We all have been given the gift of GUILT by our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and even passers by. How many times have we tried to not give in to our child’s request(I am using a very mild term – request) in a public place because we don’t think the child needs the stuff that he/she is asking for and the child starts throwing a tantrum! Passers by give you those looks which seem to say “What a mom is she? Putting her child to such pain” and you feel the guilt of being a monster mom!
Each of us have two distinct sides – a rational side and an emotional side. The rational sides deals with thoughts while the emotional side deals with feelings. Let me ask you a question – ‘What are you feeling right now?’ Simple question, right? But many, in fact I would say most of us, struggle to give a proper response.
As part of a check-out process in our workshops, we often ask this question. And the responses often are ‘It was a good session’ or ‘We should do these sessions more often’. When pointed out that we are seeking feelings, the responses change to very standard ones such as ‘good’ or ‘happy’. Interestingly, thoughts are sometimes disguised as feelings – ‘I feel I have learnt a lot today!!’ or ‘I feel I will practice this regularly’!
If you are one of those workshop participants, known to you or otherwise, various emotions are going through your body during the wrap-up as you reflect back to answer that question . Maybe you feel engaged or excited with what you learnt. Maybe you feel more confident to apply the learnings. Maybe the training inspired you and you are more hopeful of the future. Or you could be grateful to your manager for sending you for this training. You could also be feeling calm or rejuvenated.
Equally natural would be for you to feel certain negative feelings. You may be confused after the training about next steps. Or apprehensive whether the learnings will work in real-life. Or tense about an escalation that happened while you were attending the workshop. Or just plain tired or exhausted.
Human beings are emotional by nature. While all those above emotions are very much present in each one of us, we have conditioned ourselves to suppress the feelings. Hence, we are often not in touch with them. Recognizing our emotions is not something that we are taught growing up. Worse, emotions are given a low second place below the rational. It earns a bad name. At work, if a co-worker is upset over something, we try to calm him down by saying – ‘Don’t get emotional’ or ‘Get a grip on yourself’.
Thanks to all of those reasons, we struggle to name what we feel. It is only when we are mindful and reflective and take a moment to recognize what we are feeling; will those start surfacing again. But you might ask - why is it important to be in touch with our feelings? It is because only when we are more aware of our own emotions, are we able to empathize with the feelings of others and thereby build more meaningful relationships.
So, here’s a small exercise for you - just take a brief pause from what you are doing and think what you are feeling, right now. Feels good?
What else are you feeling?
It’s an old story. It goes something like this – “Once there were 3 masons. Each one of them was asked what they were doing. The first man shot back - ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The second man said, ‘I am building a wall’. But the third man, brimming with energy, replied with pride ‘I’m building a cathedral’.
I just love this story. Hidden in its simplicity is a very powerful message of attitude, purpose and the ability to see the big picture.
Three men, three different attitudes. It was determining the level of enthusiasm and pride they took in their job. Being able to see the end result, rather than just the task as hand creates a strong sense of purpose and motivation to excel. Purpose has the power to transform not only the attitude about the work we do, but the quality of our work as well.
The other interesting thing I like about this story is that all the three men were doing the same job! They were, at the end of the day, laying bricks. We often hear people at work complain about their jobs saying they are looking for ‘interesting’ work. Maybe this story will help them see that everyone is aligned to the same end goal and essentially doing similar work – i.e. tirelessly building the organization brick-by-brick, one day at a time.
It’s 9am on a Monday morning. You’ve had a relaxing weekend and charged up for the week ahead. You walk into the conference room for the staff meeting and find people are smiling and talking about how their weekend went. As others stroll in, they instantly feel the energy in the room.
Then, the boss walks in looking down and tense, and even before he says a word, his body language itself is enough to suck the life out of the room. The conversation in the room comes to a sudden halt. Sounds familiar?
Role of Mirror Neurons
Like viruses, emotions can quickly spread and are contagious. We can get infected by emotions and one person's emotions and behaviours can trigger similar emotions and behaviours in other people. This phenomenon is called emotional contagion and we just saw that play out.
Emotional contagion is explained by mirror neurons in our brain which are involved in empathy. What Neuroscience is uncovering is that by observing another’s actions, the same area of the brain becomes activated that would if we were performing that action ourselves. In other words, the same neurons fire when we perform that action or merely observe it. It is as though this neuron adopts the other person’s point of view.
Implications for Business
We often come across managers who complain that their teams have all the resources but lack energy. What they probably fail to realize is that the team’s energy is a direct reflection of the manager’s energy, thanks to emotional contagion. When a manager is calm, happy and energized, those qualities get reflected in his team.
Leaders, because of the position they hold, exert a disproportionate impact on the moods and feelings of their team members.
So, if you are a leader, the question becomes – Are you aware how much your emotions and behaviours are causing ripple effects in your teams and organizations?
Early in my career, working as a management trainee with Cadbury’s in Thane, life was good. Although I was in a factory with shifts, I did not mind the shop-floor mainly because it was chocolates that I was supervising! It did get a bit boring and routine at times, which is why any high-profile visitor to the factory was a big thing for us. One such day, we were all turned out nicely waiting to welcome our senior vice president to the factory. His visit was delayed and then we heard the story – the car which was sent to the station could not find him and our SVP took an autorickshaw to make his way to the factory! This story spread like wildfire and before long, everyone in the factory right up to the junior level workers were talking about it.
What is fascinating is that story spread far and wide, to the Head office and offices globally, even beyond the company and I have heard people talk about it for years afterwards. What intrigues me to this day, is the amazing power of such simple storytelling. What is about such small incidents that go ‘viral’ and do wonders for organizations to convey their culture and unique identity, whereas huge sums of money spent on corporate branding and communicate seldom have that level of impact.
While storytelling is powerful and there is science behind it, what makes these stories spread so far and wide and that too by word-of-mouth? A recent article on leadership by Harvard Business review namely, “Followers Don’t See Their Leaders as Real People” by Nathan Washburn and Benjamin Galvin, has some a very interesting insight into this. According to them, people in companies view their senior leaders as more of mental images and less as people. While these leaders may be real people to only those they interact with such as their peer group and their secretaries, but to the larger group of people outside their immediate circle, they are more imaginary than real. Employees form a mental picture of their leader based on emails, tweets, videos and town-hall speeches etc. The mental picture gets more solidified with other tidbits received mostly in the form of stories as was the case with this SVP taking an autorickshaw.
While listening to these stories, people look for moments of honesty and sincerity in them. And because these stories come from informal channels such as friends and colleagues who are perceived to be unbiased, there is a high level of trustworthiness which could be lacking in formal channels. In other words, it is the word-of-mouth transmission itself that gives it credibility. As these stories spread “they take on a life of their own”.
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