The Role and Importance of Emotions in Our Professional and Personal Lives

When I started working at the age of 21, my manager was only a few years older than me. Both of us being very young and passionate about work, we developed a good friendship. As I completed my first year at work, I sat down with this friend (manager) to discuss my performance. I wasn’t ready for what came next.

In the meeting he was very formal and distant in his approach which I found unfair. Due to our friendship, I expected an informal conversation. Instead, what I got was “feedback” and “improvement points”. When he was done with the performance cycle, it left me in a very bad mood and it affected our friendship. While he was only performing his job as a manager, I was too naive and felt betrayed as a friend. It took us more than a year to mend our friendship, and I am good friends with him to this day.

This incident was very tough for me, and it was not until many years later that I recognised why it was so. At first I blamed my manager friend for being more of a “manager” than a “friend“. Later (after we mend ways) I blamed myself for being too emotional and developing friendships at work. I came to the (wrong) conclusion that emotions and rationality are mutually exclusive, and I shut myself down emotionally.

It was much later that I realised that emotions were not the culprit. Instead it was my inability to handle my emotions which led me to react impulsively. With experience I have come to believe that emotions are absolutely necessary for doing any meaningful work. They only seem tough when we don’t know how to handle them.

I have already written about how to handle our emotions in the workplace. In this article I want to stress on the importance of emotions as the driving force behind decisions.

We Experience The World Through Our Emotions

We walk around the world and make sense of it through our emotions. When we experience an event, different emotions get triggered based on our values and beliefs. Emotions make our experiences good or bad, valuable or not, and pleasurable or painful. If we introspect we will found that every decision we end up taking is derived from an emotion that touched and moved us.

These emotions can overwhelm us occasionally, but without them we would have no connection with people or events around us. While emotions can sometimes bring pain and tears, it is only through them that we feel joy, happiness and peace in life. It is very important to realise that emotions are our strength, and not our weakness.

It is our emotions that make us human. The little moments of joy when we play with our kids, the smile on our faces when we help someone, the tears in our eyes when we see something cruel and terrible (even if it is on TV) – it is these emotions that connect us all as human beings.

Seeing a tweet by a billionaire CEO and to be able to feel empathy for him/her makes us bridge the economic, physical and social divides and come closer. On the other hand, if we are privileged in any way, being able to empathise with the less privileged and act for them brings us closer. Emotions help keep our egos in check, and prevent us from being indifferent towards the less or more privileged in our society.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in our Lives

Emotions and Reason are Not Mutually Exclusive

Most of us believe that emotions and reason are opposites of each other, and it is often presented as a fact that you can’t act rationally if you are emotional. In many workplaces, emotions are frowned upon and an excessive display of emotions (joy, tears, anger) are seen as a liability.

On the contrary, what I have learned over the years is that emotions can be our biggest asset. They can give us important information that can shape our lives if we listen to what they are trying to tell us. The key is to learn how to express our emotions without repression or explosion.

Emotions can help us clear the fog of rational choices and reveal our moral lighthouses. They help us choose wisely when presented with two equally good or equally bad choices. Emotions clarify our thinking and help us see rational choices in a new light while pure rationality often makes us run wild with ideas, even at the expense of others. Rationality without emotions can look enticing in the short term, but it can be a menace in the long term.

It Is Impossible to Be Rational Without Emotions

While it is true that emotions can overwhelm rationality at times, it is impossible to be rational without being emotional. Today there is scientific evidence to prove that we, as human beings, are incapable of making decisions if we can’t feel our emotions. You can read about the works of neurobiologist Antonio Damasio to see that without emotions, there is no decision making possible. [1][2]

He worked on a patient with a severed connection between the frontal lobe (where rationality originates) and cerebral amygdala (where emotions originate) in the brain. After the surgery, the patient could think, but he could not feel anything. He noticed that while he was able to engage in rational thought all the time, he was not able to make a choice over the other.

When Emotions Overwhelm Us?

We all have been in situations where we don’t want to do what we know is the right thing to do. When emotions overwhelm us, we can get sucked into the temptation of the respective emotion and (re)act in a way which provides us emotional relief. For example – When you couldn’t control your frustration and vented it out on your manager because it felt good to spurt it out.

Emotions are very good messengers, but poor masters. We should always listen to them and let them play a big role in our rationality, but subjugating reason to emotional whims can cause us short and long term harm. In the end we should always use reason to choose the best option available for us, and use emotions as a lighthouse to guide us on the right path. This will help us in making the right choices (which might not be the easy ones) in life with conviction.

