Hung out to dry: why emotional agility is critical



Business agility is not possible if a company’s employees are out of touch with their emotions, claimed a leading expert in psychology at this year’s Australian Human Resources Institute National Convention.

Dr Susan David, founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching, spoke on the topic of emotional agility and its critical importance in the workplace and in life.

“How we drive our inner worlds drives everything – every aspect of how we love, how we live, how we parent and how we lead,” she said, pointing out that our human tendency to label emotions as good or bad, leads to rigidity of thinking and therefore has a hugely detrimental effect on business outcomes.

Emotional Agility, which is also the title of her book published in 2016, is the only thing that leads to true resilience, she says.

Compassion is key


David stated that employees that feel seen and are treated with compassion, taking into account their individual situations outside of the office, feel more confident in coming forward with new ideas, revising plans and raising their hands for extra tasks and promotions.

Moreover, employees that fully understand the full range of their own emotions and are given space to express them, will develop a greater understanding of their own personal values in life, which allows them to bring those to the table in the workplace.

They will also then more easily be able to identify with the greater values of the company, which engenders effective teamwork and working towards a common purpose.


We are not our emotions


David described the importance of “radical acceptance” when it comes to the full spectrum of human emotions, saying it is the cornerstone to resilience, to organisational capacity and to authentic happiness.

Also, understanding emotions without identifying with them (“I feel sad” instead of "I am sad”) gives us the ability to step out of them instead of reacting from within them when necessary. This is the key skill which allows employees and leaders to bypass stress, find solutions, come together and reach common goals.

“Stepping out” is called the meta-emotion view – and is putting an emotion into perspective before driven to act by it. She describes this as the “bedrock to perspective taking… and empathy”, and explains its value as a tool which allows us to step away from labelling our colleagues, leaders or the organisation as “right” or “wrong”.

It is human nature to polarise and see things as positive or negative, but with this emotional skillset we are able to ask a question which is better than “am I right?”; and that is “how does this action serve me?”


The value of shared values


Finding and nurturing employees who have the ability to “step out” makes it far easier to create a culture of working towards the company’s shared values. Leaders who start conversations around shared values and the “why” of the organisation also have greater managerial effectiveness when leading teams through complexity.

One of the predictors of success during stressful times are workplaces where leaders have previously had a discussion around “who we want to be” as an organisation throughout an upcoming period of change.

David said it was helpful to think of values as “qualities of action”.

It is human nature to struggle to complete tasks out of obligation or using sheer force or willpower, which explains why we have difficulty with motivation when it comes to actions such as eating healthily – but when we have a strong values system behind us we find it far easier to take the necessary action because it aligns with our system of values, therefore we do it because we want to and not because we have to.


This article was first published on hradvance.com.au on 24th September 2019

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