If you own a business, have employees, or interact with customers, you know that dealing with emotions (or feelings as the two words are essentially the same) is an important element of what you do. Sometimes, your own feelings are problematic and at other times, it is the emotions of others that demand your attention.
And, if you are like most people, while you experience feelings all the time, you do not really understand what feelings are, how they can trip you up, or what you can do to get your feelings to work for you rather than against you.
I developed the Emotions as Tools Model is to demystify the topic of feelings so that:
- Anyone could access and understand their feelings and
- Anyone could learn to master rather than be controlled by his (or her) feelings.
In contrast to other approaches which tend to view emotions as negative and which advocate controlling one’s emotions, the Emotions as Tools Model views feelings as innate tools which, like any other tool such as your TV remote, you can learn to use and master to take back control of your life and improve your relationships.
I have written two books on the subject of emotions both of which are available on Amazon:
- Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings
- Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool
You can download the first chapters of each of these books if you scroll back to the top of this page. Both of these links are in the “Welcome” post.
It is important to note that contrary to the way some feelings are portrayed or experienced, there is no such thing as a negative emotion. All emotions are adaptive.
There are at least three “arenas” in which emotions can impact a business:
- You: your own feelings, as a business owner, about your business, your customers, or your staff
- Your staff: the emotions of your employees directed at you or at your customers
- Your customers: the feelings of customers directed at you, your employees, or your business.
Two emotions that are likely to surface in business are anxiety and anger.
While both of these emotions alert you to a perceived threat, each has its own message and time frame. I will address anxiety in this post (Part 1) and anger in Part 2.
A threat which elicits an emotion is defined as any situation, action, event, or transaction which challenges, calls into question, or negatively impacts one’s beliefs, values, survival, finances, important goals, family, and so forth in such a way that the threat must be dealt with, eliminated, or avoided at all costs. Minor mistakes, disagreements, and unintended consequences, while inconvenient, usually are not perceived as threats.
In applying the Emotions as Tools Model in business, the goal is to master the emotion and either strategically deploy the energy of the emotion to further the pursuit of business goals or constrain and let go of the feeling if it is impairing the completion of important goals.
Any time you worry about whether a decision, situation or outcome will work out to your advantage or create a disaster, from which you will have to recover, the emotion you are experiencing is anxiety. I have a chapter on anxiety in my book Emotions as Tools
Anxiety is a future-based emotion the message of which is: There may be a threat facing me and that threat may “kill” me. The word “kill” is in quotes because I am not talking about physical death but about an outcome that could have serious consequences. The word “may” is in quotes to reinforce the idea that the threat, or negative outcome, about which you are concerned or worried, has not occurred and is, therefore, in the future.
Anxiety often ignores the possibility that the threat might not occur at all.
There are at least two subtypes of anxiety based on how you experience the emotion, the response you make to it, and the extent to which you master the emotion or it controls you. I discuss emotional mastery below.
In this form, anxiety can be debilitating and result in your “freezing” in place and not taking any action at all regarding the perceived (possible) threat.
This is the most common form of anxiety and occurs when:
- you ask yourself the question, “ What if (the threat) happens and I fail.”,
- you assume the future (unwanted) outcome will occur, and
- you act as if it is a forgone conclusion, you can do nothing to prevent it and the negative consequences are inevitable.
This is the type of anxiety that most people think about, experience, and want to avoid. It is also an example of an emotion controlling you.
There is a second way to conceptualize, relate to, and experience anxiety. This second type of anxiety is called Eustress. You master anxiety as a tool when you relate to this emotion as Eustress.
Mastering an emotion involves:
- accepting the emotion as representing your initial perception of your situation,
- understanding the message of the emotion regarding the nature of the perceived threat
- assessing the validity of the message (How real is the threat?)
- choosing an appropriate response which either dismisses the emotion or uses the energy of the emotion to counter the threat.
Anxiety, as Eustress, accepts the valid probability of the possible threat and uses the energy of the anxiety as motivation to both prepare for the future threat and minimize any unwanted consequences. When my students study for an upcoming exam, about which they are concerned, they are validating their anxiety and mastering the anxiety as a motivator to prepare for and, thereby, minimize the impact of the exam. The entrepreneur uses anxiety to plan for and develop contingencies regarding future complications. This is mastering anxiety.
A third option is to maximize the desired impact of the upcoming event.
You might think of this as positive thinking but it is more than that.
Maximizing the impact of an upcoming concern involves asking yourself the question, “What if the (exam, negotiation, meeting) turns out well and everything works out?” When you ask yourself this question, you engage the flip side of anxiety, the emotion you experience is anticipation, and the energy that consumes you is excitement.
Positive thinking is a “Pollyanna” point of view that assumes life is rosy and everything just works out for the best. It, often, does not. Turning anxiety into anticipation uses the energy (worry) of anxiety to make and execute a realistic plan for the issue about which you are anxious and then choosing to act as if your plan will be successful. If the Plan doesn’t work out, you can change your plan.
As a business owner, you can master your own anxiety to push your business forward and you can use your knowledge of anxiety to help your employees master their anxiety when it involves changes in policy or procedures, new responsibilities, dealing with difficult clients, seeking new business and so forth. Knowing that anxiety is a future based emotion which focuses on a perceived threat, you can anticipate the anxiety and allay that threat with information, training, calculated roll outs of new programs and so forth.
I welcome your comments.
I will discuss anger next week.