenging times and major transformations.
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  1. Carin Laurie  May 20, 2013

    Hi Jackie, having just read your Nuragroup article and your thoughts about the ‘incongruent’ boss, I had a thought…

    When our congruent response is dismissed by the other it isn’t just that ‘trust’ becomes an issue… it is as if we are being dismissed/devalued in our humanness. And that, surely, has one feeling devalued?

    We have this misconception that, in the logical, analytical, business world the logical and analytical prevail. But… I have my doubts.

    Transactional Analysis (I am not a practitioner but I find the concepts useful) talks of the problems which arise out of ‘crossed transactions’… scenarios where, for instance, one person is in Adult mode (you with boss!) but the other meets that with, for instance, Parent mode (that boss!).

    The only way out of those crossed transactions is via congruence.

    And, yes, it is hard work!

  2. debra castrinos  June 7, 2013

    neurobiology a neuro sciences. try receiving a type of bodywork called the Trager@ approach. sign up for three sessions. this type of work is starting with the body in order to reach the mind. it will change an entire organization, in order to focus on real problems and not get emotions involved.

  3. Abigail G  June 16, 2013

    Great advice Jackie! Thanks for sharing. I find it more easier to ‘fess up’ rather than come up with elaborate explanations and/or denials.

    I suppose I prefer this option because I’ve been told I have an expressive face. So why bother hiding or denying??

  4. Vinod Srivastava  June 16, 2013

    If we have respect for emotions of each other, no problem will be created. Emotions are seeds generated from outer situations. For me, I have always keep emotion that I am a good persons having ocean of love and affection. When I intracts to anyone, these tranmits and I get the same as a reflection. Thanks Jackie for nice posting and give me chance to express ourselves. This may be learning for others.


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