Getting Emotional for Managers

By Lain Ehmann

Popular wisdom says that in order to be successful in business, you need to be completely objective and without emotion in your interactions. But emotion plays a critical role in being a successful leader, argues Terry Pearce, author of Leading Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic Communication (Jossey-Bass, 2003). “A lot of people believe that business is a science, and that’s true. But the people who do business aren’t science; they’re people,” he explains.

The need to effectively deal with emotions is particularly important for salespeople, Pearce says. “In selling, so often we focus on the fantastic benefits of what we have that we rarely connect with the person on the other side of the table,” he says. Because people want to buy from people they like, trust and connect with, your ability to recognize and acknowledge another’s emotions is a critical part of your success.

The first step to increasing your emotional intelligence is learning to identify your own emotional responses. Knowing what emotions you feel and naming them is a critical skill that governs your ability to respond, instead of react, to circumstances. If you’re in a meeting and the head of the marketing team makes a statement you find inflammatory, instead of clamming up, attacking or fleeing, take a second to breathe in and understand what you’re feeling.

Then, says Pearce, acknowledge that emotion in your own mind – I’m feeling angry – before responding. You might even want to acknowledge that emotion externally, he says. This short pause allows you to respond from a stronger position, rather than an automatic, reactive one, and often means the difference between saving, or damaging, a relationship.

After you’ve learned to identify and acknowledge your own emotions, the next step is acknowledging the emotions of those around you. By affirming how other people feel, you’re forging a strong connection with them that moves your relationship from potentially adversarial to cooperative, and raises the level of trust between you.

Why spend all this time on feelings? Because, says Pearce, emotions are operating in the background whether or not you give them their due. It’s like gravity. Even if you decide it doesn’t exist and try to ignore it, it still governs the responses of the world around you. You’re better off acknowledging emotions and working with – instead of against – them.

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