HR & Management

Are emotions a taboo in business?

3 min read

04 June 2013

We're used to staying professional in business; but now and then emotions are just too strong to hide. Does anger and grief really have no place in business?

Emotions can be pesky little buggers. They interfere in the most awkward situations and, as much as we try, they’re not always easy to control.

But the urge to cry, yell or sulk is completely out of place in a professional environment. Business leaders in particular are expected to remain predictable, reliable and tactical at all times. Such expectations are difficult to meet when personal lives are in turmoil and stress or grief feels overbearing; after all, we’re only human.

Psychologist Gerhard Blickle spoke to German weekly ‘Die Zeit’ about handling emotions in the workplace and drew a clear conclusion: “What you really feel deep down inside is nobody’s business.”

“A person who shows strong emotions appears to be overburdened – as if the situation dominates them, rather than them dominating the situation,” Mr Blickle told ‘Die Zeit’. As soon as one team member’s emotions take over, the company’s structure is disturbed. “Businesses function through collaboration, which must not be unsettled by strong antipathies.”

But Blickle does not suggest that showing any emotions in the workplace is a taboo; they only need to be controlled. Think of stewardesses, who are expected to be all smiles right on cue. Or medical professionals bearing bad news for patients, who need to find compassionate words. Demonstrating emotions we don’t actually feel is not uncommon among professionals.

“Even parents do the same, when they enthusiastically praise their child’s handicraft to encourage them – even though it’s not exactly a work of art. We call this ‘faking in good faith’.” (There is also something called “faking in bad faith”. Think “always friendly” employees in call centres, dealing with furious customers.)

Keeping this friendly distance to customers and colleagues does not, however, seem compatible with another expectation of business leaders and entrepreneurs: passion. How can passion and distance be combined? That’s a whole different story, says Blickle. “There’s the basic motivation: why am I doing what I’m doing? Emotions play a big role for that. But then there’s a different question: how should I do it? This is the area where it’s important to keep cool.”

Your number one capital in keeping your distance is a healthy dose of confidence. This will give you the strength to deal with difficult situations, says Blickle. “A corporate culture where performance, not status is the top priority is very helpful: make it clear that it’s the team that reaches the goal together, and that the individual’s position is not that important.”

How do you deal with emotional situations in your business? Are negative emotions really a taboo in professional relationships?