Are Negative Emotions Fueling Your Leadership Tangles?

Mon, Feb 02, 2009

Like many, we had a group of friends over to watch the Superbowl last night. Some of us rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers, while others were backing the Arizona Cardinals. That was good old-fashioned sports rivalry. However, we were all taken aback by the negative energy that emanated from some of the commercials. As reported in today's San Francisco Chronicle, many of the ads were downright aggressive and hostile.

For instance, a Cheetos ad opens with a well-dressed woman seated at an outside café, talking on a cell phone. A nearby woman, obviously upset, exacts revenge by dropping cheetos on the ground, which attracts pigeons that attack.

In a recent research study, I found that individuals who experienced negative emotions like anger, frustration, and hostility took equally negative actions if they did not have the means or capacity to engage in constructive dialogue. These negative actions led to further tangling of already tense situations.

In the Superbowl ad, each of the parties could have taken a different course of action, which would have led to a better outcome. The woman speaking loudly on the phone could have chosen to be aware of her surroundings and not talk so loudly, especially since her comments were negative ones about others. The woman at the next table could have left, or requested that her neighbor speak more softly. If each had been aware of the other and demonstrated more emotional intelligence, the situation would have ended differently.

Likewise, leaders have an opportunity to demonstrate emotional intelligence by developing sensitivity to workplace emotions, especially negative ones. For instance, during a major organizational change, one of my clients initiated weekly meetings with her direct staff. During those one-on-ones she not only probed about the impact of the changes, but also carefully watched facial expressions. By actively seeking both positive and negative input, they were able to proactively problem solve and avoid tangled dynamics.

What leadership tangles can you prevent? Click below to view the Cheetos Superbowl commercial.

Cheetos Superbowl commercial
Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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