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Emotions and Reasoning at Work Published: Sunday, December 9, 2007 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Hot buttons refer to the conditions that have particularly strong meaning for the individual (either positive or negative) and that lead that person to behave dysfunctionally and defensively.  Some people have their buttons pushed when they believe they are not afforded the respect, deference, or attention they believe they deserve.  Other people have their hot buttons pushed when they believe others are questioning their ability, commitment, intelligence, or integrity.  Still others have their buttons pushed when they believe they are being manipulated or otherwise controlled.  Hot buttons often lead a person to react dysfunctionally when others act dysfunctionally.  But because hot buttons often lead a person to misperceiving others’ remarks, actions and behaviors, the individual often respond dysfunctionally even when others have acted functionally.

When trying to self-manage or help others to respond effectively it is important to help members to identify their hot buttons and then helping members reframe their thinking about critical or sensitive issues.

Helping professionals are in the business of helping people, teams and organizations identify, express and discuss emotions in a way that increases rather than decreases high performance.  The idea is to help members express their negative emotions in a fairly constructive way or reduce the potentially dysfunctional or destructive effects of negative emotions by learning to think, yes to think, and then behave more adequately.  Of course, this is not about invading the individual’s profound privacy, but only about coping with negative emotional behavior when it is expressed in a manner inconsistent with the values and ground rules of organization.  Also intervention is more than acceptable when it results from dysfunctional thinking that is, thinking that reduces the long-term effectiveness and stamina of the individual and/or the team.

On the other hand, because intervening with dysfunctional emotions can increase the threat some members feel, behaviors of everyone must be consistent with the kind of culture and values-set the organization is trying to enhance.  The crucial statement here is that the diverse structure of people’s emotions, as expressed within any organizations, must relate to its work effectiveness, and to the quality of organizational outcomes that are being pursued.

People express their emotions either directly or indirectly.  When emotions are expressed directly, they describe what people are feeling.  Examples are “I am really angry at you” and “I fear that he will get back at me if I am honest.”  People also express emotions indirectly either verbally and non-verbally.  Examples of expressing emotions indirectly include raising or lowering the voice, focusing repeatedly on a particular point, raising many unrelated points, immediately changing and opinion when pressured, verbally attacking people or denying their actions.  Here body language is also included as reflecting hostility, indifference, tension or avoidance.

As we have researched, there are six principles of emotional intelligences at work: 1) Emotions are data and they help us survive; 2) It is impossible to try to ignore or hide emotions; 3) Decisions must incorporate emotions to be effective; 4) Differents moods influence our thinking in different ways; 5) Emotions follow logical patterns; 6) Emotional universals exist, but so do specifics.

It is vital to manage emotions, especially those that create defensive behavior, because otherwise it will reduce the organization’s ability to perform…Organizations must high perform or else.


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