The Emotion of Culture-The Super Fantastic Leadership Show


105: The Emotion of Culture


This week we talk about the emotion of culture and feelings, or emotions, at work and why they matter more than ever.  We’ve covered this topic in a more specific way on the show several times (episodes 27, 30 and 34) so yeah, we think they’re pretty important. However a lot of those shows had to do with the individual except for the one on emotional contagion and not necessarily the emotions of a group or within a culture.

The big idea here is that typically culture is talked about more in the cognitive sense; artifacts, processes, values, norms and assumptions that guide the behavior of the group. And, these are a huge part of the context but what about feelings and emotion and the groups shared collective affective values? Emotions do shape the way that we do our work and our culture. But what happens when these things are managed? For example, consider compassion as it applies to providers in healthcare or a security firm that doesn’t have access to healthy levels of fear or risk. Imagine these cultures not having access to these two critical emotional components and attempting to do their best work within the specific contexts in which they do their work? It just likely wouldn’t be very effective.

Additionally, positive emotions are consistently associated with better performance, quality and customer service.  Empirical studies show the significant impact of emotions on how people perform on tasks, how engaged and creative they are and how committed they are to the organization. Every organization has an emotional culture even if it is one of suppression, repression or aggression. Dr. Edgar Schein even states that the most entrenched elements of an organizational culture are often the least visible. Consider a culture that fosters putting one employee against another in competition? This could be a very real part of an organization’s culture that could be based on fear and yet, it may be so deep in the culture that it is deemed as a “this is the way it is” approach even if it isn’t helpful to fostering and individual’s best performance.

Also, there is also a fear of our emotions, especially sadness, fear and anger. Even more so there can be a fear of experiencing full joy and happiness in life. Dr. Sonya Lyubomirsky even describes our happiness set point or what we call the upper limit problem. So, our emotional lives in our culture is relevant when we consider how emotion impacts our ability to do our best work and what fear can do to us if we end up in the grip.

So, what emotions should we cultivate at work? Well, first we want to create a space for all emotions at work. Without over valuing any emotion or making any of them wrong or bad, we want to acknowledge them first. This creates first and foremost a space for inclusion of the person. After a level of acknowledgement, then we have the opportunity to move through the emotion and create a sense of being present to what is occurring in the moment. This is a big skill. After learning to do this, then we have the opportunity to create positive emotion and that are relevant to the culture in which we work.

As a leader, how are you modeling the emotions you want to experience with your team? How are you measuring the emotional pulse of your team?

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