ALLOWING FOR A FEW changes of detail, many executives will no doubt recall a formative experience like this. Late one Friday afternoon an email arrives from someone high up in the organisation. The tone is uncompromising, and the content comes as a complete surprise. The message states that, by Monday morning, a financial analysis and marketing plan is needed for the possible launch of a new product, which another division has been working on.
As is usual on such occasions, the email is brief, open to interpretation, and includes no useful contact numbers or additional information about the product's key specifications or likely manufacturing costs.
All plans for the weekend are cancelled, and the next two days are spent locked in the office with a few key members of your team. Though resenting the imposition and the short notice, professionalism prevails, and somehow the job gets done. By Sunday night, the report is ready and, after a final read-through on Monday morning, you send it off to the director concerned.
Then nothing happens, until you receive a short message on Friday morning asking you to "meet in my office at 2 pm". You turn up armed with a copy of the report and any other data you could lay your hands on, expecting a word of thanks and perhaps a few constructive comments.
Instead, what follows over the next 25 minutes is a "roasting". Apparently, the report lacked detail, included incorrect assumptions, omitted a roll-out plan for Asia, and miscalculated the costs for product development.
The boss is just getting into the supposed mistakes in your plans for third-party distribution, when you finally decide you have heard enough. At this point, emotions take over. Either you point out, with ill-disguised disdain, how hard your team worked throughout the weekend and what it took to meet the deadline, or you sit there dumbstruck, trying to suppress your anger and telling yourself that, if there are problems, they were all caused by the imprecise instructions and ridiculous deadline set in the original email.
Most people dream of taking the first course, but inevitably end up taking the second. They bottle up all the anger, frustration, discouragement and other emotions, nod their head, and maybe even spend the next weekend "fixing" the report to meet the new requirements. After all, the boss is always right, and having to accept that is just part of the job.
These two types of response represent different ends of the "fight or flight" spectrum. The terms essentially refer to how animals respond when faced with danger, but are applicable to the behaviour of humans battling to survive in the modern workplace.
Almost every day, there will be emotionally charged situations in any organisation. Therefore, it is vital to develop the skills to deal with these, since doing so has a direct impact on perceptions of ability and actual performance.
Remember that people who can communicate effectively about their emotions tend to be seen as genuine and trustworthy. Moreover, being open about your feelings on work-related issues can reduce misunderstanding and confusion. Achieving that leads to greater mutual trust, and is the basis for better understanding and stronger co-operation.
Unfortunately, many factors still stop us from expressing how we truly feel at work. There is the culture of the organisation, fear of what others will think, and the belief that nothing will change, no matter how you feel.
Besides that, most of us have been taught to hide our emotions and suppress the actions which would naturally result. The assumption behind this, of course, is that we hide our emotions well. But that is rarely the case.
The best solution is to learn to be emotionally intelligent. That doesn't mean wearing your heart on your sleeve, bursting into tears when you lose a client, or running around the office giving high fives when the month-end accounts balance. Rather, the key is to express your emotions to the right person, at the right time, and to the right degree.
Clearly, if you want to express your emotions at work, this does not have to be done verbally. You can use body language - for example, crossing the arms to show disagreement - a facial expression, or recognised gestures, such as tapping your finger to show impatience. The other person may not comment directly on these actions, but they will get the message.
You also need to become adept at recognising your own emotional state and moods. Remember that every encounter with a board member, colleague or customer creates an impression. Therefore, if you want to make the right impression, assess each situation for what it is and try not to let extraneous feelings intrude.
In addition, you should let the people around you express their opinions and emotions. This improves teamwork and helps create a supportive work environment. There is no need to adopt a formal approach. Often, the best occasions for this to happen are casual lunches or after-work drinks, rather than in team meetings or individual appraisals.
As a leader, you should also make sure not to push your staff to one end or other of the "fight or flight" spectrum. A competent boss knows that a Friday afternoon email demanding a lengthy report by Monday morning will stir anger, resentment and much more. Someone with emotional intelligence would see that and take another more effective and considerate approach to achieve the desired result.
Are You Creating the Right Impression in the Workplace?
Understanding Perceptions How others perceive us will affect how willing they are to work with us. If they see our behaviour and actions as unprofessional, they will hold back or look elsewhere for assistance. If, however, they see someone who appears reliable, hard working and sincere, they will assume that person is also competent, knowledgeable and worth listening to.
Perceptions don't have to be right, but they do matter. When someone is forming an impression, it is usually based on five things: voice, facial expression, body language, dress and vocabulary. Consider these key factors and then ask yourself if you are creating the right impression.
Are They Right? We've all heard about how much our body language tells other people. Leaning forward means we are interested in hearing more, while the degree of eye contact reveals our sincerity or lack of it. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the "messages" you are giving. The way you move gives an impression of your sense of urgency. Gestures can show nervousness or excitement. Your vocal delivery can show authority, while your words reveal your level of knowledge and experience.
Adapting Your Behaviour Effectively expressing yourself in the workplace is an important skill. However, it involves adapting your behaviour when communicating with different people. In general, there are four types in the world of business - analytical, driver, expressive and amiable. When dealing with an analytical person, expansive gestures, excessive energy and overt expressions of emotion may put them off. So, be sure to maintain your composure. Drivers may appreciate a little confrontation, so it may be appropriate to be more direct and talk with more authority. Expressive people like to see someone who can convey enthusiasm. Amiable types want to avoid confrontation and tend to stop communicating when they feel pushed into a corner. The key is to recognise which kind of person you are dealing with and to adapt your behaviour accordingly.