Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

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Learn To Respect Emotion In Business

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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 "touchy feely" concerns. I dislike using gender stereotypes, as many men have a stronger so-called "female-side" than some women do.

I can only hope that a younger generation of professionals and managers will have the courage to stand up for 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. However, they are not generally spoken about in emotional terms, and are played down in the definition of what makes for success.

Here are some of the places emotions are central to business.

First of all is Commitment. Why does a firm, "the practice," exist? Why are people spending their time there? It has to be more than money for an entity to survive long term and for people to stay in the profession. Real commitments are emotional ties, not merely obligations. Commitments are what people stand for. Unless all an individual attorney stands for is a dollar sign, his or her commitment has a substantial component of psychological gratification.

Leadership. Any firm that is successful long-term has effective, perhaps even compelling, leadership. 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 in the clients interests but also were able to establish emotional connections with the people in their organizations. They probably conveyed caring, pride in their colleagues, passion for their work and outside causes, etc. They could stir personnel at all levels with their vision of the possibilities to be achieved together.

Management books today describe theories and examples of trust-based leadership and other-based leadership. Leaders, as differentiated from managers who implement and may or may not have leadership qualities, can motivate their people toward achievement.

Even leadership based on fear is an emotional experience.

Conflict Resolution. Whether resolving conflicts for clients or within the firm's confines, emotions are often at the center and are perhaps a more pivotal factor than the logical or factual arguments that may start the conflict. The key to successful resolution is often that the parties trust a "mediator" to deal with their feelings and sort out the issues fairly. Whoever is serving as the mediator must listen beyond the surface interpretations for the emotions and make sure they are dealt with in the resulting agreement. This is equally true in business transactions, mergers and acquisitions.

Consensus Building works much the same way. Whenever there are issues about which people differ, the differences are based on interpretation of outcomes or personal taste or balance of power. Often there is a need to deal with difficult people. The consensus builder must identify underlying emotions and needs and find a way to satisfy enough of individual needs to gain support for the good of the whole. Sometimes just listening and acknowledging needs and ideas is enough. Again, it is a matter of satisfying emotional needs.

Sales.Selling intangibles such as professional services is based on relationship building. It involves not only getting to know the prospects' functional needs, but also their "hot buttons" which are, essentially, emotional needs and motivators such as ego, status, security, greed, envy, recognition, power and personal growth. Prospects are more interested in the benefits than the features. Surveys have indicated that emotional benefits are more highly valued than functional benefits.

Persuasive Speaking. Since what people remember is 90 percent visual and voice impression, the actual words are much less important in being persuasive than how they are conveyed. The most effective speakers, whether in the courtroom, at a seminar, conference or banquet, or at an internal firm meeting use techniques that connect emotionally with listeners. They use vocal and visual techniques that stir emotions, speech patterns and non-verbal communications that connect with the audience.

Loyalty and Retention. The viability and success of professional firms depends on personal and client retention and loyalty. In the long run, given a reasonable compensation level, people stay for psychic rewards and leave for lack of them. Retaining people with "golden handcuffs" usually doesn't elicit their best.

Given the importance of these seven central uses of emotion, we need to learn to give more respect to the importance of emotion in business. Not only would life be dull, but business dealings would be ineffective without it.