Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

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Orgational Behaviour: We Need More Respect For Emotions In Business

November 2004

It’s holiday time, so is it OK if we talk about emotion?

It seems the more educated we are, the more we try to rely on rational argument and extrinsic motivation to convince people to change their attitudes and actions about such things as diversity, generational differences, client service and client acquisition, succession planning, and flexibility – just to name a few emotionally-charged issues in the workplace.

But the crux of the matter is emotional, behavioral, sometimes instinctive. Yes, a good business case is definitely required, but that’s only half the story.

It’s interesting that, for example, lawyers now spend a great deal of money, time and effort on jury selection testing and testing of trial presentations, knowing that psychological factors are key. Yet they ignore the behavioral and emotional side in governing their internal affairs and supposedly client-focused practices. We see the same dichotomy in architecture, where architects have to deal with the emotional responses of the public to their designs and structures, in financial services, where professionals know that market behavior is driven by emotions, and other fields that are selling their knowledge and analytical abilities.

Students studying for advanced degrees tend to choose the number-crunching and factual courses over ones that teach soft skills, thinking that’s what business demands. Consequently, schools give them what the students think they need rather than responding to the needs of employers for excellent interpersonal skills and team-oriented individuals. While there is truth in the saying that “knowledge is power,” much crucial knowledge is not about knowing facts, but rather identifying and interpreting emotional needs and motivations as I emphasize and illustrate in my programs on building influence skills and coaching on consultative selling. Some of the smartest people tend to neglect the emotional side of people they are trying to sell to or persuade – with less than satisfying results.

Think of the organizations in which you felt most motivated to do your best. Most likely the leaders were not only smart and effective technicians, but were able to establish emotional connections with the people in their organizations – their internal clients – as well as with business clients.

Emotions and the chemistry they produce are a fundamental part of sales decisions, conflict resolution, consensus building, commitments, loyalty and retention. If we don’t identify people’s fears and emotional needs and address them in providing solutions, we will miss the mark and keep circling around the target.

Why is it that so many professionals fear showing emotion in business? To show the side of ourselves that makes us interesting to each other? That defines much of who we are and why we achieve? Many people would answer, “It’s a gender thing.” They’d say that the workplace has been dominated by the “male” values and definition of success (primarily in economic terms) and respects less the “female” side of each of us, male and female, exemplified by what they’d call “touchy feely” concerns. I dislike using gender stereotypes, as many men have a stronger so-called “female-side” than some women do. Many male clients have conveyed to me over the years the frustration that "nobody talks about feelings around here.”

I can only hope that a younger generation of professionals and managers will have the courage to encourage and support a more complex package of desired behaviors that gives people permission to consider “feelings” as well as hard currency. For many of the strategies, techniques, and decisions made in the workplace are, indeed, based on emotions and understanding emotions. Typically, they are not spoken about in emotional terms and are played down in the definition of what makes for success.

Here’s wishing you joyous holidays and much to be thankful for.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2004. All rights reserved.