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Demystifying the role of emotions

Many people think they would be better off if they managed to be more rational and let their emotions aside. Not rarely when I am coaching clients, some of them do believe that all their problems could be solved with a little bit more of rationality. What few people come to realize is that we cannot separate cognition, emotions, and behavior - not in the Western sense of the word - as if each and every one of them were totally separate and independent entities.

Thoughts, emotions, and behaviors walk together - a triad widely explored in Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT) and in almost any coaching technique that uses cognition as a means to change patterns of behavior (Beck, 1961; Peterson, 2006). Emotions are an important cornerstone of our everyday lives. “Reasonably and rationally, without emotions” - many people would like to operate this way, but little do they know that without emotions we cannot survive. Without emotions we have no ambitions or drives to even eat our breakfast. Without emotions we cannot engage in relationships. Without emotions we cannot determine priority of tasks (Bloom, 2009; Pinker, 1997). Rather than a detriment, emotions are an important asset that every human has in his / her favor; emotions are mechanisms that help us to set goals and define priorities (Bloom, 2009). Any manager willing to go the next step in his / her ability as a team leader has to embrace the role of emotions and forget the false notion that emotions are detrimental to a “rational” business decision. Different fields of psychology - affective neuroscience, social psychology, organizational behavior - have shown that cognition and perception depend on emotions (Harvard Law School, 2013). When coaching clients about authentic communication, I have a strong inference that some of them look at me as if I were about to give them tools that will allow a full separation of emotions and thinking. In reality, all the beauty of authentic communication lies in learning how to cope with feelings and emotions whatever they are, rather than learning how to suppress them. Thought suppression is a very hard task and mechanisms to make it possible are still being studied. No surprise then that it becomes really hard to you or anyone else not to think of a white bear when all I am asking of you is not to think of a white bear (Wegner, 1994). Denying emotions follows the same principle. When we engage in any difficult conversation, our emotions, usually strong ones, tag along. We always have our toxic truths that we would like to say and end up not saying1 because we fear (an emotion) what might happen. Usually we go with a non-authentic truth that we think is palatable to our audience, but that unfortunately fails to honor the perspective of both sides engaged in the conversation. “We are damned if we say what we think—and damned if we don’t” (Kofman, 2007, p 135). Deluding ourselves that emotions are the root cause of the conflict only adds fuel to the fire. Those who are not part of the problem cannot be part of the solution. Emotions in the end are the gateway to lead authentic communications and solve all types of conflict. For those who think that emotions don’t help at all; think again and allow yourself to feel. Emotions are at the center of decision-making and team building.


Beck, A. T. (1967). Depression: Clinical, experimental, and theoretical aspects. New York: Hoeber. Beck, A. T. (1991). Cognitive therapy: A 30-year retrospective. American Psychologist, 46, 368–375. Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford. Harvard Law School - Program on Negotiation (2013). Harvard Negotiation Master Class. Retrieved from freemium_id=33997 Kofman, F (2007). Conscious Business. Sounds True. Kindle Edition. Peterson, C (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology (p. 318). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. New York: Norton. Wegner, D. (1994). Ironic Process of Mental Control. Psychological Review, 101, 1, 34-52

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