This article first appeared in the Women's Learning Studio blog on November 6, 2013. However, it addresses issues that remain very relevant to women today.
When I read Anne Perschel’s recent article, Do Women Managers Burn Too Many Emotional Calories, I immediately responded in the affirmative. In this article, Perschel described a conversation in which a group of women at a corporate retreat explored in depth why a colleague was keeping them awake at night as she engaged in phone conversations with her husband.
After their long discussion about possible reasons for these long and annoying phone calls, the lone man in the group asked, “Why don’t you ask her to be quiet?” Perschel’s conclusion was that women tend to be wired to look at situations from an emotional perspective, sometimes to the exclusion of simple and logical solutions.
I agree that the female filter is often an emotional one.
However, this question presents me with a dilemma. The bulk of my work focuses on the emotional side of leadership, which I call Affective Leadershipsm. I maintain that leaders must make emotional connections with others to accomplish their goals. People make decisions about whom they will follow and what actions they will take based on their emotional attachments and assessments.
As I thought about this dilemma, I concluded that it is still imperative to deal with emotions, to create a positive emotional climate and, most important, to build relationships with colleagues and employees. Emotions are at the center of all motivation and action. Emotions must be part of leadership.
That brings me to the question about whether women burn too many emotional calories. I believe they do. They sometimes explore and discuss emotions rather than taking productive action. The time and energy spent analyzing and discussing motivations and underlying emotions can be counterproductive. Women leaders must consider if another filter would serve them better.
Perschel said the women in the group she described “would prefer to spend excess psychic and emotional energy tickling our own fancy and flattering our advanced abilities to understand our colleague’s motivations.” Her article seems to get at the motive for burning emotional calories. It feels good.
I want to look at how to make the situation better.
For the purpose of this discussion, I will say that women consume too many emotional calories. Like chocolate, time spent exploring, analyzing and sometimes wallowing in emotional content feels good and stimulates an important part of the brain. Sometimes it builds bonds with fellow collaborators. It allows individuals to consider their own motivations and emotional lives. In these discussions, individuals are making statements about their own values and beliefs. They talk about what they will or will not do.
However, like chocolate, too much of a good thing can lead to unpleasant consequences—loss of time, loss of productivity, loss of trust and damaged relationships. Sometimes, women leaders must put themselves on an emotional calorie diet.
So, what steps can women -and men who are so inclined- take to reduce excessive emotional calories? How do they limit the time spent analyzing personality traits and underlying motivations?
These steps are similar to limiting food intake:
- Be aware. Count emotional calories. Recognize when thoughts or discussions about emotion and motivation are getting nowhere.
- Think about motivation. When involved in emotional overeating, think about why the discussion continues. Are you tickling your fancy or flattering you ability to understand someone else’s motivations? Are you being judgmental?
- Limit consumption. When you realize you are involved in an emotional calorie binge, close the door to the reverie or discussion with a statement like, “OK. What can I realistically do about it?”
- Consume healthy emotional calories. Spend time building relationships. Be present. Learn about people’s interests. Ask about their families. Find out about their hopes, dreams and aspirations.
- Add healthy calories. Think about what you should add to your diet, not what you should take away. What are productive ways to spend time and energy? Seek out people who are stimulating, thoughtful and fun. Read good books. Enjoy an emotional movie.
- Keep your eye on the prize. Just as people who want to lose weight post pictures of fit and trim people on their refrigerator doors, look at your ideal. What is your ultimate goal? What is your personal mission? Regularly review thoughts and actions to see if they align with or contribute to that goal or mission.
Finding ways to spend time productively is critical to effective leadership. When emotional thoughts and discussions get in the way of productive action, leaders must take action. Taking action that reduces excess emotional calorie also leads to important emotional benefits—satisfaction, joy and contentment.
Do you see women consuming too many emotional calories? Do you have other suggestions for reducing?