Susan David, psychologist and author of the book ‘Emotional Agility’ states that organisations need to get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions in order to provide a psychologically safe workplace in which staff feel safe to bare their emotional truth. She believes that when leaders are comfortable with uncomfortable emotions, they are better equipped to listen to staff and explore the real drivers of the emotion to uncover mutually beneficial outcomes for both the staff member and the organisation.

I would contend that the majority of leaders are not uncomfortable with the display of emotions at work. What they are uncomfortable with is:

  1.  The over-reliance of some staff in their expectation the leader will take responsibility for relieving the discomfort the staff member is experiencing; and/or
  2. The display of the inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour being driven by the emotion.

I believe that it is actually the responsibility of each staff member to get comfortable with their own uncomfortable emotions in order to develop emotional agility – a skill that enables better management of thoughts and feelings.

I agree with David that emotionally agile people have the skills and knowledge to be able to draw on a range of resources to thrive in a fast paced world. ‘They are dynamic, demonstrate flexibility in dealing with complexity, can tolerate stress and overcome setbacks’.

Organisations may seem to be all about getting systems and processes right as the drivers of the business. However it is the workers in organisations that apply the systems and process and if the workers are not emotionally agile, the organisation is less likely to be agile. 

All organisations would do well to provide training in the skills that are known to contribute to the strengthening of emotional agility (such as stress management, resilience, emotional intelligence, and well-being) in addition to promoting skills that will support staff to behave professionally and communicate constructively no matter what their emotional state at the time. 

David explains that being emotionally agile is about being able to manage one’s thoughts and feelings. 

The process of doing this can be taught to staff. Firstly it is about recognising and accepting one’s emotions, detaching from and deconstructing the situation that evoked the emotion then devising a solution focused action plan that is aligned with one’s own core values, and the values and policies of the organisation.

As skilled mediators this is what we are able to bring to every situation of interpersonal conflict which is underpinned by a lack of emotional agility.

Typically, emotionally driven interactions lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, tensions and escalating levels of conflict. Thus creating even a greater sense of the existence of a psychologically unsafe workplace.

Workers are more likely to be able to communicate effectively and therefore experience less conflict and work more collaboratively and productively if they have emotional agility.

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