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Emotions & The Workplace

In a comment that I received yesterday, one of the readers of this blog asked whether I would be writing about 'managing emotions'. I said I would, because "CorporateTheatre" offers very deep and relevant insights into the role of emotions at the workplace. Interestingly, in today's Times of India, in their column, "The Speaking Tree", as well as in the supplement, 'Ascent', there are some very pertinent thoughts on the subject.

The 'HI!5' column in 'Ascent', features an interview with Stephen C. Lundin Ph.D., author of the best selling 'FISH'. The FISH Philosophy advocated by Dr. Lundin, professes exactly what "CorporateTheatre" helps people experience - that it is possible to have high pressure workplaces with constant Change, increasing levels of Challenge, resource constraints, demanding deadlines, exacting levels of excellence, and still have FUN. It also helps people experience that FUN and extreme levels of DISCIPLINE are not mutually exclusive, and can co-exist.

To the interviewer's question, "How have you followed this discipline in our life?", Dr. Lundin offers a very profound answer:

"People ask, "how can I have fun when things are so bad?" A few years ago, my daughter was killed by a drunk driver. After weeks of deep grief, I had choices to make. How would I continue with such a heavy heart? Would I ever speak again? And then i realised no matter how bad things were, I was alive. And not only was I alive, but I was now my daughter's legacy. The FISH! Philosophy is free. It honours life. It is a source of energy which leads to productivity. And it creates an environment that fosters innovation; an environment of natural energy."

This answer contains much profound wisdom about managing emotions. First of all, he says, that he allowed himself to experience weeks of deep grief. In many tribal cultures, when a loved one dies, the system allows for the loved ones to go into deep mourning so that the grief can be experienced, expressed, and then, dropped. In modern, so called 'sophisticated', 'professional' environments, emotion is often seen as undignified. The emotion that should be expressed therefore, gets suppressed and manifests itself in many other unexpected ways. Wise counsellors tell us that when a person is in deep grief, don't analyse or explain why the person should not grieve, "because after all, we are all going to die some day or the other", or "God knows what is best for us", etc., etc. The kindest and the most meaningful that you can do is to just hug them, or hold them, be with them, and let them cry, or pour out their grief.

I remember reading the story of a 4-year old who came back home after spending a long time with an elderly neighbour whose wife had just died. When the little one's mother asked her what she had been doing at the old neighbour's house, she replied that she had been sitting on the old man's lap. The mother asked, "And what did you tell him?" "Nothing", the child replied, "I just helped him cry".

The next step that Dr. Lundin describes is the awareness that he was alive, and the realization that he was now his daughter's legacy. He drops the grief with all the weight of the past memories, and moves directly into the present. "I am alive". This moment is different. This moment is all there is. This moment is all that there will be. Simply because the past and the future exist only in our minds. We are never anywhere but here, now, in this present moment.

In the column, "The Speaking Tree", there is a marvellous article by Simanta Mohanty - "Sorry, Champ. But This, Too, Shall Pass". He talks about the recent Australian Open Finals where Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer, and Federer wept holding the runner's up trophy, and about how that expression of emotion, opened up a thousand hearts to this man's pain, vulnerability, and brilliance. It also talks about how Nadal expressed his own feelings as he received the champion's trophy and how he apologized to Federer. Seemingly such unprofessional behaviour from hardened professional champions. Yet, in the perception of hundreds of thousands of people, it lifted the champions and their performance to a higher platform of performance, beauty, and deep and lasting relevance.

To quote from the article, "Their rivalry is already being hailed as one of the greatest ever in the game, but that did not stop Federer from weeping openly at his loss. He was not afraid to show his wound to his great rival, to tell him that all his sacrifices in preparing for the tournament had come to naught. He did not keep a brave face. Sans ego, the vulnerable Federer touched a chord in all of us. Nadal not only saw the wound, he felt it." (Communication, from the "CorporateTheatre" perspective is powerful only when the other person experiences what you are experiencing.)

Simanta Mohanty goes on in the same article to share an Osho story of a king who asked a rishi for a powerful talisman. The rishi gave the king a ring containing a folded slip of paper and advised him to open it only when faced with the direst of situations for which there is no seeming solution. Years later, when the King found himself in a terribly difficult situation from which there seemed to be no escape, he remembered the talisman. On opening it he found these words, "This will also pass". And sure enough it did. And so it does with the toughest and most painful situations that all of us go through.

As Dr. Lundin realised, the solution was to drop the past and move into the present, "I am alive". This moment is available. To tap the rich new possibilities of this moment, I need to make myself completely available.

To use a Theatre metaphor, the actor plays many characters, or one character with many different and often acutely intense emotions. While the character is experiencing and expressing the emotion in all its intensity, the actor is detached from the emotion. When this scene is over and the next scene starts, the detached actor moves into the next emotion with the same freedom and intensity. If he carries the baggage of the past emotion into the current scene, the character is diluted and the actor is not effective. To quote again from Simanta's article, "Events and emotions in our life stay alive only in our memory. What remains is the one who experiences, unmoved, and unmovable, the one witness, the Presence within us."

The ancient sages, called it "Saakshi Bhava" or the 'Witness mode'. The way to tap the richness of emotion and yet not get adversely affected by it is to relate to the witness within us, which is who we really are.


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