All Articles Leadership Inspiration Feelings at work: 3 reasons why you should care

Feelings at work: 3 reasons why you should care

5 min read


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Squirrels love our backyard. Our large apple tree is a miracle of productivity. Each spring the trunk transforms nutrients under the ground into pink blossoms on the tree. In the summer the leaves flourish, and during the early fall apples grow larger — lots of apples. That’s what the squirrels like — literally, the fruits of the tree’s labor.

Successful businesses bear fruit in the form of results such as profit, happy clients, quality products and satisfaction with a job well done. Much is written about the processes and analysis to produce “fruit,” but we don’t always think about the nutrients that are essential to creating the juicy, delicious result. Let’s talk nutrients.

If the apple tree bears fruit, and it equals business results (professional and person), the trunk represents our behaviors and choices that produce those results. Behaviors like collaboration, teamwork, listening, time management and self-responsibility drive successful results. Choices such as choosing suppliers, staff and marketing tactics set the stage for results. And, we choose our behaviors. We choose to collaborate, to listen or not.

Results (fruit) and behaviors (trunk) are visible, but a significant part of success lies below the surface. Just as roots bring nutrients into the tree, our brain brings information that drives our behavior. The root cause of our behavior is created by what we think, how we feel and the values we hold.

We’re comfortable talking about our thinking, but less comfortable conversing about feelings. It’s time to change that. Because feelings are either in your way or on your way to productive behaviors. And either way, you need to know how to use them and use them with skill. To do otherwise, is to fall victim to whim or be held captive by logic.

Feelings are in your way. This scene plays out in the workplace daily. There’s the super-talented employee no one can work with who torpedoes the meeting in minutes. Communication breaks down, anxiety goes up, hearts race and time is lost until everyone calms down. The lost productivity is astounding.

Here’s what a senior leader said about the impact of over-reactivity. “Why do we have this communication breakdown and why it take us two to three days to get over that and we’re back where we were and we still have that issue to address.” The root cause is unmanaged feeling. Feelings are in the way for everyone. This behavior sabotages results unless skilled management of feeling is developed as this CEO understands. “When my heart rate is up, my blood pressure goes up, I have to step away and go, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,’ like sit, be quiet and figure out why is it that you’re having this physical response.”

Feelings are on your way. Our experiences, history and value systems are stored in the depths of our brains and drive feelings. They are a powerful source of insight that guide behaviors in a positive way. Perhaps you’ve said, “I know the data says X, but we’re doing Y because it’s just the right thing to do.” Whether called intuition or gut feel, those feelings are on the way to sound choices.

This senior vice president noted: “You have to recognize that gut feeling or gut reactions have a place at the decision-making table.” Recognizing and using insight is learnable.

Either way, you need to know how to use them. I interviewed 77 executives on the use of intuition in decision-making. More often than not, these executives were aware of the influence gut feel and values had on their behavior and choices. This skill set them apart from most people. Most people think only about the top of the tree — results. Leaders observe the impact of their behavior on results. Whether the feeling was in the way or on the way, they know how to recognize and manage it for productive behavior that creates results.

It’s time we recognize, talk about and train for the skilled use of feelings. Like thinking, feeling is another form of intelligence that poisons or grows results. The apple tree is a miracle of productivity. By mastering the skilled use of feelings we, too, can enhance our productivity. Wouldn’t that be delicious?

Shelley Row, P.E., is a leadership decision-making expert and a recovering over-thinker. She helps managers and leaders skillfully trust their infotuition. Row’s Infotuition Cognition-Intuition Balance Model represents the intersection of business pragmatics and gut feeling. She founded Shelley Row Associates LLC and has conducted over 75 leadership interviews. Prior to that, she was a 30-year transportation engineer and senior executive with the federal government. Follow her on Twitter or visit her website to learn more about Row and infotuition.

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