Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Crushing Mr. Roboto ("Serious Business People Do Not Feel")

Photo by Handmade Stuffs via Flickr

One of my favorite movies is Working Girl. I never fail to cry, rooting for good-hearted, hardworking, honest Melanie Griffith against the stuffy, scheming, not-too-original Sigourney Weaver. 

It is hard to pick my favorite scene. Is it where Sigourney gets her comeuppance, and she can't remember the idea she stole from Melanie that got her so much kudos? Or is it when Melanie gets her little lunchbox from Harrison Ford, who has packed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to take to work?

Doesn't matter. The movie pointed up the importance of feelings. Melanie, Harrison and the other good characters in the movie represent the idea that you can't and shouldn't leave your heart and soul behind when you pull into the corporate parking lot.

Senior executives truly understand the concept of heart at work. But the people who work for them -- that is to say, the upper management ranks -- has a lot of trouble with it. They persist in defining professionalism as the absence of emotion at work.

They would not tell you this. But in talking to them, you get the impression that they think we're supposed to be robots of a kind. We should get things done using only cognitive skills. Emotions, insofar as they exist, are really like dirt -- they get in the way.

Of course this is not only stupid but sexist. Very very subtly, it tells you that the basic, superior, elemental individual against whom all others are judged is the one who exhibits no emotion. 

Traditionally, the stereotypes say, women are the nurturers. We mother. Men are the protectors and the killers. They are taught to be expressionless at will, "Like Toy Soldiers."

Fortunately times have changed. In 1995, the publication of Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence began to shift the leadership conversation away from pure technical and cognitive skills and toward the interpersonal ones. Finally, a respected man was talking about the importance of emotion at work.

Let's ignore the fact that ten years prior, in 1983, that Arlie Hochschild's The Managed Heart had already portrayed a workplace in which emotional skills were becoming absolutely critical to employment. Which makes sense in a service economy. And even more sense now, in a collaborative one.

In 2013, brand expert John Gerzema's The Athena Doctrine came out, arguing that women and those who "think like them" will soon be dominant.

The point of all this is not to argue that women are superior to men, that women are inherently more feeling, and so on. That is nonsense. 

Rather it's about starting a conversation about what kinds of beliefs are implicit in the workplace around emotion. Is it really true, as many seem to believe, that there is no place for feelings at work? That serious business people do not exhibit emotion? 

Of course not!

Multiple intelligence is all the intelligence that we have. It's bringing all thought, all feeling, all spirit, and all sense and sensibility to bear.

* All opinions my own.