Emotions, meatballs and even more emotions


I’ve had a very inspiring week meeting a lot of likeminded people, individuals with a genuine interest in applying neuroscience to organisational practices and who are all doing facinating things with their fields. Interestingly, most of the conversations ended up touching on emotions at some point...

This week, I also hosted a dinner for a network of Swedish female entrepreneurs in Dubai, where we discussed emotions. Over dinner - yes - we had Swedish meatballs :-) we shared thoughts on how our emotions impact us at work. One of the most prevalent emotions was fear, a fear of not succeeding, having enough time, or of not making enough money. Interestingly, fear is also the emotion which has kept us, as human beings, alive over millions of years. The feeling of fear will divert attention from everything else we might be focused on, until the fear trigger has been removed or reassessed. The second most prevalent emotion was excitement/happiness, which I will cover another time. The important part is, we concluded that talking about emotions is difficult, sometimes very difficult, but we all agreed it can be extremely helpful in understanding ourselves, how we engage with and impact those around us.

The neuroscientific fact is that our emotions are shaped by our previous experiences and we are all non-consciously driven by our own emotions. Thus, our behaviour will initially be influenced by our emotions, not by our rational thoughts.

What does this mean at an organisational level?

At an organisational level, one of the most striking ‘’aha moments’’ I’ve had since I started my neuroscience journey, is the mismatch between the rational focus (culture) of most organisations and the level to which emotions actually influence us as individuals and therefore, also organisations.

The difference between my Swedish network and an organisation, is that emotions are of course playing out on a much larger scale. A simple equation could be:

The number of people working in an organisation X the number of emotions they experience during a day

Let’s take an example of Emirates Airlines and an assumption of 10 basic emotions: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, shame, surprise, embarrassment, love, happiness, contempt. Let’s be prudent and assume that most employees go through four of these emotions each day:

95,000* employees x 4 emotions = 380,000 emotional experiences / each individual’s ability to manage their emotions = the type of behaviours displayed within Emirates throughout a given day. That's a lot of emotions and potential emotional encounters!

Moving away from the example, to me, the mismatch between rational and emotional focus (cultures) explains a lot. The marketing guys have known about this for some time.

Why is it then that many companies still have a culture and way of working based on the assumption that we are rational human beings, with rational thoughts, taking rational decisions? When it is all about emotions...

What do you think?


* Emirates Airlines annual report 2015-2016: http://www.theemiratesgroup.com/english/facts-figures/annual-report.aspx