Emotions Intelligence is a Skill. Train Yourself

Now that we have seen that there is no action possible without emotions, we can conclude that emotions are not bad or good in themselves. It is our ability to handle them that make us interpret them as so. It is a skill that, just like other skills, can be developed.

Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions builds confidence and opens up new pathways which were earlier closed to you. Emotional people are often regarded as weak in certain societies, but I believe that the ability to handle one’s own emotions is one of the most useful skills a human being can acquire.

Increased emotional awareness can be a great asset we all can make use of not only to make the right decisions for ourselves, but also to create a better world around us. A world which is not mine or yours – but ours.

There Are Only Perspectives, No Truth. And Five Different Perspectives You Can Apply In Each Situation

Tom : “I am sorry I am a bit late to this meeting. My previous meeting ran over.”
Sara : “I am more worried about the missed deadline on the product your team is developing. Your team is slow.”
Tom : “It’s not my fault. Two members on my team reported sick last week and I can’t help it.”
Sara : “I don’t really care what happened. But I know I can’t count on your team. This makes me look bad.”
Tom : “You are not being fair, Sara. “
Sara (to herself) : “Tom’s lack of experience shows. He doesn’t hold his team accountable, and always has excuses for delays.”

How many times have we spoken or seen others speak such sentences? As we solve complex business problems, very often we “know” the truth (you are slow, this is not how things work here, etc) and base our actions on it. In this article I want to stress that there are no truths in the workplace (and life). There are only perspectives, and there can be many different perspectives depending on how you look at the situation. Once we realise that our apparent “truth” is only a perspective, it allows us to view the same situation differently to help us make better decisions.

How We Form Our Truth?
The first thing we must do is to take a pause and ponder about how we form our truth in the first place. We (human beings) gather inputs from our five senses – smell, touch, sight, sound and taste. Anything which is external reaches us via one of the senses. We touch something which is hot, and we “know” it is dangerous and not safe. We hear something from multiple people or from a reliable source, and are inclined to believe it as “truth”.

The quality, source and frequency of sensory information we gather has a big role in how we interpret it. For example – If you read an article with a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes (quality), you are less likely to trust the content. Similarly, if you hear about the same thing from multiple people (frequency), you will be more inclined to trust it.

Once we collect the sensory information from the outside world, our brain make sense of it. It decides which signals to pay more attention to and which to ignore. Our brains also apply the collective influence of our memories, beliefs, thoughts and values to every new information, and derive meaning from it. I already wrote about Listening Filters and how they create the “truth“. For example – Growing up in a very hierarchical corporate culture (and society) in India, it still takes effort on my part to see and interact with people above me on the corporate ladder as peers in Amsterdam.

What if when you die, they ask "How was heaven?”

What if when you die, they ask “How was heaven?”

The Five Different Perspectives
The important thing to realise here is that the “truth” we form by the above process is only “our” truth, and not the absolute truth. Realising that different people can see and create their own truth in the same situation is the key to working together more productively. Seeing our own truth as a ‘perspective‘ instead of the truth leads to humility and a willingness to consider other perspectives.

Unless we step down from the high pedestal of truth we often end up placing ourselves on, we can’t see all the other perspectives out there. I believe there are (at-least) five different perspectives which can offer tremendous insights to us. However, it is not always easy, nor are we often willing, to view a situation from these perspectives. They might lead to some uncomfortable moments, but the process can often result in new insights and learnings. These not only can lead to better results but also help us become more human in the process.

As I write down the different perspectives below, I will also specify a few questions we can ask to uncover each perspective :-

First Person (My) Perspective
The first person perspective is how I see and perceive things. The biggest clue about the first person perspective is the usage of pronouns like We, Us, Our, I, Me, Mine in our thoughts and language. This is the most natural perspective for all living creatures, and we listen and think in first person perspective by default. The first person perspective leaves you with ownership, authenticity and often attachment to your point of view.

Questions to Uncover First Person Perspective
1. What conclusion am I arriving at?
2. Is it the truth, or just my opinion?
3. What reasons/proof do I have for my opinion?
For Example – Sara’s (in the above conversation) first person perspective could be – “Tom is a difficult person to deal with because of his immaturity. I can’t trust him or his team as he is not accountable.”

Second Person (Your) Perspective
The second person perspective is seeing things from another person’s point of view. Listening to someone and making efforts to understand her perspective shows respect. The second person perspective calls for seeing and feeling the world as another person does. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with it. The second person perspective has a lot to do with listening and it can have a massive impact. Second person perspective leaves you with empathy and humility.

