Emotional agility for psychological safety at work

It is time for companies to work towards removing emotional insecurities from the corporate system.

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We live in a culture so intent on taking advantage of our vulnerability that we need to start our day with booster shots of emotional agility. Machines have affected the cognitive function of the mind and that has impacted the emotions too.

The dynamic culture of a workplace is a minefield for emotions. Whether it is a home-bred or a global company, the challenge is the same. The ones who can deal with their emotions effectively and with agility are able to demonstrate high emotional quotient levels, leading to higher levels of professional quotient.

Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be humiliated or punished for one’s thoughts, ideas, communications and actions. In other words, it is the creation of an environment of true and responsible emotional independence.

Paneesh Rao

my first learning in ‘trust’ and its significance in professional matters not only helped me create a strong foundation of emotions but also shaped my career

What causes emotional threats at work? Are they driven by peers, seniors or juniors?

In India, we have a protective upbringing at home and that continues through school and college. Workplaces here are also secured setups. One factor to achieve psychological safety is to have a guru/well-wisher/ experienced senior at work.

Paneesh Rao, CHRO L & T Technology Services opines, “When I started my career, I was very unhappy at my first job. I suffered because the role fell short of my academic qualification and promises were not kept. I exited in a span of nine months. In the second company that I joined, I did not get the role I desired but my boss assured me that he would shift me to the one I preferred as soon as a vacancy arises. I trusted him and it worked in my favour. I soon moved to an IR role in a factory in Nagpur, as promised. This was my first learning in ‘trust’ and its significance in professional matters. It not only helped me create a strong foundation of emotions but also shaped my career.”

Rao was fortunate that his trust was not betrayed, but what about the unfortunate employees who are left devastated due to betrayal? They may never be able to trust another person, but that is a theory of the past. Today, emotional agility has gained substance wherein a person suffering from a negative emotion learns to bounce back without being sucked into depression.

The first step in the pursuit of emotional agility is to accept negative emotions and not rationalise with them with imaginative excuses. We have a tendency to adopt an unrealistic positive approach to stay strong and relentless during adversities. For instance, if people are at the receiving end of anger and humiliation from a peer/ senior, they come up with some rational explanation to avoid feeling hurt and depriving themselves of lessons that are hidden in each emotion. Thus, it is not necessary to stay all positive but to deal with the emotions, so that they do not bottle up and cause depression.

Dola Mukherjee

“If I can predict threat or bias around a subject, which can impede my growth, I am extra cautious to notice it and take it out of my way”

In every workplace, people develop relationships that cushion them and guide them when they feel dejected, depressed or disheartened. There should always be a senior person that one can go to for emotional support.

“People feel psychologically unsafe when they hear negative words from someone who has never helped them, who is not worthy of trust and respect. In our organisation, there is a clear unsaid rule that there should be no public humiliation and no comments on anyone’s performance. We do not stress out our employees by writing and expecting answers over the weekend, nor are they ever expected to work beyond office hours,” adds Rao.

Biases at the workplace cause psychological disturbances, insecurities and demotivation. These unconscious biases can be against women and people coming from tier-II, tier III cities. “I have had some live examples of people who have rare skills and high talent up their sleeves, but they lack confidence because of lack of exposure in the initial years of growth and development,” says Dola Mukherjee, head of business HR, Biocon.

Companies should take a big leap towards removing emotional insecurities from the corporate system. “Psychological insecurity exists among the talented and skilled employees, despite bringing in talent. This lot is extremely vulnerable to psychological hurt,” remarks Mukherjee.

“If I can predict threat or bias around a subject, which can impede my growth, I am extra cautious to notice it and take it out of my way. For instance, in the early years of my leadership I have suffered from gender-biased comments, which still exist in the senior role that I play. I have learned to deal with this emotional stress using my wit and agility, and try not to get affected by it,” explains Mukherjee.

Emotional agility is not just about accepting your emotions and labelling them as good or bad, but feeling them for what they are, tracing their root cause and creating the right sensation to get the brain ready for remedial action.

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