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Our perception of others' emotions impact on performance

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Why others' emotions are not what they seem

Do you sometimes find yourself thinking: why does everybody always seem so happy and sure about what they are doing, why don't I feel the same way? 

As a manager or a leader, do you wish that people would be a bit more honest and realistic and tell you when they are struggling with their work before it goes really wrong?

If yes, you’re by no means alone and, although they may not talk about it, many of the people you work with feel the same.

In recent research, Alexander Jordan and his colleagues discovered that most people tend to underestimate other peoples' experiences of negative emotion. 

The research suggests that people take on a distorted view of the world that forces them to put on a happy front in order to blend in.

This is, of course, not to say that everyone walks around with a gloomy cloud hanging over their head as they bitterly watch passers-by caught up in light-hearted banter, but it may help explain why it sometimes feels like some people are more introverted than others. 

In their work, Jordan and his team discovered that people were more likely to open up about negative experiences in private.

Interestingly, further research suggested that even close friends underestimate the negative emotions experienced by their friends, with their responses suggesting they overestimated the respondent's positive emotions.

One of the outcomes suggested by the research is that those who underestimate the negative emotions experienced by those around them felt isolated. 

In trying to explain this, the team pointed to the 'fundamental attribution error', a psychological model that helps explain why people downplay the role of the situation when assessing other peoples' behaviour compared with their own. 

Simply put, it suggest that most people prefer to attribute people's behaviour (good or bad) to the individual rather than the situation they find themselves in.

The EBW View

What effect does the research ultimately have on the workplace performance?

Well it offers some interesting reminders. Although colleagues may seem to be happy and untroubled, it is worth remembering that they may be feeling something very different.

So they may not be coping with the pressure of their job or they may not be that motivated by what they are doing.

Getting beneath the surface of our work colleagues and understanding their emotional drivers is absolutely essential if we want to improve performance in the workplace.

This is easier to do after feedback from an EBW Business EQ assessment, which boosts an individual's Emotional Intelligence at work.

Whilst it's unfair to say that everyone suffers ongoing misery, it is important to remember that everyone has their off days and that they shouldn't be judged just by their external behaviour alone.

Remember to ask questions of your team, or your peers about 'what is going on with them', 'what motivates them', 'are they happy with the work they are doing', it will reveal some interesting insights.

If you want to get beneath their skin and see the real person, make sure you talk in private and remind them that your conversation is confidential.

Spending time with others and learning to understand which emotions are driving their behaviour will help you not only manage your emotions and performance, by getting an accurate benchmark of others' performance, but help them improve their performance as well.


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