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Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve and Succeed at Work

It certainly wasn't encouraged when I worked at IBM

but a new study has found that showing emotions

at work could make you a stand-out.

Companies are always looking for ways to get teams to innovate more and find creative answers to problems, according to New research at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business has discovered that one way to do it is to encourage employees to bare their feelings – both positive and negative – to team members.

It's not so much the feelings but the freedom they engender to open us up think outside the box.

New research, co-authored by Myeong-Gu Seo, who collaborated with Maryland Smith PhDs Michael R. Parke (now at the Wharton School of Business) and Sirkwoo Jin (now at Merrimack College), and Xiaoran Hu of the London School of Economics "decided to study the link between emotions and creativity after Seo visited a global tech company lagging its competitors in innovation, the web site notes.

“I immediately noticed that it was about the emotional climate,” Seo tells newswise. “There are a lot of organizational level consequences to bringing your emotions to work,” he says. “In this study, we focus on team-level outcomes when emotions are displayed in the workplace. We see whether ‘affect climates’ – especially whether a team really allows for authentic expression of emotion versus not – can really predict team creativity.”

Seo explains that "affect climate" is established by team members’ shared expectations about what emotions are appropriate and expected to share, and whether showing those emotions is rewarded or punished.

"There are many expectations that naturally form in different teams, based on the climate," the web site reports. And just because a team seems to get along well, doesn’t mean the climate is ideal, Seo says. “There could be a very positive climate – but even if you don’t like an idea, you feel like you have to nod and smile. You can laugh, but you cannot disagree.”

Authenticity was the big player in this research. “It didn’t matter whether teams were positively or negatively oriented. We only focused on whether the team members felt they could express their true emotions. Or not, if they felt they had to suppress emotions or pretend," Seo adds at newswise.

When people feel they can open up, it creates room for more free expression and more exploration of ideas, says Seo.

“That emotional space actually opens up a lot of information elaboration and sharing in teams,” newswise quotes Seo. “Particularly in the early stage of the creative process, where ideas are generally intuitive and crude in nature and lack clear logic and precise articulation, people rely more on feelings and emotions than logical explanations in generating, communicating and evaluating those ideas. Thus, by encouraging free expression and exploration of their emotional reactions, team members can generate and use more and richer information for generating, exploring, evaluating and elaborating creative ideas. But when you kill emotional expression altogether, you kill all other information processing. That’s why it suppresses the creative process and outcomes.”

And positive and negative emotions both are important in the creative process for teams, he says.

“This is kind of contrary to a lot of teams and leaders, who think only positive emotions are good, which is not true. Sometimes negative emotions play a very important role. They help teams evaluate options and help other people to deeply think about the drawbacks of any ideas. Consistently, we find it doesn’t matter – positive, negative – all emotions are important.”

Interestingly, Seo and his co-authors found the effect strongest in cross-functional teams, where team members often have very different knowledge backgrounds, world views and cultural norms, and may not be able to clearly communicate with each other. “Emotions can allow them to communicate with each other, in spite of other barriers, more efficiently and easily in a rich manner,” Seo points out.

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