Article (November-2018)

Articles

To be rational & logical, learn to be calm

Mridula Sankhyayan

Designation : -   Head learning and development

Organization : -  Flipkart

01-Nov-2018

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How do you describe the concept of workplace emotions and how far it affects your professional and career growth? 
MS Emotions are an integral part of living beings. They always exist sometimes under surface and sometimes expressed. The dictionary definition of emotions is - "A strong feeling deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others."
In the 20th century, Paul Ekman identified six basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise) and Robert Plutchik eight, which he grouped into four pairs of polar opposites (joy - sadness, anger - fear, trust - distrust, surprise - anticipation). At work also we feel all these emotions. However, we may choose to express them or not. As you can see from the list of basic emotions, it's a mix of positive and negative emotions. For e.g. If you were expecting a promotion but your colleague got promoted instead of you, you may feel happy for them and may be angry or sad because you did not. Expressing happiness for your colleague is a good workplace emotion but expressing anger may not be the most healthy and constructive emotion to display. Leveraging positive emotions makes the workplace environment a healthy one for people to communicate, collaborate, build trusting relationships - qualities that are integral to ones success at work.
In reality is it possible to control your emotions all the time when you know you are spending more time at your workplace than your home?
MS I think the first thing to understand is that not all emotions need to be controlled. Only emotions that may hurt you or others at workplace need to be controlled. Anger, jealousy, sadness, disgust, contempt are the kind of emotions that need to be controlled for sure.
As we build our emotional intelligence, we will be able to manage our emotions at workplace and outside much better. The journey starts from self awareness i.e. understanding ones emotions in real time as they happen. For e.g. in a meeting if my colleague does something to show me down, I may feel anger rising at the nape of my neck or in the pit of my stomach or in the clenching of my fist or jaws. Being aware that I am getting angry is the first state to better manage your emotions at workplace. Your body never lies and it always tells you where the emotions sit.
The next step is self - regulation i.e. being able to control the emotions that are not good to express like in this case you may want to raise your voice and may want to accuse your colleague in retaliation. Or, you may choose to listen to them completely understand where they are coming from and then say your piece with calmness and facts. This will make you come across very mature compared to your colleague. With practice one can control emotions at workplace to a large extent.
In today's work world where multi-generational workforce is working together, what approach would be best suited for emotion management, since all these generations have different expectations and varied thought process?
MS The workplace is getting more and more diverse and a global village. Diversity at workplace exists not only in terms of generations or age but also in terms of region, religion, experience, education, culture, gender etc. As human beings, we feel emotionally and mentally secure with like - minded, familiar group of people. The discomfort with diverse groups or people that we do not completely know or understand brings a range of emotions indifference, apathy, fear, insecurity, excitement, wonder so on and so forth.
So the approach in my mind is to remove the barrier of unknown by getting to know the multigenerational diverse workforce. We can do that by listening empathetically, communicating, socialising more and genuinely making an attempt to understand the diverse set of colleagues at workplace. When we understand people, are better able to respond to them and better manage our emotions too.
A young colleague at my workplace was being highly demanding in terms of the work that he will do or not do, the senior leaders he wanted to interact with, the projects that he wanted to be part of and the opportunity to do an assignment abroad. These were the expectations within the first year of joining. His manager found these expectations highly unreasonable and her reference point was her own career journey. When she was that young it took her 5 years to even get into a meeting room with a senior leader. Unless you did 2-3 years at the firm you wouldn't even ask for an assignment outside of India.
So here are the three things one can do to manage emotions with diverse colleagues :
1. Empathy : The first thing is to be able to see the world from their point of view and not constantly use our own filters and references and apply them to others. Empathy is a great skill to exercise in managing emotions.
2. Listen and learn : Ask questions to understand the other person and their emotions and aspirations. This will build greater understanding and mutual respect and consideration for each other.
3. Bring your maximiser attitude : Think how you can make them successful instead of what reasons you can give them to say NO to their aspirations. People understand genuine efforts when they see one. Then whether you meet all their aspirations or not, they know that you genuinely are trying to make it happen. This builds a feeling of oneness, support and trust.
What is the role of HR in creating an environment for maintaining an emotional balance at the workplace?
MS HR can play a critical role in providing the right resources and support system to employees. Here are a few examples of that :
1. Employee engagement program : Engagement programs help build a deeper connect with the organisation. IT helps take away every day monotony or stress at work and provides opportunity for us to engage with the organisation and colleagues at a deeper level. For e.g. engaging employees through offsite and team outings or conversations about their career and growth or fun days family days. These are just a few examples.
2. Employee assistance program : As our lives get more and more busy, our lifestyle takes a beating. The stresses add up and there is no time or place to release or manage stress. But if the organisation offers EAP services or counsellors, medical check-ups, wellness benefits, it helps employees stay healthy and happy and be more productive and engaged at work. It also builds a stickiness to the organisation.
3. Employee Relations : Creating a bias free workforce, where employees can share their concerns and bring to light inappropriate actions or behaviours of other colleagues or managers, makes it a healthy and inclusive place to work. Many manager misbehaviours, sexual harassment complaints, frauds etc are managed through this function and it not only manages the reputational risk for the firm but helps build an inclusive workplace for employees.
How do you see the leadership styles evolve to cater to the emotional needs of the employees? Which leadership style would work best in today's times?
MS Leadership styles are about different strokes for different folks. As a leader, if you are able to understand your employees well and shift your leadership style to what works best for them, then that is the most effective leadership style. You cannot be a directive leader with all your team members all of the time. Sometimes depending on the person and situation you may want to affiliative, or directive or collaborative or empathetic leader etc.
I will place a premium on empathetic leader as this means you truly make an effort to understand your team member and act according to their and organisational needs.
As a leader you may have high expectations, setting high standards of performance and reprimanding team members when the job is not done well, however when an employee is facing a personal challenge and you can listen, empathise and provide them adequate support, that goes a long way in winning the trust and respect of that employee.
A woman in my team once was struggling to balance work and home as she was going through a messy divorce, she needed time off often to run to the lawyers and court. In that being understanding and planning in advance for back up so that work also does not suffer helped a lot in winning a great employee over. After a couple of times, she herself became very proactive and ensured that work always was taken care of in her absence. Her commitment to her job and organisation went up multi fold. She got her promotion and became a manager, a manager who is very empathetic towards her team and supports them with compassionate understanding.
While emotion is a very human concept, do you think technology does have a role to play in creating effective emotional management practices at workplace?
MS Can't comment. The only thing I will say is when it comes to emotions humans will always have an advantage over machines.
Tell us an incident which required you to exercise great control over your emotions while at workplace and your learning from it. 
MS Once I was in a performance review conversation and pitching one of my team members for a promotion. I had painstakingly made a case for his promotion with facts and achievements and readiness for the next level. However, the committee did not entirely support my views as they thought the person had an attitude problem.
Having worked very closely with this individual I knew he was super smart, very capable and confident, highly invested in the firm and his career. He was highly emotional and did not hesitate to speak his mind or express his emotions.
He certainly needed to manage his emotions better but I believed that should not be reason enough to hold him back from his promotion.
Given I felt so strongly about this, my emotions came out aggressively in the calibration meeting. I felt the committee just did not want to see the merit in this person and they just wanted to shoot him down as he was a bit rude to a colleague in a couple of instances.
I found it difficult to back off despite most of the committee not seeing him ready for a promotion. In retrospect, had I been calmer in presenting his case and less emotionally charged I would have made more sense to a lot of very rational and logical thinking people in the room. My emotions got in the way and also got the better of me.
The person eventually got promoted the following year and is doing extremely well.