Questions to Uncover Second Person Perspective
1. How would this situation look and feel to him/her?
2. How would he/she interpret the situation? Can I step in his/her shoes?
3. Can I feel how he/she might be feeling (anger/joy/frustration) right now?
For Example – Sara’s second person perspective could be – “Tom is new to this job and he must be finding it difficult to make demands from his people. He must be really stressed out and might need some help to manage his priorities better. I might only be making matters worse for him. Instead, can I help him somehow?”

"Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes." - American Proverb

“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” – American Proverb

Third Person (His/Her) Perspective
Another perspective could of a related third party. If you are talking to your colleague, a third party perspective could be of your manager or another colleague. For example – In a workplace, a third person perspective could be of a colleague whose work will/might be impacted by what you are talking about. Seeing through the third person perspective leaves you with a big picture view, more options and opens up blind spots.

Questions to Uncover Third Person Perspective
1. How would my boss think about this situation?
2. How would the sales head think about this conversation?
3. If I were him/her, how would I have described the situation?
For Example – Sara’s third person perspective, from the point of view of another colleague, would be – “Tom is trying hard to keep everyone happy, and failing at it. And Sara is not making it any easier for him by making demands without understanding his situation. How will they make this project succeed? If they fail, it will hurt our team and we will miss our targets.”

Stranger (Witness) Perspective
The fourth perspective calls for viewing the situation from the point of view of a witness. A witness is someone who neither has any stake in what you are discussing nor does he knows either of you. The witness perspective is purely objective, and the witness observes the proceedings just like a camera would. Taking this perspective leaves you with detachment and objectivity. You see things as they are, without any judgement and attachment to either side or to a specific outcome.

Questions to Uncover Stranger Perspective
1. How would a stranger see and report my situation?
2. If this were a movie, how would I describe it?
For Example – Sara’s stranger perspective could be – “Tom is acting like a typical newbie, and is going to make the same mistakes everyone makes. People around him are too busy in their own lives to help or assist him grow through this phase in his career. Sara or Tom’s manager can step in to help, but do they even realise the need for it.”

God / Compassion Perspective
The fifth perspective calls for looking at the situation from a place of love, kindness and compassion. With this perspective, we look how we can make things better for every party involved, and worse for no-one. We attempt to listen to our inner voice (consciousness) in this perspective. How does it feel? Is there something which I know but am unwilling to acknowledge?

Questions to Uncover God Perspective
1. Would I want this conversation to be aired on TV, or reported in tomorrows’ newspapers?
2. Do I hear an inner voice saying “this doesn’t feel right” or anything else?
3. How would Jesus / Allah / Buddha / Krishna do in my situation?
Disclaimer – This perspective has nothing to do with religion or our religious views, but is rather an invitation to stand in a place where we want to see everyone happy. It is about feeling instead of thinking, and using our heart for mutual well-being instead of our brain for personal gains and business results.
For Example – Sara’s fifth perspective could be “Tom must be going through a hard time, and might even be carrying his stress into his personal life. And I am not making it any easier for him. Can I help him manage his priorities better? Can he seek some training or help? The same holds true for me too. Going after business goals are fine, but it doesn’t have to be at the cost of stress and unhappiness.”

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

To conclude, asking the above questions and viewing our situation from multiple perspectives can be tremendously liberating. It can provide us with options which weren’t visible to us before. Getting lost in what we believe to be the truth (first person perspective) can bring us stressful days, broken relationships and health problems.

All of this can often be avoided by taking a look at the above five perspectives. It can often ease up any emotional build up (stress, anger, over-excitement) and prevent us from doing something in haste and from our limited viewpoint. It might not solve every business problem we get stuck in, but we can surely finish with better results and make more informed choices after considering these five different perspectives.

Five Things A Leader Must Do By Default

In today’s corporate environment, after a few years of doing your job well enough, chances are that you will be asked to step up and lead a team. You trained and studied to be good at your job, and now getting to manage people seems like a reward for a job well done.

By promoting the good performers to be managers and leaders, people have assumed for centuries that the skills that made you successful as an individual contributor would also make you successful as a manager. If you have led people for any considerable amount of time, you would know how false this assumption is. Yet in the business world, this continues to be the norm.

Today I want to list down five things which you must do, or are expected to do by default, to be effective as a manager/leader. And it is likely that nobody told you this when you were promoted. I have only figured them out after leading teams for over a decade, and I believe I am on a continuous journey to learn and know more about leadership.

1. Lead Yourself
The first thing you must do to be effective as a leader is to lead yourself. Your relationship with your team will be determined more by your trustworthiness than by any other skill or talent you might possess. Trust is the foundation of leadership, and you build trust by leading yourself first – by holding yourself accountable for what you demand from your team. Like any worthwhile endeavour, it takes time, effort and daily investments to build trust with your team.

