Management Articles


Do Emotions Belong in the Workplace?

By: Susan Dunn

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, coaches individuals and executives in emotional intelligence, and offers workshops, presentations, trainings, Internet courses and ebooks.  She is a regular presenter for the Royal Caribbean and Costa cruiselines.  Visit her on the web at and for FREE ezine.

The thing that most people seem to have trouble getting their mind around is the place of emotions in business. "Gut instincts," yes, and maybe even "intuition," but emotions ... ?

Do you think emotions do not belong in the workplace?

Suspecting that they DO belong in the workplace, researchers Bechara, Tranel & Demasio devised an experiment. In this experiment, subjects chose cards from decks that were stacked -- some in favor of the subject, some against him or her.

All subjects were able to figure out which decks helped them and which didn't, but subjects preselected because of brain damage to emotional centers were unable to stop picking from the bad decks even when they knew they were bad.

Now do you think emotions belong in the workplace?

As far as good judgment is concerned, "too little emotion" is just as detrimental as "excessive emotion."

Hit Me With Those Long Syllables

This research project is written up in a chapter entitled "Poor Judgement in Spite of High Intellect: Neurological Evidence for Emotional Intelligence." In it, the authors suggest that "decision making is a process that depends on emotional signals." They define emotional signals as "the bioregulatory responses that are aimed at maintaining homeostasis and ensuring survival."

One of their conclusions is that too little emotion is just as bad for decision-making as too much emotion.

They discuss the case of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker around the turn of the century. You probably know him from Ripley's Believe It or Not. He's famous because a railroad spike went in one side of his head and out the other and he lived. What Ripley didn't tell us, but a host of scientific researchers did, is that he lived with his intellect in tact, but from that point on he couldn't make decisions.

Scientists studied Gage and similar cases and concluded that "Such patients develop severe impairments in personal , professional and social decision making, in spite of otherwise largely preserved intellectual abilities... After the damage, they had difficulties planning their workday and future, and difficulties in choosing friends, partners and activities... The choices they make are no longer advantageous... These patients often decide against their own best interests. They are unable to learn from previous mistakes."

This is the role of emotions in our decision-making and this is why increasing your emotional intelligence is so vital to your success and happiness.

This is an extremely tortured and academic way of saying that we need emotional intelligence in order to make good decisions.

It's also a good reason to not just tolerate emotions in the workplace, but to actively welcome them. It’s the emotionally intelligent thing to do!

Source: "Poor Judgement in Spite of High Intellect: Neurological Evidence for Emotional Intelligence," by Antoine Bechara, Daniel Tranel, and Antonio R. Damasio.

© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2002

Other Articles by Susan Dunn

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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