Close this search box.
Emirates Old Trafford
Smart Group - Electric Xmas

UK businesses need to get emotional

Understanding emotional expression, using emotional intelligence and having an appropriate emotional response could mean the difference between closing or losing a sale and creating or diffusing conflict, as well as securing the best talent, according to business neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw.

Whilst Charles Darwin theorized that emotions were biologically determined and universal to human culture, the more popularised belief during the 1950s was that facial expressions and their meanings were culturally determined through behavioural learning processes. American psychologist and pioneer in the study of emotions Paul Ekman created an “atlas of emotions” and found we are capable of making more than 10,000 facial expressions, with 3,000 relevant to emotion. Ekman initially found the most important universal expressions to be anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. In the 1990s, Ekman proposed an expanded list, including amusement, contempt, contentment, embarrassment, excitement, guilt, pride in achievement, relief, satisfaction, sensory pleasure and shame.

Facial expressions can be key to building business relationships and reading a work situation effectively, but Shaw argues there is a caveat: “Just because you recognise an emotion on someone’s face doesn’t mean you know what the person is thinking. After all, they could have had a sudden thought about their partner or child with the corresponding fleeting expression, so a sudden look of sadness or surprise may have nothing to do with the conversation you are both having.

“That said, reading expressions on people’s faces is a highly useful tool in understanding what to say and often, more importantly, what not to say. For instance, if someone is about to close a sale and there is a tiny expression of fear on the customer’s face, this could mean that they are unsure and not quite convinced this is right for them. If the sales person doesn’t read this, they would probably continue to close the sale and chase the customer away. If however, the expression was noticed, the sales person could then ask more questions and alleviate any fears they may have.”

In tandem with emotional expression, emotional intelligence requires business leaders to focus on the person in front of them and to communicate effectively with them, whether it be with an employee, client, or colleague. Shaw exemplifies this when looking at employer/employee relationships. “Leaders must recognise why individuals are working for them and what most motivates them, be it training, flexibility, professional or personal development, money, core values, space for creativity, etc. Used effectively, the motivation and reward systems of the brain will galvanise the workforce into action with enthusiasm. We must use our emotional intelligence to really understand what our employees are driven by. It is not always about money.”

According to Shaw, being emotionally intelligent means you can ascertain what your employee or client wants to feel – whether it be confident, nurtured, trusted, efficient, pampered, strong, patriotic, or happy – and then we are able to change our business script accordingly. Emotional intelligence also enables us to work out how we want to be perceived, as well. “For successful leadership or a successful branding, marketing, or sales campaign, you need to stay in the driving seat. Having good emotional intelligence enables this.”

Shaw argues that millennium men (18-33 year olds) have better emotional intelligence than any other male generation, but a poor leader can squash this. “If an emotionally unintelligent leader tries to squash our emotional intelligence then we may feel uncomfortable or threatened, which affects our happiness and creativity.”

Our emotional response in business is not only the correct reading of the response of an employee or client, but reacting in the correct way for an effective outcome. “Use and understand emotion to get what you want in business. As a generalisation, it is no surprise that women understand this naturally because anatomically there are minute differences in the male and female brain that correlate with emotional differences. For instance stereotypically, the emotion centre of the brain, the limbic system, is larger in women. We have to be careful of this however, because quite clearly men can improve emotional intelligence very well.”