As I walked my children to school last week, I asked one of the other fathers how his weekend was. “Not great actually”, he replied, “We’ve been feeling pretty down about the election result”. He looked visibly saddened. From there I went on to meet a coaching client who works for a large FTSE 50 organisation, where the response to the Conservative majority (the “blue team” in my 6 year old’s words) was very different – mostly feelings of relief and enthusiasm.
Driving home as I reflected on the very different, yet equally strong, emotions that the election result had elicited, I was left wondering the extent to which emotions had played in the somewhat unexpected (if you had believed the opinion polls) outcome.
At JCA, where we work daily with individuals, teams and organisations to develop emotionally intelligent leaders and thriving organisational climates, we understand the importance that emotions play in the workplace. The evidence – based on latest neuroscience research – is clear; both the emotional part of the brain (the limbic system) and the part we use for conscious thought (the neo-cortex) influence the decisions we make, whether we are aware of this or not.
Our model of Emotional Intelligence, drawing upon this research, describes how our attitudes influence our feelings and our thinking, which in turn determine our behaviour. For example, in a meeting with senior stakeholders, if my attitude towards myself (my self-regard) is low, I might feel incompetent, worry (think) about how others see me and this is likely to stifle my contribution (behaviour). However, if my attitude is one of “I have a right to be here”, then I’m likely to feel confident, think about how I can add value and I will share my ideas more readily.
Through our work with leaders at all levels, we see that those who are able to manage this dynamic effectively – i.e. develop positive attitudes towards themselves and others, notice and take account of both their emotions and thoughts in order to make considered choices, these people are more likely to be successful and lead high-performing, engaged and healthy teams.
So, if we know that attitudes, emotions and thoughts all affect our behaviour at work, how about our behaviour in the ballot box? Did you make an ‘emotionally intelligent’ voting decision?
We like to think that we are rational, objective beings who make sound and considered judgements. But did you actually sit down and undertake a reasoned analysis of the different policies on offer? Or was your selection based on which leader you liked most (or least)? On who you felt was the most authentic, or most like you? Was your decision swayed by having felt let down in the past? Or by feelings of anger at past actions? Was your vote driven by a belief that certain politicians/parties could not be trusted? Maybe you simply selected the team with the best colour.
Often the choices we make are driven by our emotional brain, outside of our conscious awareness. And maybe this is why the polls got it wrong. When questioned by pollsters during the campaign, respondents may have provided their voting intention thoughtfully and rationally. But when standing alone in the ballot box, maybe it was underlying attitudes and emotions that drove the final voting decision.
We know from our development programmes that behaviour change comes from changing attitudes. And it was Maya Angelou, the late America author, who said;
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
The challenge now for the opposition parties is how to influence the attitude of voters and how the electorate will feel about them in five years’ time. That may be influenced as much by the Emotional Intelligence of the leaders they select, as by the policies they decide to adopt.