Harness Negative Emotions to Move Forward in Business


Harness Negative Emotions to Move Forward in Business

Negative emotions are bound to occur in business, so why not use them to your advantage?

We hear from thought leaders and scientists that one of the best ways to improve our productivity is to feel happier at work. And yes, this concept makes sense and feels right. So is there any reason to doubt how true it is?

A plethora of research studies pointing out the significant impact of happiness on work performance has been widely publicised in recent years, making the idea difficult to ignore.

Business leaders are becoming convinced that creating a positive atmosphere and experience for themselves and their team members is indeed a worthwhile investment.

In some workplaces, happiness is placed at the centre of the culture, and Chief Happiness Officers have been appointed to do whatever it takes to ensure that workers are in a good mood every day.

I am also a keen advocate of creating positive work environments; after all, the evidence seems conclusive. When we’re upbeat, we can move mountains, and on the flip-side, when we feel low we can make a real mess of our work – as I explained in an earlier article, ‘Why You Should Check Your Emotions Before Doing Any Work’.

But perhaps more importantly, happiness is a worthwhile goal in itself. What’s the point of being successful at work if we or the people we team up with are miserable?

However, when it comes to high performance, as I’ve learnt through being a workplace design consultant and strategist, nothing is black and white – absolutely nothing, apart from the need for oxygen.

So I have a few nagging questions:

Should we pursue happiness in our workplace at all costs? Should we protect ourselves and our teams from conflicts and upsetting news whenever possible? And should we always try to shake off any negative feelings before launching into work?

Psychologists and personal development teachers tend to agree that fully feeling and expressing a spectrum of emotions is critical for working through issues, developing emotional intelligence and maintaining a healthy psyche.

What I’d like to explore in this article is when and how negative emotions can actually help us produce amazing results.

Have you seen the movie, Jerry Maguire? In one of the early scenes, Maguire, a sports agent, finds himself in a confronting situation, which prompts him to reflect and realise the unethical culture of his industry had absorbed him.

Jerry Maguire experiences a breakdown, which he turns into a breakthrough as he works through the night with unprecedented clarity, energy and passion, creating a heartfelt and inspiring mission statement which sets the path for his career.

Facing frustrations and being pushed to the edge can sometimes force us to make critical decisions that we’ve previously avoided, and launch us into enhanced productivity.

The good news is that such turning points can also occur in businesses with great cultures, and therefore it’s extremely unlikely that anyone would get fired as a consequence (as happened in the movie).

In my own practice, I’ve achieved numerous breakthroughs while feeling frustrated. For example, I once received a critique for a research paper I’d written. I felt this was unreasonable and in an attempt to prove my point, created a design framework, which later became an essential part of my IP.

In business, small and large, we’re exposed to events that can make us feel agitated.

I’m particularly triggered by narrow-mindedness, incongruence, and the lack of respect some people show for others’ time. When I see a promising opportunity lost, or large amounts of work go to waste because of a communication breakdown, or I find out about one of my clients inadvertently shooting themselves in the foot … well, I’m not a happy camper.

Of course, I first try to deal with the issue directly. But when I feel I’m banging my head against a brick wall, I often can’t help but put my thoughts into book chapters and articles. I know that the problems I’m witnessing are not uncommon and that some people out there might benefit from hearing about my experiences and knowledge.

Interestingly, I’ve written some of my most well-received articles in this not-so-pleasant headspace.

When I find myself in a situation that pushes my buttons, there’s probably something I need to learn.

Here is the beauty in this process. In order to get things off my chest in a constructive fashion, I need to think through the issue rationally from different angles. This always helps me organise my thoughts and draw useful conclusions. And the icing on the cake? Once I feel I’ve got something valuable out of a bad situation, the fog in my head evaporates, and I can carry on, fully focused and level-headed.

Negative emotions can work for or against us. The question is, are we able to use those emotions to move forward, or do we allow them to hold us back and perhaps even do some damage?

Anger or frustration, at times, can give us the drive and focus to produce transformative work. Doubt or self-doubt can motivate us to expand our knowledge, ask better questions and explore new avenues with an open mind.

Feeling intimidated by seemingly impossible goals or challenges can provoke us to seek innovative ideas and take worthwhile risks. And essentially any painful experience can be that last straw when we say, ‘that’s enough, it’s time to make a change’.

Mastering negative emotions is not easy.

Let’s recognise that it is possible to use negative emotions to our advantage. If we pressure ourselves and our team to put on a happy face every day, those emotions will not disappear – they will likely get suppressed and continue sabotaging our work. But if we use them well, they can help us achieve breakthroughs.

If you look at high-performing teams in action, you often see the expression of a variety of emotions. What you won’t see often is peaceful faces with smiles of content.

In Small Business, there is time for channelling negative emotions into creating positive change, and a time to stay level-headed and rational. When we find the right balance, our work will reflect creativity, professionalism and passion.

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