If you want your team members to honour their promises, honour your promises to them. If you ask them to be on time for meetings, you must be on time first. Or you will lose their trust. If you ask them to be respectful to each other, you must respect them first. Or you will lose their trust. If you want them to be humble, you need to exemplify that in your behaviour. If you need them to be honest and sincere, you need to acknowledge your mistakes publicly and make amends for them. You can not lead a team if you can’t lead yourself.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” - Unknown

2. Know Where You are Headed

When you are leading a team, people will look up to you for providing direction. Having a well-defined purpose clarifies why the team exists in the first place. Coming up with the team’s purpose together with your team will empower them to take decisions which are in the best interest of the team.

Listening to your team and engaging in a dialogue will allow the team to define and own its purpose. You need to spend time with the team regularly to discuss, revisit or reshape the team’s purpose. Ensuring each member understands the team’s purpose and their role in the team will empower them to prioritise their tasks effectively.

3. Be a Coach
If you have people reporting to you, then you are their coach by default. You don’t have a choice in being their coach as people will approach you anyways. When they are demotivated, when they have a conflict, or when they need help for any other reason; it is your responsibility to listen, understand their concerns, and then coach them to align their personal motivations with the team’s shared purpose and goals. If you can’t do that effectively, it will impact the results the team intends to produce in the future.

While I assert that you are a coach by default, the skills and conversations required to be a coach don’t come by default. You must invest time and effort in learning and practicing your coaching skills. How well you coach people will be directly proportional to the results the team produces. Investing in learning these skills and making coaching a priority will be your best investment ever.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” – Lewis Carroll

4. Demand Commitment and Accountability
Just as every sport has a certain set of rules, each business team can come up with rules (or standards) which apply to their business and industry. These rules will govern how you work and define success and failure. Examples could be how you treat your colleagues, how complaints are handled, and what boundaries you set in matters important to the team. Once these standards are set, it frees up everyone to exercise their own creativity in making decisions. This gives shape to the ‘culture’ in the team.

After you set up these standards together with your team, you have to demand them. Of course, for this to work, you have to exemplify them yourself. Holding your team accountable to these standards (or rules) will bring the team members together and set the team up for high performance. The intention behind it is not to punish or penalise people when they slip up, but to ensure an open, fair and supportive culture in the team.

5. Serve Your People
I believe that leadership is a privilege, and that each leader is a custodian of the company’s values, beliefs and ambitions for the future. Leadership will require you to think beyond your own self-interest, and from your team or company’s point of view. In order to lead you must be willing to serve – to put your team’s interest in front of any individual interests, which might lead you to make some difficult decisions from time to time.

Leadership is not about power or authority, nor is it about popularity. Leadership is about character – which you will need to express yourself authentically, compassion – which you will need to grow and develop your people, and integrity – which you will need to serve your people with the respect and transparency they deserve.

I believe that leadership is standing for something bigger than yourselves. You show your team the way, give it what it needs to do the job, and then get out of the way. Your biggest job is to create an environment of respect and accountability, where people have fun and express themselves freely by continuously moving forward towards the team’s goals.

Leadership is Service

To sum it up, these five points above are not strategies or tactics which you can incorporate in your leadership style to get better results. These are the bedrock which will give rise to a myriad of strategies and tactics, which in turn will lead to those results. If you try to fake them, your people will call your bluff sooner or later, and you will lose all credibility and trust. An attitude of humble service will enable you to become a better leader, while taking care of your team and company’s needs.

Why I don’t believe in personal / professional divide?

Throughout my career, I have never believed in keeping separate lives for personal and professional fronts, as people say. One big reason for this might be that I started my career in a startup, and have worked mostly with startups where the work culture and environment was uber-cool and the person sitting next to you was a friend first and colleague later.

There have been times where I have been advised to keep my personal and professional lives separate, and to think and act only professionally while at work. I myself have thought (for a brief duration) that keeping this separation was the way for peak performance, but I have failed miserably whenever I have tried that. In this article I will share my views about why this separation between personal and professional life no longer works. It might have worked a few decades earlier, but in this age of facebook and twitter, I don’t think peak performance is possible if we keep our personal self at home.

1. Sharing our Feelings Bring People Closer
It is no secret that honestly opening up to another person and being authentic about a situation taps to the deepest levels of the listener and helps to forge trustworthy relationships for the future. By sharing something which touches or moves another, we are building bonds of trust which will not only give us a friend but also a colleague who will be fun and easy to work with, and produce greater results.

