An Emotionally Positive Workplace

Emotions are great for work. If people are allowed to bring their feelings into the workplace then their passion will show, engagement will rise, and you’ll free up the energy that might otherwise be spent on repressing those feelings.

But negative emotions can be a huge problem, creating a toxic atmosphere filled with anger and distrust. So how can you encourage emotional expression in the workplace while preventing the negatives from taking over?

Develop Emotional Intelligence

A key tool for anyone in leadership, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others, to empathize with them and to deal appropriately with those emotions.

Training in emotional intelligence should be a compulsory part of training for all leaders in your organization. If they can’t recognize what’s happening with their employees then they stand little chance of managing them well.

Avoid Hiring Negativity

Try to avoid hiring people who don’t cooperate well with others or who default to a negative outlook. Recruiters at Facebook do this by using questions about office politics and working with others to test how candidates respond. It isn’t a subject you can tackle head-on in an interview, but if you can find a way to incorporate it then you’ll avoid recruiting people whose negativity will kill the enthusiasm of others.

Recognize Effort

To spread the positivity around, focus on recognizing effort, not just performance.  Some employees are going to achieve exceptional things thanks to a combination of talent and the role they’ve been given. Others may not make their mark so strongly. If they only see others praised then their emotional engagement with work will drop. So openly acknowledge the effort people put in just getting the job done from day to day, whether or not they’ve done something exceptional.

Be Open

As a leader, you set the standard of behavior in your organization. What you do matters at least as much as what you say. If you don’t let other people see your emotions then they aren’t going to feel like they are allowed to express their own. So let your feelings show, especially when those feelings are of pride, excitement or delight.

This isn’t to say that you should lay your soul bare, exposing every sore nerve end of feelings. Let as much out as you feel comfortable with, and then see if you can show just a little more.

Dissipate Office Politics

Another lesson from Facebook – find ways to actively reduce office politics.

Office politics usually leads to negative feelings being stirred up, rather than encouraging positivity. So train leaders and managers to dissipate politics. Give them the communication skills to direct conversations away from these subjects, to listen to people’s concerns, and to act on then without a big drama.

Make Time to Talk

Most office politics comes from people not understanding the big picture, and so only seeing the part that impacts negatively on them. Taking the time to talk with employees, both individually and as groups, helps to counter this.

More than that, taking the time to casually chat with employees creates positive emotional bonds. The attention of a leader creates a feeling of pride and validation. A little light conversation helps to buoy the spirits, and directs attention onto things that make people happy.

So take the time to talk.

Be Honest

Lies, even well-intentioned ones, even those told by omission, create resentment. People spot the gap between words and reality even if they don’t see exactly what’s amiss.

So be honest about what’s going on with your organization. If things are tough then explain why and talk about how you’re planning to solve it. That way, employees will see that you are realistic, honest and forward looking. If things are going well then this is a time to celebrate. Either way, you bringing the focus onto the positives.

Show Kindness and Respect

A little kindness goes a long, but so does a little disrespect. If people don’t feel that their work and perspectives are treated seriously then resentment will fester.

So treat everyone equally seriously, from the lowest admin temp to the CEO. And use small acts of kindness, like remembering a birthday or making a round of coffees, to show that you don’t think that you’re above it all.

Let Go of Control

Great leaders inspire and guide rather than controlling. No-one likes to feel controlled or micro-managed, so as far as possible set the tone, set the agenda, and then sit back and let people do their jobs.

The more you try to control the flow of work, the more you sacrifice positive emotions on the altar of your ego.

Throw in Fun Events

Everyone has different ways of reviving a team or organization’s spirits, but most of them boil down to the same thing – relax and have fun. You can’t make every day into an away day or fancy dress challenge, but drop these events in once in a while. Surprise staff with a lunchtime buffet. Arrange trips out. Take your team for a drink. Associate your business with fun and people will enjoy working there more.