As Facebook encourages us to express more emotion, should we be doing the same in the real world?


Last week Facebook introduced 5 more ‘emoticons’ – buttons to reflect our emotional response to posts – alongside the legendary like button. Called “Reactions” these emotions are: “love,” “haha,” “yay,” “wow,” “sad” and “anger”. This ability to express more than just a “like” has been almost universally appreciated and adopted by users within days of release.

How and why we express – and indeed suppress – our feelings, beliefs and behaviours online is a fascinating subject matter for social psychologists. And while Facebook’s Reactions feel like ‘virtual emotions 101’ compared with some of the sophisticated work taking place in the labs of Silicon Valley, nevertheless it is definitely a welcome feature as we struggle to preserve the very essence of humanity in an increasingly automated and distracted world.

Some believe that the answer lies in technology: Alain de Botton, for example, wrote in Wired magazine last year that we badly need help when it comes to enhancing our emotional intelligence through technology and he identifies six areas where “AEI” (Artificial Emotional Intelligence) will greatly enhance our lives, as we attempt to reduce our randomness and to make more mature decisions as human beings.

We live and work in what business academics call a time of VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. There is much we don’t know in terms of what the future looks like, much we fear, and little we know to be true. Often it seems that our feelings - our emotions – are our only truths in this crazy world. No-one can change how we feel. Our beliefs and our behaviours yes; but not our emotions.

Too many organisations, for too long, have encouraged the suppressing of emotion. In 'old world' patriarchal cultures, showing emotion was seen as a sign of weakness. Thankfully, times have changed and emotional intelligence is now heralded as the new leadership psychology in modern business. Building deep and trusting connections and relationships has always been critical. People buy people; not robots nor chimpanzees but homo sapiens - and all the brain power we have to offer. And now that science has proven tat our emotional brain drives our logical brain we’re starting to see the imbalance addressed.

Being emotionally intelligent isn’t easy. If you don’t believe me, take a test* and see how you score for competencies like self-control, adapatablity, optimism and self-actualisation. I suspect, like I did, you’ll find that you have a bit of work to do. Often we are reversing a lifetime of avoiding difficult conversations, of not feeling good enough, of finding it difficult to trust others in certain situations, of not looking after ourselves sufficiently so that we’re deficient in the time and energy that we have for others.

It turns out, as many of us don’t appreciate until well into our adult lives, that having control of our emotions, being able to influence others and motivate them towards happiness and success, is one of the hardest things to do as a human being. Success in it should be rewarded as success in life will be built upon it.

I welcome Facebook encouraging us to react in a more diverse way to what is going on in our worlds, I welcome the attempts of the technology labs to help us to advance our emotional decision making, and I applaud the board of directors who recognizes that we need more empathy among our leaders.

(Hence why we need more women leaders because empathy scores tend to be higher in females than males, especially in transformational leadership because serotonin, also higher in women, fuels innovation and creativity. But gender differences in leadership is a topic for another day)

Finally, on the subject of emotions, I will share with you a passionately-co-compiled** Top Ten Emotions Songs Chart (for those of you who know me well you'll know I have a weakness for cheesy popular music, largely from the 80s):

1. Self Control by Laura Branigan

2. Second That Emotion by Smokey Robinson

3. So Emotional by Whitney Houston

4. I Feel For You by Chaka Khan

5. Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith

OK, so I only have five songs in it - it's a work in progress. Feel free to contact me if you can think of any others worthy of inclusion in this aspirational Top Ten.

*RocheMartin™’s ECR report is one of many EQ diagnostic tools, but it is my preference as it specifically assesses emotional intelligence in business leaders.

**With thanks to my co-compiler Helen Tiffany of Bec Development, a company who does brilliant work in the field of leadership development.

#emotions #emotionalintelligence #EQ #Facebook #AEI

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