2. Bring Yourself to Work Fully
Whoever thinks that emotions have no role to play in professional decisions probably has a blind tied over his/her eyes. We can put on a ‘all-work’ mask, but it is only a mask, as our emotions (and the level of comfort and trust) plays a big part in any business decision. We can try to pretend that we will not let our personal lives affect our work and vice versa, but the truth is that they do. People act differently at work depending upon the mood at work, because as human beings, a parent will not stop worrying about their child just because they are in ‘office‘.

3. Leaders are Humans too, and Leadership is not Perfect
Leadership (and leaders) are no longer seen as super humans, who are meant to be admired and respected, and their word followed like a war order. These days, true leaders are seen vulnerable to the same emotions we all are, and they generate more trust and loyalty by being authentic rather than being perfect. If you are late to office because of a personal reason, there is no point in hiding it just for the sake of personal / professional divide.

4. Working with Friends is Always More Fun
Nobody wants to spend 8 hours (the biggest chunk) of our waking lives daily with bozos. Life gets much more interesting when we are doing what we like to do, and with people we like to interact with. Working in a field which excites you in the company of friends makes work so much easier. We all know how difficult passing the eight hours at work becomes when there are just colleagues and no friends. Friends can make time fly by and you won’t even realize you are working. It also raises the productivity level of you as an individual and the team as a whole.

Having said that, this article should not be interpreted as a case for taking your work home or letting personal come in the way of work. What I want to say through the above points is that we can be much more interactive if we see our clients and colleagues as people first, and not stop ourself from understanding or forging a friendship with them just because personal lives must be kept apart (as per popular advice).

How my biggest strength was stopping me from achieving results?

Time Management and prioritizing things have always been one of my biggest strength. First, as a student, and later as a professional, I have always tried to be ahead of time, and plan things in advance. I can’t remember how it started, maybe I just inherited this from my parents or my knack of doing something ‘extra‘ always made me manage my time properly. However, in the last one year, I have realized how this strength of mine has stopped me in achieving more and better results, and what I had to do to not let this strength become a barrier.

The earliest example of time management in my life came from my parents. I still remember my mother used to wake me up at 6 AM every morning while I was 7-8 years old and how my parents made me study for 30 mins every morning before leaving for school. The same used to continue after coming back from school with homework in the afternoon, some playtime in the evening followed by one hour of TV at night. I think the same planning of time carried on when I went to college in Jaipur and later when I started my career at Noida.

Now, as a student, and as a professional who was just starting his career, most of the work I did was individual in nature. It means I had the responsibility of doing something on my own, and I always enjoyed it as I was good at prioritizing and scheduling my time. Most of the success I tasted at work was primarily because of my ability to manage my time and schedule. All this was going well till I started handling the 99acres tech team. This moved me into a leadership role for the first time and I was responsible for the work of the whole team, and it was a team job rather than an individual job.

Are your strengths becoming your weakness?

Are your strengths becoming your weakness?

During that one year in Noida, I found that I made good friends and had a good relationship with people who were good in their work and finished their tasks timely. On the other hand, I felt anger and frustration whenever someone was unable to complete their work timely. I started treating both sets of people differently. In other words, I enjoyed working with people who shared the same traits of time management and resented working with whom ‘I considered‘ poor performers. At that time, however, I was totally unaware that this was stopping me from achieving more results.

Only in the last one year, when I have taken some projects in the social space, like Waste Management and Anti-Corruption, that I have realized how my biggest strength was stopping me from achieving results. As my work grew from personal to interacting with people and teams, it was obvious (not to me 😉 ) that there would be differences in the way people think and work. Different people will be good at different skills, and for the success of any task or project, it is very important to leverage the complementary skills of people so that the output is bigger than the sum of its parts. Instead, what I was doing is aligning people with same sets of strengths and weaknesses together, making the project difficult and more prone to failure.

When I finally realized that how easily I used to get worried and upset when somebody did not replied in time, or doesn’t do what I expected him/her to do, I made a conscious effort not to let this become a show-stopper for the project, and for me. It was not easy in the beginning, as I was more concerned with somebody not replying in time rather than thinking about the project as a whole. The day I stopped seeing this behavior as ‘it should not be happening‘, life became a lot easier and I realized how this way of being has impacted my previous projects too.

Once I realized this, I started building systems, structures and processes that provide necessary help to the people to empower them so that delays can be avoided, or their impact be cushioned at best. This helped in creating a win-win scenario with the team working together with each member contributing in his/her own way and without any resentment, worries, etc. There is still a long way to go for me in this area, and I think the best learning will come when I encounter such situations in future, and how I choose to react to them.