Lee Newman, Dean of IE Business School and Professor of Behavioral Science and Leadership, explores how we can recognize negative and send out positive emotions in our work and daily lives.
The Emotion Pills We Are All Unknowingly Taking. Originally posted in video format, with kind acknowledgements to IE Insights.
You may not know it, but every day – at work and outside work in your daily life – you’re taking two types of pills: the blue pills, and the red pills. When someone gives you positive feedback for a presentation you made yesterday, it feels good and you feel proud. That’s a positive emotion, that’s a blue pill. And, when someone steals your credit in front of the boss, that’s a big red pill – negative emotions that typically last for a very long time.
So, what’s critical – and we know from behavioural science – is that this ratio of blue to red makes a big difference in your daily life, in your performance, in the way that you think, and in the way that you behave.
Dial up the blue, dial down the red
So our goal is to dial up the blue and dial down the red. What happens when we have a lot of blue? Well, we’re more creative, we’re more innovative when we face difficult challenges. In contrast, when we run into a lot of red emotions, our attention narrows, we tend to find and focus on the differences we have with other people, we’re less creative or less innovative, and we tend to interpret the neutral behaviour of other people negatively – even if it’s not there.
So, our mission is to dial up the blue and dial down the red at work and outside work on a daily basis. Practically, how could you do that?
Well, we can look for ways to find positive moments in our day. We can take time out in difficult moments to breathe, to meditate, to take a walk in nature. Or, we can socialise – for many of us, socialising is a great way to diffuse negative emotions and create positive emotions.
We can also work to handle negative emotions differently. It’s very difficult to get rid of those people who cause negative emotions in our lives, and it’s equally difficult to eliminate all of the stressors in our daily lives. But we can change the way in which we handle negative emotions. We can choose our battles more carefully. We can talk them through with other people. And learn to just let things go in those difficult moments.
Emotions: Giving others positive vibes
But it’s not only about you – it’s about other people. You’ve probably never thought about it, but you are actually giving out blue pills and red pills to your colleagues and people in your daily life. So your mission, I would suggest, also ought to be thinking about how you can give out more blue pills and fewer red pills. How might you do that?
Humour is a great way to give other people blue pills. Positive feedback to other people – we don’t take the time to do it enough – and it’s a great way for you to hand out blue pills on a daily basis. The red pills you are handing out are typically little bad behaviours that you and all of us have in the workplace. We don’t listen to each other carefully, we micromanage sometimes, other times we’re multi-tasking and spending too much time on our mobile phones and not enough time with our colleagues, listening.
So these are examples of ways that you can affect the lives of other people at work and outside of work to dial up their blue and dial down their red. So I hope you’ll take those practical ideas and start today in re-thinking the role of positive and negative emotions in your daily life. And I also hope that today – is a great day. Just say no to red pills!
> Watch Prof. Lee Newman’s video version of this article on IE Insights.
- Link up with Prof. and Dean Lee Newman on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: Recognising emotions: A super power in the service industry’s arsenal
- Download this article and more in Global Voice magazine #22
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