Untwisting Emotions in Business
Emotions follow us wherever we go and greet us in every situation in life. We cannot escape them however in business we must deal with them. The calculation of profit is a mathematical equation that has a very logical and precise path that must be followed. In business though many situations push and pull to challenge the seemingly logical approach to the profit calculation because of the emotions we bring our day. If we were to recognize the emotions that are naturally in each business relationship and engagement we may be able to bring more success to the profit equation. Success in the form of increased profits can then be built from the recognition of emotions and from which we may do a better job of navigating the mine field sometimes before us.
What are all of these emotions people bring with them? I’m not emotional you say. Oh, yes you are. In 2001 a team lead by Roy Baumeister published a research paper titled “Bad is stronger than good” where they explored and supported the theory that negative events outweigh positive ones at a far greater rate. These negative events can be anything; a person encountered, information, an experience or just a bad day. According to Baumeister our language supports negative emotions far greater than positive emotions leading us to recognize and experience negativity more often. All of these negative and sometimes positive emotions are present in each interaction with have throughout the day. Sometimes the negative emotions can have a positive impact though. Our bad mood can bring forth more careful information processing although the negative effects of a bad mood outweigh this positive one. It makes sense then that we try harder to avoid and escape our negative emotions than we try to positive emotions. Our memories have been trained to remember the negative emotions better and thus we bring them with us to our business dealings and have to deal with them.
Our logical intuition can easily calculate the profit equation of revenue less expenses equals profit. We immediately start segmenting ideas and operational work flows into the format of this equation. Thinking in terms of “I can hire this position which will increase wage expenses but this position will allow me to increase revenue so profit goes up”. It is natural for all of us in business to perform this calculation rationally or even subconsciously throughout the day. It is something we just do by nature of being responsible for the bottom line. There is little ambiguity to the method or process that is used to calculate profit and it is by nature an agreed upon fact of existence.
When the ordering logic driven profit motives mix with the soft and subjective intangible of emotions we create conflict in our lives. It is from this conflict we do stupid things. The email rant to our boss, the disparaging remarks about a co-worker, the water cooler bitch sessions. They are all driven by emotions arising from the conflict between our logic knowing for certain our path with yield the greater profit or personal gain and the impact of negative emotions that are cast into our day by experiences and our own perceived reality. The study of behavioral economics shows that we do not always act rationally and it is our emotions that get in the way. Dan Ariely articulates this well in his HBR article “The Long-Term Effects of Short-Term Emotions” When we allow our emotions to override our logic we make poor decisions. The prior ill decisions becomes a reference point for future decisions only to had us repeat the same mistake agin and again.
Taking ownership of our emotions and knowing they influences everything we do throughout the day is the first step to breaking free of the conflict. Depending on your demur it may mean a lot of countdowns from 10 to cool off. Overcome the negative bias by bringing realistic optimism and a positive energy to the day. It is not advisable to be the lucky go happy guy in the office but viewing the world as a glass half full is a start. Norman Vicent Peale’s book titled The Power of Positive Thinking great primer on changing one’s outlook on life. Reach out and learn from other people and build professional friendships that can start to challenge your bias. This will allow you an opportunity to validate their emotions. Remember that emotions are never wrong, the deviation from their logic is what has landed them here. Finally take a break and clear your head. The potentially frustrating topic of the moment may appear a lot different after a short break and the reset button has been pressed in our mind.
We cannot ignore the emotions that exist in our day so we must embrace them, welcome them, then overcome them. Start by recognize that your emotions are ruining you and leading you to make bad decisions that do not fit with logical economic behavior. Realize this is true for everyone around you as well and validate their emotions then work to persuade them see your logic, not to agree to your emotions. Rational decisions are when we are most often right and our economics friend have been telling us this for years, so stick with it and suppress our emotional miss-guidance. Being positive and overcoming the natural tendency to be negative with frequent mental breaks will keep us on the path to logical profit driven decisions. If we each work towards this grand goal we can all enjoy better success and self development.