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  • Deanne Duncombe

Moods and Emotions in the Workplace

by Deanne Duncombe

Recently, I have been reflecting on moods and emotions in the workplace. It has been interesting to view the conversations and interactions at work from a place of curiosity about the moods from which people may be operating, and I feel as though doing so has significantly helped my learning and growth.

What has occurred to me is that humans are often quick to judge the behaviours of other humans. For example …

  • the individual who is providing information that a team assesses to be confusing and misleading is seen as being incompetent;

  • the manager who is constantly pressuring a team member to deliver (and ignoring the various efforts of that team member in the process of doing so) is being seen as pushy and arrogant, perhaps focused only on the accolades that they will receive from delivering on time and on budget;

  • a team may be considered as difficult and obnoxious because they keep insisting on specific information that will allow them to interpret customer requirements appropriately and provide a higher quality solution.

The actions that we take in the workplace, although often coming from the best of intentions, can have the opposite effect to the one that we are trying to create. This can continually create unnecessary frustration, tension and ineffectiveness.

When I started to observe workplace conversations with a curiosity about the moods that each individual is coming from, I found a level of clarity that didn't previously exist for me.

As a manager, I think the question becomes "What can I do to potentially help shift the moods of these individuals into more serving moods?" In the examples I have mentioned, would asking the team to provide a list of the minimum level of information that they would generally require in order to do their job be a useful starting point? Similarly, with regard to the manager who is putting pressure on a team member to deliver, could I talk to that manager about what his concerns are, and then also help him to learn how to acknowledge the team’s contributions in amongst pushing to continually deliver to outcomes? What could I do to help a team to accept that sometimes other teams won’t give them what they want, and what could I do to help them feel empowered to find ways to manage that?

I believe that the conversations and actions that take place within an organisation could be incredibly powerful if members of that organisation had an understanding of their emotions and moods, as well as the actions those emotions and moods predispose them to take.

As part of my exploration, I provided my interpretation to a colleague. He, in my assessment, became a little defensive and said: “Moods are a personal thing. You can’t go questioning people’s moods” I asked: “What if, though, I stopped to understand that Person X’s reaction was not him being difficult but him reacting that way because he was anxious? And what if I understood that I was reacting in a certain way because I was in resignation about a situation not changing? Would understanding moods in this way help us to shift to more resourceful moods, and would an organisation where team members operated in this way become more productive?” My colleague then started to become curious as we talked about the possibilities that would be available in this case.

This new curiosity of my colleague led me to thinking that perhaps an understanding of moods is very new and unknown to people in the context of our conversations in life. This was intriguing, because whilst the application of it in our workplaces and everyday lives appears to be seen as something that is new, the thinking around moods and the impact that they have has been around for some time, as evidenced by the following quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its focus.”

For me, this quote highlights that, when we look at the world, we see subsets of it, based on whatever emotional lens we are viewing through at the time. If we are not aware of this, then we are also not aware of other actions that can be available to us. For example, instead of viewing a colleague as incompetent and writing his efforts off, we may be able to view him as a path to a solution that would benefit everyone (for example a new process that makes it easier for him to give us useful information). This has the potential to be very powerful, yet we are not being taught this in any aspect of our lives.

A quick search on the emotional literature that is available, particularly regarding the use of moods and emotions to bring about effective results in the workplace, led me to feel that I hold a grounded assessment that this is something that is very much missing from our learning as a society. There seems to be very little information available to help us to understand the significance of really understanding the actions that become available through various moods and emotions, and how we can observe those moods and emotions and shift them in a way that creates and fosters productivity in the workplace. I feel as though there are so many situations at work that can become difficult, simply because we don't understand the emotions that we are all operating from, and we don't understand what we are each trying to take care of (i.e. what is important to us), when taking action from these various emotions.

Here are some questions you are invited to reflect on …

  • What mood or moods are you viewing your workplace conversations from?

  • What would it be like if you were to be curious about the moods and emotions that seem to be present in the workplace interactions you notice?

  • What difference would it make if you started to pay more attention to the moods and emotions in workplace interactions?

  • What moods and emotions will assist you to be more positively influential as a manager and leader?

Deanne can be contacted at

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