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communication John Faisandier

John Faisandier is managing trector of TUF: Thriving Under Fire, a programme for t[aining staff to deal with angry and aggressive customers and improving workplace communication. Send now for your special report "Seven Misconceptions About Responding to Emotions in the Workplace" enquiries@tuf.net.nz or visit www.tuf.netnz

in the workplace
recent employment court ruling against a manager who sacked a worker recovering in hospital from a heart attack highlights the need to attend to emotions. "He just handed me the letter and said he couldn't afford to wait until I got better," the complainant told the court. The manager on the other hand said, "It was the hardest thing I have ever done n my life. When I got out of the room I broke down and cried." The court ruled against the company. It stated the manager neither showed consideration for the feelings of the sick worker nor followed an adequate dismissal process. The case illustrates graphically the significance of emotions in work situations. Workers and managers are not simply units of production. They are people. People are distinctive because they have emotions. They feel things in response to what is going on around them. They especially feel in response to other people they interact with. Emotions affect life and relationships in all parts of the organisational system. There is a high price to pay when they are ignored. No matter how much you try, the old saying "leave your personal feelings at the door" does not apply.


Why a culture of friendliness is good for business

The Harvard studies on the CustomerService-Profit chain demonstrate clearly that if you want your customers to spend more money in the business then you need staff to treat them well. If you want staff to treat customers well then managers need to treat staff well. This not only means good remuneration, conditions of work and other tangibles but also having excellent interpersonal communication. That is, treat staff as people and not impersonal units of production or commodities. An important way to do this is acknowledge and validate their feelings.

The Gallup Great Workplace Survey lists no fewer than six of their twelve criteria for assessing a great workplace that involve recognition of the person and their feelings. One surprising question that they insist is a key to a great workplace culture is " I have a best friend at work. " An important quality in a best friend is that you can taik about your feelings with them. People who had a 'best friend' at work were able to deal with their upsetting emotional reactions successfully with

someone in the workplace. Creating a workplace culture of friendliness where the person is recognised and valued can lead to increased productivity, improved morale, better staff retention and greater customer satisfaction. People want to stay and want to work well because this fundamental human need is being met. It seems almost trite to say that if your organisation has peopie who are friendly with one another you will be more profitable but that is what it amounts to.

human rosourcBS April/May 2008

Fearing emotions
Emotions get bad press. In many places they are a dirty word. They are shunned, feared and avoided at all cost. We say he 'broke down'; she 'lost it'; 'I'm sorry to burden you with this'; 'I shouldn't be like this' as if feelings are wrong, unpleasant for others and unhealthy. The manager in the hospital room was afraid of his feelings, he was afraid of 'breaking down' so he avoided any mention of his or his worker's feeiingsFeelings are energy. E = outward. Motion = movement. Emotions are neither good nor bad, they |ust are. They pass through us moment by moment. Some emotions get noticed and expressed, and some don't.

around the business at hand. In fact many of your feelings may tell you an awful lot more about yourself than about the other person. Emotional intelligence, as popularised by Daniel Goleman, is the ability to know what you are feeling and to manage those feelings appropriately in a way that maintains healthy relationships with those around you. This would include having somewhere you can process the feelings you have 'put on the shelf at a later time. Often a good debrief with an understanding friend can do it. For those feelings that are persistent and disturbing a session with an EAP eounsellor or trained therapist might be beneficial.

Why is it so hard to respond to emotions?

Strong emotions are also more than 'just feelings'. We are affected when someone is angry in front of us. Why is it that son^e people freeze, others get angry in response and others want to run away as far as possible? Personal history has a lot to do with it. It can depend on how anger was expressed in your family and how you learnt to respond to angry parents and siblings. There is also a physical response to anger that is largely involuntary. When we perceive a threat, or even just hear a loud unexpected noise, adrenalin is released into our bloodstream. It rapidly prepares the body for action in emergency situations. We might stay and fight or run away to protect ourselves. This is the familiar fight/flight response. Adrenalin boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain and muscles, while suppressing other non-emergency bodily processes (digestion in particular). So our heart beats faster, pupils dilate, our face goes red, our stomach knots up, muscles strengthen, blood sugar levels increase and hearing becomes more acute among other things. When we are poised for fight or flight we don't always think so clearly. Malcolm Gladwell in Tipping Point reports that when our heart rate goes over 145 beats per minute our thinking ability reduces. Add to that our memories of past experiences in angry situations, and it becomes harder to respond to someone who is angry. It's a challenge to stay calm ourselves in the face of someone being angry and to respond welitothem. The "I'm OK, You're OK" life position suggested by Transactional Analysis can help in this regard. Emotions are present in every human interaction. Having a workplace that is friendly allows for healthy expression of emotions between people. Knowing your own emotional responses to people and situations is vital. Developing strategies to acknowledge and respond to others' emotional expression can enhance the workplace.

Knowing your feelings

Feelings tell us who we are. They are distinct to each person. They tell us important things about us and our values. We are sad when someone close to us dies; we are angry when something we value is threatened; we are scared when there is danger. If we didn't feel these things we would probably not survive. Expressing feelings is not a sign of weakness but of strength, A trainer of an elite riot control squad in prisons told me once that trainee officers would cry out in pain when others were practicing the excruciating restraint holds on them. The so called 'macho men' who hid their feelings and said nothing when this was done to them had the most problems in their work later. They weren't emotionally mature enough to handle the intensity of that work because they wouldn't or couldn't express their feelings. In many work settings it is not appropriate to express atl your feelings. That's not to say you don't have them. You usually can't tell a client that you are bored with the meeting. You often can't tell your boss that you hate his attitude. You probably can't tell your colleague that you detest her wardrobe choices. You can, however, acknowledge these feelings to yourself, and as psychiatrist and psychodrama trainer Dr Joan ChappeliMathias used to say 'put them on the shelf to dea! with later if you have toThen you can relate to the other person

Other people's emotions

Not everyone you meet at work can easily put their feelings 'on the shelf. Sometimes they ean't help themselves and out it comes! It may be a great tirade of anger, frustration or hurt. It may iust be a silent but noticeable expression of sadness or anxiety. What do you do then?

Don't ignore feelings

The first thing to do is respond to the emotions. Don't be like the boss in the hospital room. Acknowledge what you see in the person in front of you. The feelings are there. You might be anxious about their feelings and about your own. Acknowledge these too if appropriate. This is a moment of courage and compassion. You might simply say 'this is hurting you. isn't it?' Or 'it's quite a worry for you' or 'this thing has made you really mad'. In doing this you enter their world. You stand beside them, without judging. You don't try to change them. You know that these feelings express something important in them. You want to appreciate them, even if they are shouting in anger. You know that in time these feelings will pass and others will arise. It is useful to remember that you do not cause feelings in other people. Their feelings belong to them. Don't try to change their feelings, or stop them or 'make them better'. You would be acting as if feelings were 'bad' if you tried that. They are not. They are just feelings.

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April/May 2008 human resources