5 emotions you misinterpret at work

Though we may not always be aware of it, many of the tasks we perform at work

UMNIA SHAHID May 17, 2015

Though we may not always be aware of it, many of the tasks we perform at work; be it answering a colleague’s email or engaging in tough negotiations with a client, bring forth certain emotions which aren’t always positive. As compiled from lucasworks.ca, mindtools.com, Huffington Post and Reader’s Digest magazine, discover how the various emotions we feel serve as tools for getting our minds energised and focused on the task ahead.

Anxiety: Gets you pumped for a presentation

Research suggests that nervousness and eagerness are physiologically almost the same. Anxiety is a way of revving us up to be on high alert and prepared to react to whatever may come our way - for example, in a product presentation or writing an editorial for your company magazine. It’s easy to want to wish the feeling of anxiety away, but when you comprehend its benefits, you can be grateful for it. The next time you find yourself feeling anxious or edgy, calm your nerves by assuring yourself that the emotion you’re experiencing isn’t in fact nervousness; it is your mind telling you you’re alert and ready to react.

Anger: Preps you to take action

Feeling mad isn’t an unusual emotion we tend to feel at work. It definitely takes a toll on your nerves but it in fact, facilitates approach-oriented behaviour, or actions that move us toward a goal, object, or idea. According to Wesley Moons, Ph.D., founder and CEO of the litigation consulting firm Moons Analytics, “On the one hand, anger basically serves as a signal that something is wrong. On the other hand, anger is different from other negative emotional states because it seems to increase reliance on mental shortcuts.” A University of California study showed that anger might actually make individuals act more rationally, suggesting it can be a motivator of analytic thought, rather than being an obstacle.

Fear: Motivates you to be positive 

Fear is a powerful motivator that helps us stay safe when we sense we’re in danger. As long as fear doesn’t become overwhelming or irrational, it can be a very good thing - if you have a healthy fear of failing to get through to clients or messing up an audition, then you’ll do whatever it takes to steer clear of it. “Fear serves a purpose, you just have to channel it to your work effectively,” says Dr Bernardo Carducci, a professor of psychology at Indiana University. Connection to others, such as your colleagues, he argues, can be a powerful tool in keeping fears in check and in perspective.

Sadness: Makes you think critically

When we’re sad, we tend to be less biased in decision making - we think a little more slowly and deliberately about whom to trust, for example. We’re also likely to act more fairly and less selfishly. Plus, sadness helps you avoid being too gullible. All in all, it makes us thoughtful, and helps us think critically - sadness can actually be a real resource. So if you’re on the receiving end of a sales pitch, you may want to go ahead and think about how much you miss your childhood dog that recently passed away. On the other hand, if you’re feeling super happy, you may want to avoid taking a sales pitch and use that positive emotion for something good instead—like your creative work.

Self-delusion: Promotes confidence and competence

Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers wrote in his book, The Folly of Fools, that self-deception or believing that we’re smarter, more accomplished or more capable than we really are  can help us influence others and persuade them that we’re as good as we think we are, reports The Wall Street Journal in an article, titled The Case for Lying to Yourself. “Benefits tend to come, research shows, when people simply block out negative thoughts, envision themselves enjoying future successes or take an optimistic view of their abilities - all of which tend to improve performance or persuasive ability,” the article states. Carducci adds, “Self-delusion can give us a sense of strength, a sense of ‘I can do this ... I can do this.” The key, he says, is to make sure not to get sucked into what he called “a world of one,” which can be avoided by staying connected to other people. 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th,  2015.

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