The Better Work Project: Emotionally and Cognitively Engaged Teams

21 April

What happens when you unleash emotions in the workplace? In this podcast, we're joined by Jeremy Dean, founder of Riders & Elephants, to talk about engagement. We discuss why emotions are so scary to talk about at work, why we should do it anyway, and how we might build workplaces that perform at both a human and business level.



  • Talking about emotions in the workplace is scary for the majority of people, but it's only scary because they are so misunderstood.
  • The emotional culture deck is a prompt for better conversations that was born out of seeing a more cynical approach to culture work.
  • Research out of Wharton and George Mason University has highlighted that most companies are less concerned with how people are feeling, or should be feeling at work, and more about a stated set of values and behaviours.
  • Research over the past 20 years shows that emotion influences creativity, performance, absenteeism, relationships, and connections.
  • Emotional and cognitive engagement is about putting humanity back into the workplace which is in contrast to Taylorism which effectively dehumanised work.
  • Most organisations are suppressing our humanity, whether they know it or not.
  • We fear what we don't know. The more we can familiarise people with feeling and expressing their emotion, the more over time, it becomes normalised.
  • We have a low level of vocabulary when it comes to emotion. We often think in terms of mad, sad, or glad. We can't connect with each other, unless we have a mechanism to do that. And language is a really powerful mechanism. This is not an organizational problem, but it's a systemic societal and cultural one.
  • Dr. Mark Brackett, the head of emotional intelligence for Yale, has written a book called 'Permission to Feel'. He created the mood meter as a way for people to gain greater insight into their emotions.
  • Dr. Sigal Barsade from Wharton University is the researcher and the professor behind emotional culture.
  • In terms of emotions, you have to name it to tame it. At a neurochemical level, when we label unpleasant emotions we reduce the unpleasantness of that experience as it goes from our limbic system to our prefrontal cortex.
  • When we are not open to allowing other people to have these really profound and important conversations it often loops back to our own discomfort as a leader.
  • The emotional culture deck nudges people to overcome their initial resistance. You can't change people's beliefs with science or evidence due to a phenomenon known as the backfire effect. The emotional culture deck allows for conversation and experience - recognising that you can't change someone, you can only change the way you engage with them.
  • Research by Adam Grant suggests open-plan workplaces eventually create less collaboration and create more mental barriers between people, even though the spaces are physically open.
  • Companies that have thrived with remote work have created more moments to actually connect with people that they weren't doing in their open-plan offices.
  • The customer experience deck was created to answer the question of ‘how do we want our customers to feel when they engage with us?’ and ‘how do we not want them to feel when they engage with us?’ And then, how do we create experiences to help elicit the pleasant emotions and help our customers either avoid or manage the unpleasant ones?' 
  • Ultimately, future workplaces need to be more experimental, more humanistic, more vulnerable to drive better performance. 



Project Management Institute (PMI)® accredited webinar: This webinar offers 1 leadership Professional Development Unit (PDU) to put towards your chosen certification. Use the PDU Claim Code: 41027FKV0J.



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