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The Covid-19 pandemic has tested our emotions with fear becoming the new normal for many people. Researchers say that stress from worrying about the pandemic has impacted people’s cognitive abilities and risk perception.

That’s why learning to regulate our emotions during times of stress is incredibly important. So where do we start?

The health and wellbeing of your people, and how they feel is as important, if not more, than values and behaviours.

Name it to tame it

Strangely enough, it starts with learning how to recognise or perceive what we are feeling because if we can’t name it then we can’t tame it.

Imagine for a moment you’re abseiling up a rock wall. You get halfway up, stop momentarily and look down. In that moment you realise you’re afraid of heights and paralysed with fear. Gasping for air, heart rate racing, fuzzy head, and that oh so sick feeling in your stomach.

This is a fight or flight moment that gives you two choices – give up by sliding down the rope and feeling a moment of relief, possibly tinged with sadness and regret OR decide what emotions will help you reach the top.

Say you choose the second option, you close your eyes momentarily, slow your breathing and visualise what success looks like for the remainder of the climb. You decide to only look up and take one movement at a time. You muster courage, focus and inner calm and peace along the way. You visualise yourself in a happy place doing something you love and can see yourself standing at the top. And with that you climb, to the top, and succeed, feeling dizzy with relief and a sense of gratifying achievement. Not to mention euphoria because you overcame the fear.

Why this story? Because this is what work and life can feel like when we’re in the race. Fearful of too much work or too many responsibilities and too little time. Impossible deadlines and demands resulting in stress and sleepless nights.

But the stories we tell ourselves are not set in stone. They are simply stories accompanied by some strong emotions, often resulting in our own ruminating downward spiral.

So, as you begin a new work year, what do you need to feel to successfully get through the challenges surrounding you? Inner calm, peace, gratitude for what you have, anticipation for what you will do next, focus, bouts of concentration and so the list goes on.

You have a choice, which one will you choose? Not just for yourself but for those around you, your family, friends, co-workers, and team?

Because the importance of emotions in our thinking, sets a framework for how we interact, and that has a massive effect on the culture we cultivate.

Why feelings matter at work

It’s a new year, a time for reflection, for prioritising, for starting fresh as it were. So, ask yourself this, what do you want your people to feel at work? How will you behave to get your people to feel what you want them to feel?

Most organisations underestimate how their people are feeling or should be feeling at work. They rely on values and behaviours to influence how people think and behave but often ignore the other half of it – how your people feel at work – this is what we call emotional culture.

If as a society, we struggle to talk about emotions how can we expect to do it at work? Often, we’re too busy or just a little scared to place a focus on feelings, especially in the workplace.

Feelings however have a very tangible impact on the health and wellbeing of your people, and are as important, if not more, than values and behaviours. Why? Because they increase self-awareness and empathy towards others, and they’re contagious (in both good and bad ways).

‘Catching feelings’ isn’t just a term reserved for our personal or romantic lives, it also applies to the workplace because if everyone catches the same feeling this can have a massive impact on culture and cultural change.

Cultivating culture based on emotions

So how do we go about cultivating change in the workplace based on feelings when, in the past, we may have focused solely on values, purpose or behaviours?

According to Daniel Goleman , an American psychologist who helped to popularize emotional intelligence, there are five key elements to it:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Emotional intelligence is present in all of us. But you have to train it like a muscle in sports. Even small efforts can have a big impact. The more you, as a leader, manage each of these areas, the higher your emotional intelligence.

Simple steps you can start with when your team return to work can include:

  • Leader’s role modelling appropriate behaviour. What does this mean? Practising expressing feelings and allowing for mistakes to occur
  • Building a culture of trust and practicing emotional intelligence skills gives teams a space to acknowledge, feel and express more positive emotions in the workplace. Plus sharing emotions, particularly uncomfortable ones build trust and vulnerability. How?
  • Make sure employees feel valued – this means allowing them to share their emotional state and validating/valuing what they feel by saying thank you
  • Make feedback routines fact-based – invite feedback by asking how they are doing and what do they think and feel
  • Help employees learn to separate themselves from the emotion they are feeling i.e. I am angry vs I feel angry
  • Building your teams emotional intelligence using tools like the MSCEIT emotional intelligence test to build self-awareness
  • Being present and listening more than you talk – by making time to connect with your team to build trust and positive relationships your team will become more open-minded to the potential outcomes of negative emotions

Emotional culture not only influences employee satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, it also influences “hard” measures such as financial performance and absenteeism. That’s why for larger cultural change projects or problems it makes sense to get help from a third party who can work with you to create a safe space where emotions can be explored, and trust can be built.

If you’re looking to support your leaders to grow the emotional intelligence of their team through coaching and facilitation, or to measure the trust and culture of your team using analytics such as LSI or MSCEIT, then reach out! Because we know big change happens little by little and we’re committed to helping you change the practice of leadership for the greater good.

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