Wednesday 13 April 2016

We don’t do emotion at work, this is a business!

A common message I hear. I was going to say ‘a common cry I hear’, but the word ‘cry’ is a verb and also has an emotional meaning. And that is the whole point. We cannot learn effectively without involving the parts of our brain that handle how we feel.

Let’s examine real example. Last week we were all learning ways of training in a virtual classroom. I felt worried about training in a virtual class, so I did not say much to start with, and so I thought maybe I was not keeping up with my colleagues. Notice how my feelings led to actions led to thoughts:


Research and common sense shows that personal learning experiences in life are deepest when they include a strong emotion; shock, fear, pleasure or excitement. Why is it that many training sessions leave you feeling flat, bored, or partially interested at best?

Assume that THINKING comprises of knowledge, logic and ideas, and that FEELING comprises of personal connection with the issue and engagement with others, and that DO comprises of active practice and application of ideas.

Many training sessions are heavily loaded with THINKING, which provides knowledge. As a trainer, this is easy to do, simply load plenty of concepts, models and ideas into a session. Some trainers assume that a good session means lots of models. 

To be fair, many trainers include a lot of DO in a session, this is the practical element. However, be careful, because DO does not mean a discussion or Q&A or even a role play. These activities involve a lot more logical thinking than they involve real in-the-moment applications. 

FEEL is the piece that is often ignored. We know that emotional connection with a topic, and engagement with other learners makes a huge difference in learning, so why does it make up so little of most courses? ‘No!’ I hear you cry (FEEL response again). ‘I am annoyed that you say this of my training!’ I hear you respond. Good – we have a feeling, and a strong one at that. Stronger the better. Simply asking people how they feel about a subject, or practicing a role play on handling emotions may not be enough. You have to generate the actual emotion naturally, in the learning experience, as a typical and usual reaction. This is not easy to either design, nor facilitate. And yet we agreed at the start that emotions play a vital part in learning?

Let me show you two options: These two illustrations show the emphasis that training sessions give to feel, think, and do, elements.
The balance may vary between learning needs, and that is ok. 
However is the balance as good as it could be? Here are two approaches to a training session, the size of the segments represents the emphasis and time given to each element.

What does this mean for managers? What does this mean for learning specialists? What does this mean for the facilitators of learning?

For managers:
-        It is not possible to separate emotions from performance and working life. People improve when they have a real feeling of connection with the importance of doing something. Remember, discussing feelings is not the same as being emotional, and it will give you an indication of the importance of an issue to people. People are not machines, but then you know this?

For learning specialists:
-        How are you going to design experiences that generate real, strong, emotions that connect with learning needs?
-        How will you convince your sponsors that feelings are as important as thinking in learning?
-        Can you reduce the volume of what people need to know, in order to spend more time connecting with it and doing something with it?

For facilitators:
-        Asking people about how they feel about something during training is a start, but not enough. Can you develop a technique that carefully and supportively allows people to really feel connected with their learning and those who are part of it?
-        Can you debrief learning activities that make sure real, live, feedback is given and felt?
-        Can you ensure people leave with a full learning experience that has ‘held up a mirror’, given people a surprise about themselves, and learnt something?

Does it matter? We all remember how some teachers made us feel at school? Remember events where we did something exceptional, good or bad? And we all remember some things for a long time! This is usually when feeling-doing-thinking, come together.

‘We don’t do emotion at work!’ Yeah right, it’s part of the human condition! If you want robots, then fine. If you want people who show passion for their work, that’s an emotion!

About the Author:

Nigel Murphy is Portfolio & Capability Development Director at MCE. He has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training. For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally dispersed businesses.


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