Volume 84, March 2008: Emotion in the Workplace

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2008 ISSN # 1545-8873

“People are entitled to joy in work.” — W. Edwards Deming

“The true formula for success and happiness is the development of an intelligent mind surrendered to an intelligent heart.” — Kenneth A. Miller, MD

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create, or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” — Ansel Adams

“We know too much and feel too little. At least, we feel too little of those creative emotions from which the good life springs.” — Bertrand Russell


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Creating productive emotional workspaces.
  • Cultivating emotional intelligence.
  • Assuming the role of coach, not psychotherapist, with employees.
  • Routing negative energy in a positive direction.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

The experience of work is saturated with emotion. Yet, as leaders, we tend to duck it, quell it, or expel it, rather than deal with it. Let logic and rational thinking prevail!

Appropriate emotion can create positive morale, team spirit, and productive results. We all must learn to express feelings without fear of reprisal. Neglect of emotion depersonalizes – one becomes their function (a role person, not a whole person).

Leadership thus has the duty to learn emotion management skills.

Frequently Asked Questions

“What emotion management skills are you referring to?”
Daniel Goleman (2006) has introduced a term that captures the skill set – called emotional intelligence (EI). EI is defined as the capacity to effectively perceive, express, understand, and handle your emotions and the emotions of others in a positive and productive manner. It is about connecting with others, and with yourself on an emotional level. People who possess a high degree of EI are more successful in relationships and are viewed as more effective leaders.
There is a link in Educational Opportunities below, that will allow you to test your EI.
“Why are emotions frowned upon at work?”
The American, task-oriented, can-do mentality discounts emotions. We have separated logic and emotion, when in fact, most decisions are made on emotion and then presented in a rational mode.
Ashworth & Ronald (1995) hold that this pejorative view of emotion has led to four institutionalized mechanisms for regulating the experience and expression of emotion in the workplace: 1) neutralizing, 2) buffering, 3) prescribing, and 4) normalizing emotion. In contrast, they argue that emotionality and rationality are interpenetrated; emotions are an integral part of organizational life, and emotions are often functional for the organization.
“Are there particular emotions that are on or off limits?”
They tend to be grouped as a whole. Research by Kramer & Hess showed that many employees do not want their co-workers to express any type of strong emotion – positive or negative. Their studies found that the only “appropriate” way to manage negative emotions at work was for employees to hide or “mask” their emotions. Positive emotions also needed to be expressed in moderation. The reason? In order to maintain what they call “professionalism.”
I do believe we should set some reasonable boundaries. Emotional behavior is unhealthy when it damages relationships, is abusive, out-of-control, or toxic. Unsuitable remarks, uncomfortable topics, gossip, and back-stabbing are some other examples of off-limited behavior.
“How does the experience of emotion differ in jobs?”
Katherine I. Miller named four types of emotion on the job:
  • emotional labor (e.g., flight attendants, restaurant waiters)
  • emotional work (e.g., nurses, counselors)
  • emotion with work (e.g., what makes coming to work worth it, or the reverse – callous treatment at work)
  • emotion at work when our lives intrude (e.g., 9/11, death of a loved one)

Miller has concentrated much of her recent work on the emotion of compassion. Compassionate communication is simply “saying the right thing in the right way.” For her, compassion involves three components: noticing, connecting and responding to a person. Compassion is the attention we give emotion.

“Do you follow an outline in dealing with emotion?”
Connect in appropriate ways: surface it, honor it, and explore it, rather than let it plop.
  • Identify the (emotional) message.
  • Confirm your understanding of it.
  • Validate their right to feel.
  • Ask if they have a request.
  • Respond to the request in an appropriate way.

Exercises and action items:

  • Take the emotional intelligence quiz cited below.
  • Consult your EAPs for help with specifics, like anger management or grief work.
  • Discuss emotional expression with your group and healthy ways to channel the energy.


How to train managers and coaches in emotion management: Emotion Management and Coaching.

How emotionally intelligent are you? Take this quiz: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?.

Know how to handle your own experience of emotion and conflict: Emotions in the Workplace.

Key Associates offers training in leadership, coaching, and conflict management, including “How to Deal with Difficult People” and “Threats of Violence.” Call for customized training packages.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

The social sharing of emotion and humor: Emotions in Organizational Behavior.

Expressing emotion improves productivity and morale: Don’t stifle emotions in the workplace.

Keyzines on related topics: Stress Reactions to Terrorism and Major Disasters, Dealing with Difficult People, Personal Change, Stress Management, Mindfulness, and Constructive Confrontation.



Buy MK’s latest book!