Emotional Agility: How to Make Your Workforce Emotionally Agile

Laura Goodrich Posted by Laura Goodrich.

Laura is cofounder of On Impact, an integrated content company that specializes in creating and producing videos, television, and multimedia content delivered over time to create sustained change and adoption of important leadership concepts.


Emotional Agility: How to Make Your Workforce Emotionally Agile

Workplace has always been an emotional battlefield. Whether leaders admit it or not but employees’ thoughts and passions play an important role within an organization. Emotional outbursts at workplace are normal.

The impact of emotions can be positive as well as negative. It is important to weed out the negative and make an effort to grow the positive emotion. This helps drive change and innovation.

To make this happen, organizations are adopting the concept of emotional agility. It is the ability to be present in the moment while being fully aware of one’s thoughts and emotions and choosing the ones that lead to achievement of goals. Emotionally agile people understand how to use correct emotional resources in a given situation. They are good not only in understanding their own thoughts but also in comprehending other people’s perspectives.

Emotions at Work

Some managers focus on creating an emotion-free workplace. They try to cast out employee feelings from the office altogether. The aim is to produce and sell as much as possible. The consequences for acting superhuman and banishing employee thoughts and feelings at workplace prove to be disastrous. It leads organizations to extinction.

Then there are organizations like Zappos who see happiness as one of the key emotions. So much so that the CEO Tony Hsieh has even written a book titled Delivering Happiness.

Emotions and management of emotions are crucial to an organization’s success. The new age businesses have already proved that positive emotions at work can lead to innovation.

The prevailing wisdom says that emotions are better kept at home. There is stability in walking the certain (tried and tested) path. The new age businesses, on the other hand, believe in walking the uncertain path. They find it important to demonstrate emotions as a part of job role. This is what keeps them human, agile and innovative, moving their thinking beyond the obvious. This is exactly what triggers the unprecedented growth in short span.

Why do you think conventional companies are stumbling?  Because they lack resources? No, because they buy into negative thoughts like “We’re not going to take a risk. What if we fail?” or “We’ve now decided to go with the flow. This is not the right time to put ourselves in any mess.”

The executives as well as team members regularly face emotional challenges at work. While these challenges are the part and parcel of their jobs but what causes the real problem is sustained negativity. Conventional organizations tend to ignore such behaviors at workplace, telling their employees to leave emotions at home.

An Organization Is What Its People Think It Is

Think about these statements:

“The new boss seems approachable and easy going. Thank god we finally got rid of that monster.”

“You need to be in this job because this pays your bills.”

“I feel at home in my office.”

Each statement exhibits some kind of emotion. It is more likely that people with positive emotions will favorably influence their coworkers and efficiently respond to challenging situations.  In the purest form, we are what we think and do repeatedly. This holds true for businesses also.  A business is what its people think it is; the emotions they display; the attitude they have towards their work; and the dedication they show when interacting with colleagues and customers.

How to Make Your Workforce Emotionally Agile?

In knowledge economy, scenarios change at the speed of thought. What previously were once-in-a-lifetime events are now permanent. The saying “Change is the only constant” is 100 percent true in today’s volatile business environment.

Fortunately, there is a solution to it – agility. It can help organizations keep up with the change. More than anything, agility is a psychological phenomenon. If your workforce is emotionally agile, they can successfully cope with the turmoil and take the organization to the next level.

Here is how you can help your workforce acquire emotional agility:

1. Set the Right Emotional Tone for People at Work

Happy workers are productive workers. Employees who experience positivity, belongingness, excitement and dedication and have a feeling of contributing to company’s core mission make successful organizations. Therefore, setting the right and more meaningful emotional connection is crucial.

Agile organizations understand that emotions form an important part of any idea, concept or interaction. But the secret is that individuals are not in charge of their emotions. It’s the organization that’s responsible for suppressing insignificant and negative thoughts and promoting positive and out-of-box thinking.

As an agile leader, you can help them fix emotions like holding back fear of rejection and failure, jealousy among colleagues and fear of change. You can also instill emotions like positivity, optimism and persistence. This will help the workforce immerse well in tasks and be more productive and innovative. Careful management of thoughts and emotions can make your workforce really agile.

2. Clear Their Minds of “Can’t”

You can’t nurture emotional agility by just delivering cheering speeches. You actually have to work at ground level. Consider the following situation:

Emma, a senior executive in a retail firm is also a mother of two young children. She is often guilty of not being able to properly manage home and office. Most of the times she is distracted and can neither focus on work nor at home. She thinks that she is missing opportunities at work because she can’t work till late like others and has to rush home in evening. At the same time, she is guilty of not being a full time mother. She has this feeling that she can neither be a good employee nor a good mother.

What would be your approach in this situation as an agile leader – warn her for not doing her job properly or unlock her feelings of guilt and frustration?

As an agile leader, you’ll find what’s triggering this sort of behavior and develop insights into the root issues. You will help her sort out her emotions, understand her priorities, get rid of guilt and clear her mind. This is because you know emotions can be changed – negative to positive, pessimism to optimism.

It’s easier said than done. You don’t need to deliver a pep talk or discuss management fundamentals. As an agile leader, you need to help her streamline her thoughts, drop the insignificant ones and steer the significant ones in the right direction, making her believe that she can.

Though it’s impossible to drop negative thoughts all the time but asking your workforce to regularly practice the outlined steps can be effective in long run. Let them practice agility.

3. Encourage Them to Test and Validate Their Assumptions

The best way to help them acquire emotional agility is to understand their assumptions and encourage them to test and validate them. This provides them clarity about their thoughts and goals. Depending on the results of tests, they will be in a better position to adjust their thought process. Moreover, they will be on the way to becoming emotionally agile. If their ideas turn into reality, it will ultimately drive innovation at your organization.

You may face numerous obstacles in the process. The biggest obstacle is the fear of failure. The key here is not to attack them whatever the outcome be. A person shouldn’t feel threatened or being made an object of criticism on failure. Rather focus on efforts and good intentions and offer concrete suggestions.

Understanding what puts people in a vulnerable state can offer you insights into their lives. You should also try to understand what motivates them. This will not only help change interpersonal dynamics at work but also give your team confidence to try out new things.

As you look for the emotional triggers in your workforce, you can carry out the process for yourself as well. More self-aware you are, more agile a leader you can be. Remember, agility is a state of mind and it begins from you.

Are you already practicing some ideas shared here?

Let us know in comments.

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