Home' HR Monthly : July 2019 Contents 14
Image: Susan David
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Susan is a keynote speaker at AHRI’s National
Convention and Exhibition, her presentation
will be on her emotional agility concept.
It was a formative experience that kindled
within David a lifelong fascination with the way
we handle emotion. She came to recognise that
positivity had become “a new form of moral
correctness”. It’s a narrative that denies the
reality of who we are as human beings, she says.
What is emotional agility?
At its most basic, emotional agility is the ability
to manage your thoughts and feelings. It’s about
identifying and accepting your emotions – both
good and bad – and moving past them.
Four key concepts, outlined in depth in
Emotional Agility, underpin David’s framework.
First is showing up, where you recognise your
emotions and confront them with curiosity and
kindness. Then there is stepping out, a process
of detachment and observation. Walking your
why involves identifying your core values, and
moving on is the implementation of changes, or
tweaks, that are in line with your values.
Where emotional rigidity sees us fall into
damaging thought patterns and behaviours,
David argues that emotionally agile people
have the skills and resources they need to
thrive in our fast-changing world. They are
dynamic, demonstrate flexibility in dealing with
complex ity, can tolerate stress and overcome
Emotional agility at work
Organisations have a long history of sidelining
messy emotions. The standard view is that
employees and leaders alike can be either
optimistic or stoic – but never outwardly angry,
sad or disappointed.
In the face of change in the workplace, there’s
pressure to “just get on with it,” says David.
Employees are often told “you’re either with us
or against us – you’re either on the bus or off the
bus,” with no middle ground.
The relationship between individuals and
organisations is often adversarial, she says.
“There’s this idea that what is good for the
organisation is not good for the person or
However, David argues that embracing the
full range of the human emotional experience
results in better outcomes for all parties.
Her work focuses on principles that are
mutually advantageous to both the individual,
who benefits from improved wellbeing and
opportunities to grow, and the organisation,
which benefits because its employees are
engaged and “feel they can do their best work”.
A prerequisite of emotional agility is
psychological safety – “the idea that people
feel safe to bring their emotional truth to the
workplace without feeling that they are going to
be fired, scapegoated, or branded negative.”
David believes that so-called negative
emotions play “profoundly important roles” in
the workplace. Innovation and collaboration are
often accompanied by failure, disappointment,
and conflict. Commonly held goals like agility
and inclusiveness, she says, “are simply not
possible unless the organisation has a greater
level of openness towards the more difficult
emotions that people are experiencing.”
These emotions serve a purpose, holding
within them valuable data that we can learn
from, says David. If you feel guilty as a parent
because you have been travelling a lot for
work, “that guilt might be a signpost for you
that presence and connectedness... with your
children are really important,” she says. If you
disregard that guilt because it is negative, rather
than listening to it, you miss the chance to
reaffirm your values and shift your behaviour.
In an organisation, difficult emotions
signpost the things people care about. Dissenters
are often labelled as troublemakers, but David
says dismissing their concerns is a mistake. If
someone in your team is frustrated because
they are bored at work, it’s usually a sign that
they value growth and development and need
a new challenge. A staff member who voices
misgivings about a new strategy could be
highlighting a clash with the organisation’s
values, while grumbling about a project’s
timeline is a red flag that an employee is worried
that quality will be compromised.
When H R or a leader push that feedback
aside, they lose the opportunity to explore
whether it can help the organisation “to develop
a better product, a better outcome, or a better
strategy,” says David.
Organisations must move away from the
narrative that there are good and bad ways
of feeling and recognise that they are dealing
with humans who experience the full range of
emotions, says David. After all, human beings
aren’t machines. “We are complex, and we have
our own values.” •••
16 – 19 SEPTEMBER 2019
Be a future thinker
Wharton School of Business
World Expert on
CEO and Founder
Dr Susan David
Author of ‘Emotional
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