Have you ever seen a leader authentically invite employees to openly talk about whatever they’re feeling, even when it’s anger directed toward the leader or the company? Chances are you haven’t, because most leaders would consider this inappropriate or losing face, and they avoid it. However, these leaders miss out on a great opportunity to stimulate creativity and innovation.
Emotions arise to warn us that, if we’re interested in progressing, there’s something we need to deal with. When a threat appears in our environment, emotion alerts us of its existence and sparks adaptive action that allows us to resolve the threat. In short, emotion is the experiential connection between the problem and its solution. Between employee cynicism and employee engagement lies anger. Between a competitive threat and the generation of new capabilities lies anxiety. But this works only when we embrace rather than resist the emotion.
When a leader creates a space for even the most intense emotions to be processed, it allows the release of enormous energy and provides fuel for creative action. The genuine airing of emotions helps us dissipate the fear and anxiety, and provides access to a confidence that naturally translates into effective action. It helps us understand the source of the emotion in a new way, granting access to new information – about the self, others, and the situation – that was not accessible prior to the full experience of the emotion. When an emotion is processed to completion, a heightened energy and vitality arise, as when you’ve finally been freed from a debilitating burden.
But we’ve all seen negative emotions take over and create emotionally toxic work environments. How can we contend with emotions in a way that is progressive and transformational rather than let them overwhelm us?
Leaders intelligently handle intense negative emotion when they create a safe space for them to be expressed, with the stated intention of resolving them. This means authentically inviting the full expression of any emotion, even if it’s anger directed towards the leader, followed by an acknowledgement of what was said and no repercussion against the employee. Because the leader intentionally creates the space, this signals that he/she is ready to listen and bring resolution, and is confidently up to the task. This allows them to save face, as long as they can truly listen and remain non-defensive. Many times expression is all that’s needed, whereas other times the expression prompts action. My experience is that when I’ve done this as a leader, it has prompted some of the best shifts in thinking that have led to the most innovative outcomes.
In business we think emotional intelligence is controlling emotions, to ensure that negativity doesn’t impact performance. However, it’s not intelligent to avoid negative emotions. Avoiding negative emotion may feel more comfortable in the short run, but it becomes debilitating in the long run, as the emotion continuously clouds the creative process. Instead, if we’re willing to tolerate the discomfort of feeling the emotion, we can use it to generate a potent innovative vitality in an organization.
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, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.Share