Managers should know more about emotions

May 4, 2014 - 06:43

Organizational psychologist calls for a more playful and caring leadership. This may give the employees confidence to make a greater effort.

A caring and empathetic manager can give the employee confidence to make a greater effort. (Photo: Pressmaster/Microstock)

Our emotions control us more than we like to admit – even in the workplace.

According to the Norwegian organizational psychologist, Morten Eikeland, emotions has had far too little attention in management theories, .

“Managers should be aware of an unconscious processes that have a major influence on the interaction between employees,” he says.

We are social animals

Eikeland's views are based on research conducted by neuropsychologists and social psychologists, who explore the role of emotions in organizations and leadership.

In a recently published review article in a Norwegian journal of economics and management, he points out that emotions and reactions are hardwired in the brain by evolution.

“We are social animals, and emotions provide us with information that affects the thoughts, behaviour and health of other people and ourselves”, Eikeland says.

He believes that emotional expertise and awareness in managers can have a huge impact on how successful they are – and for the well-being of the employees.

There is, however, little empirical research on how biological sense systems affect teamwork and leadership.

“Our conscious mind is controlled and influenced by unconscious emotional systems found deeper in the brain”, Eikeland says.

He believes that managers should try and take the perspective of the employees. Good managers show empathy when people are struggling at work, according to Eikeland.

Friend or foe?

The interaction between the environment and the body affects how we feel and what we think, about ourselves and others. It affects relationships and the general mood at work.

Eikeland emphasizes that managers are constantly being read by their employees, particularly whether one is perceived as friend or foe.

He believes that managers should ask themselves what they think of their employees also on a personal level. This will affect what the manager and the employee can accomplish together.

Negative emotions
Managers are constantly being read by their employees, particularly whether one is perceived as friend or foe. (Photo: Imtmphoto/Microstock)

The brain is designed to prioritize negative rather than positive factors, social psychologists have discovered.

This has provided an evolutionary advantage. Therefore, we are psychologically predisposed to focus on problems and dangers, rather than successes and opportunities.

Positive results in a company can be overshadowed by a deviation. One dissatisfied customer can make us forget the ones that are content.

“Managers should know that we remember the negative feedbacks better than the positive ones”, Eikeland says.

Uncertainty and misinterpretation

It does not take more than a small uncertainty to trigger a paranoid reaction, and then we easily misinterpret the information we get. 

“When managers give people negative feedback, fear is activated. We cannot control this. In this situation, people will be spurred to protect themselves. If the leader behaves coldly, the fears are exacerbated.”

“A caring and empathetic manager can give the employee confidence to make a greater effort. It is extremely motivating to work for someone who supports you”, Eikeland explains.

Play creates trust

Playful behaviour creates trust and bonds between people and it reduces stress. It makes people cooperate.

“Managers who create a playful atmosphere, trigger a positive system in the employee's brain, contributing to a stronger team spirit, healthy competition and sound motivation”, Eikeland says.

The environment the manager creates can activate the positive rather than the negative primary sense system in employees and in themselves, Eikeland believes.

“Managers must accept that we are emotional animals that are controlled by many conscious and unconscious processes”, Eikeland explains.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Translated by
Lars Nygaard