I disagree. I’ve introduced Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory and discussed the power of positive (and negative) emotions at work with business people. And lived to tell the tale. Here’s a five-step version of that story that I use in coaching business people:
- Discuss the BENEFIT of emotions. Use research and explain Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory briefly and stress the application to business. One thing that businesses are always looking for is the ability to “do more with less.” Using positive emotions at work is a way of doing just this – because positive emotions create extra psychological, social, physical and intellectual resources for relatively little outlay. You want resilient or creative employees who can solve problems and build good relationships with colleagues? Then try developing their positive emotions.
- Discuss the BENEFIT of the theory applied to business. One great way of doing this is to use Fredrickson and Losada’s research into positive emotions and teams. See Marcial Losada’s article here for further information. Make sure you understand the butterfly model and can explain what it means; saying ‘it’s very complex’ or ‘I don’t understand mathematical modeling, but this is what you need to know…’ doesn’t cut it. If you leave it out, use some of the simple ratios to explain the science instead.
- Help people ASSESS their experience. To get coaching clients to start thinking about their own experience of emotion at work, introduce them to Carr’s circumplex model of emotions. Better still, overlay the circumplex model with Loehr and Schwartz’s energy model (Fig. 1).
- Ask them to identify which quadrant they spend most of their working day in. Or what typically happens to move them from quadrant 1 to quadrants 3 or 4. Or how important it is to use the quadrant 2 to restore balance, reflect and learn.
- The conclusion many of my coaching clients reach is that they spend too long on the left hand side, especially in quadrant 3, and not enough time on the right hand side, especially quadrant 2. [Ask yourself how much time you devote to reflection and learning, for example – typically this is what gets squeezed out of our busy work schedules].
- Ask them what their typical coping strategies are, or what they do to change their emotional state – when in quadrant 4, do they overeat, smoke or binge drink, for example? When in quadrant 3, do they lose their temper, shout or act aggressively? There are countless questions you can put to your coaching client to get them to really think about how they use emotions at work, and how they sometimes let emotions get in the way of performance.
- Ask about their EMOTIONAL TONE. Get your coaching client to start thinking about what they do which positively or negatively influences the emotional tone of the team they work in, or their organization as a whole. Ask what they can do, in the heat of the moment, to adopt a meta-position, from which to view and evaluate their emotions and behavior objectively.
- Make things CONCRETE. This step is about making the work done in steps 3 and 4 more concrete. Usually I don’t ask coaching clients to complete it immediately after step 4, because they often like to take time to reflect, and possibly have a few days to observe their emotional selves ‘in action’ in the workplace. Remember, when you’re trying to change behavior, awareness is more than half the battle.
The Emotions-at-Work Process
Here’s an outline of the process. Ask your coaching client to:
- i) identify an emotion that they’ve felt at work recently. This can be positive or negative.
- ii) describe what it was about the work that caused this emotion.
- iii) describe what it was about the work that caused the work to cause the emotion (this is where it gets to sound a bit like that nursery rhyme ‘The house that Jack built’!).
- iv) explain the immediate and long-term consequences of their emotion or causes of the emotion.
- v) explain what they could do to enhance or decrease the emotion or the causes of the emotion (depending whether positive or negative). What constructive coping strategies could they adopt?
- vi) explain what they could do to change the work which causes the emotions (either to enhance or decrease the emotion).
- vii) create new goals based on (v) and (vi).
Having done this exercise, they’ll be far more aware of their emotions at work, as well as have more constructive strategies for dealing with negative emotions, or maximizing positive ones. Personally, I don’t think emotions, positive or negative, need to be kept in the closet at work, in fact, there are advantages to putting them under the microscope like this. But you need to take the heat out of the discussion, and give business people the opportunity to explore their emotions dispassionately, setting goals which will enhance their performance. This exercise is just one of many ways to do this.
Providing you show real benefits, that pink and fluffy subject of emotions can be transformed into serious business.
Carr, A. (2004). Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Human Strengths. Hove. Routledge.
Fredrickson B. L. & Losada M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60, 678-686.
Harris, C., Daniels, K. & Briner, R. (2002) Using cognitive mapping for psychosocial risk assessment. Risk management: An International Journal, 7-20.
Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.
Watson, D. & Tellegen, A. (1985). Toward a consensual structure of mood. Psychological Bulletin, 98 (2), 219-35.