Dealing with emotion at work

HEC Paris’s Marc Beretta discusses the place of emotions in the workplace

Emotions are more and more present in the professional environment but are we ready to welcome them and make the most of them?

How often is it that senior executives, men or women, say: “When I had my collaborator crying in front of me, I was lost… what should I do in such a case? Should I get up or sit? Speak or keep quiet?”

This very often reveals real distress in the executive, who is faced with an expression of emotions perceived as inappropriate… because ultimately, at work, one is there to deliver and not to pour out on our own feelings. This is exactly what most leaders think, as they are uncomfortable with both the emotions of others and their own. They wonder about ‘what to do’ while the response should be more around ‘how to be’!

It is healthy and humane to feel emotions at work

In La Force des Emotions, Christophe André and François Lelord, contemporary French psychiatrists, define emotion (from Latin emovere: ‘put in motion’) as “a sudden reaction of our whole body to an event, with physiological and cognitive and behavioral impact”.

Dealing with emotions at work is like leadership or playing the guitar: it is Art which could be taught, but some of us are more talented than others. Daniel Goleman, contemporary American psychologist, creator of emotional intelligence, defines it as “the ability to recognize one’s own emotions as well as those of others, and to know how to manage them in relationships.” This is required in leadership today. This is what is being taught at the HEC Paris Executive MBA, in particular during the co-development workshops where participants share they vulnerabilities. At work, we deliver results and we manage emotions as well!

Choose the right time, the right intensity, the right words to express your emotions

Contrary to popular belief, emotions cannot be controlled; it is the way of expressing them that can be controlled. In fact, when it comes to expressing emotions, before ‘doing’ anything, just ‘be’ in contact with one’s own: step back, breathe deeply, welcome and accept (i.e. ‘it’s there!’) your emotions. Then find the appropriate time to express them (orally or in writing) to whom it may concern. Take some distance from your emotions; don’t let your emotions drive your life!

Questioning yourself around ‘why did I feel like that?’ can be inspiring as well. Why does John irritate me like that? What irritates me in John’s behavior may be a part of myself that I have not yet settled…. otherwise it wouldn’t upset me! Just think of it! “My enemy is my master” as we say. At the end of the day, John gives me the opportunity to work on this small part of myself I didn’t want to take care of. “Whoever does not look at his shadow is watching his destiny,” said Karl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist (1875-1961). 

Of course, dealing with our emotions is not that easy… It may take a life time… I think freedom is the ability to get rid of our impulsions imposed by our emotions. Emotions are vital but be careful not to be the slave of your emotions. Business is opening up more and more to the expression of emotions and it is necessary to get prepared for it; what about you: are you ready?

Written by

Marc Beretta

Academic Director at HEC Paris

Directeur académique à HEC Paris, il y intervient sur les thèmes du Management, du Leadership et du Développement Personnel auprès des programmes Executives depuis 2009. Executive Coach à l’international depuis près de 15 ans, il accompagne depuis 2012 les participants de TRIUM, le Global Executive MBA de HEC Paris, New York University (NYU) et London School of Economics (LSE), dans leur évolution professionnelle et personnelle ; il y est membre du corps professoral (Faculty).

Diplômé de l’ESCP, il est certifié « Master Coach » (MCC) par la Fédération Internationale de Coaching (ICF), « Coach Professionnel » par le RNCP, praticien MBTI® et Experience Change®. Il  a été formé à la psychologie (Analyse Transactionnelle).

Il croit que de petits changements peuvent faire une grande différence.

Chapitre extrait de l’ouvrage collectif ‘Négociations d’hier, Leçons pour aujourd’hui’ (Éditions Larcier, 2014), sous la direction d’Emmanuel Vivet.


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