In my family the cable series “Real Housewives” is popular. I watched it a couple of times and the experience gave me reason to reflect on why I found it to be almost the most maddeningly irritating thing I have ever seen. After some thought it dawned on me that the entire show, each and every 47 minute (plus 13 minutes of ads) episode is devoted to a series of characters talking passionately and at length about their feelings. How they felt when Candy (or some other barely credible name) did not come to their party, wore the same dress as they had, told Mindy (or some other barely credible name) what they had said in confidence, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Here are some key points about feelings:
- They are transitory. Here’s some relationship advice. If you are inclined to take up a sensitive issue with your partner at midnight after a couple of glasses (bottles?) of wine, park it until the morning. You may well find that it doesn’t seem such a big deal in the benevolent light of a new day.
- They are impossible to agree on. Feelings have evolved in such a way that we are absolutely, totally, utterly and completely convinced of the correctness of our own and the incorrectness of those belonging to others. An hour wasted in watching the real housewives will demonstrate this clearly.
- Good feelings are helpful, bad feelings are unhelpful. For instance, optimism, positivity and a future focus improves psychological and physical health. Negativity, cynicism and pessimism causes a decline in psychological and physical health.
- People tend to think that they are victims of their feelings, but a number of neuroscientists (eg Ochsner et al, 2002) have shown that we can control emotions with conscious thoughts. An interesting idea, which has become widely used in cognitive behavioural therapy and other psychology techniques. Pick your own mood!
- Venting is largely destructive. In other words, Sigmund Freud was wrong. Venting negative emotions exercises the parts of the brain associated with such emotions, therefore making them bigger and stronger, so you will be better at being sad or angry next time around. Venting also damages the psychological wellbeing of the poor, unfortunate hearers, who unless they are being paid to appear on Real Housewives really don’t deserve it.
- Venting gives a dopamine surge to the venter, which is why it feels good, even though it is really doing them harm. It can also give a dopamine surge to the ventee, so it can make the hearer feel temporarily better as well. Hence the common agreement that venting is good.
Anyone who has been associated with change management efforts will know that feelings are a big issue in implementing change – they can derail the whole venture.
A key to successful change management is a move away from a focus on feelings to a focus on outcomes, which can cause:
- Much higher levels of cohesion
- Clarity of direction
- A sense of a positive future
In our Change Management Masterclass we explain how to do this and how to build your change efforts on a platform of true empowerment. Click here to find out more.
So, if you are considering getting everyone to describe their feelings at the start of your next meeting you might like to consider discussing the outcomes everyone wants to achieve from the meeting (or the week ahead) instead. It will be better for the wellbeing of the group.
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Rethinking feelings: an FMRI study of the cognitive regulation of emotion.
J Cogn Neurosci. 2002 Nov 15;14(8):1215-29.
*For the trivia hounds, Morris Albert, 1975.
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