Time and emotional time

Time moves differently in the emotional world. Why does this matter in business? Simply because wherever there is business, there are people; and, wherever there are people, there are emotions.
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Time moves differently in the emotional world. Why does this matter in business? Simply because wherever business exists, there are people; and, wherever there are people, there are emotions.


In our work with Nikoleta & Associates, we find a certain lack of understanding around the extent to which people’s emotional world influences their work. Emotions do not turn off the moment we beep through the security gates of a corporation. They are with us always. As such, they root us to a particular time and space and colour how we experience ourselves. Because we are at work experiencing ourselves, our emotions are with us.

Readers may wonder how we can possibly cite a lack of understanding around how emotions infiltrate business, given that many of us are so familiar with concepts such as emotional intelligence, emotional labour, etc. Therein lies the sticking point: concepts. Emotion and intelligence fundamentally do not belong in the same sentence. Certainly, bringing emotions into the realm of the mind is the first step; it makes them accessible, at least abstractly. But emotion is never fully available until it is experienced in its pure form – felt, not thought about. A conceptual approach to emotion achieves nothing beyond talk.


Caliban, or the ‘madwoman’ in the attic

Whether the intellect ignores it or labels it, emotion operates under its own steam, often overriding the mind. At any moment, it can be inconvenient, irascible, and all-around inappropriate. This raw and basal part of ourselves, with facets that we often do not want to associate with, is always in full play. We take it with us to work and even though we may think that we have it yoked, under control or locked away out of sight, these are our thoughts telling us this.


Emotional time is different than chronological time

This inherent unpredictability makes emotion largely impervious to the confines of business, including time. In business, time is money. Corporations pay for people’s time; very often, they do not expect the emotions to come along with the person or if they do, they expect those emotions to be ignored under the guise of professionalism. Suggestions such as ‘get a grip,’ ‘get a hold of yourself’ or ‘control yourself’ are examples of the intellect attempting to corral feelings. Emotion is immune.

Time serves as a block of experience parcelled out to accomplish a particular task, be that to conduct a meeting, harness creativity during a brainstorming session, conduct a presentation, or complete a service and bill for it. Depending on its perceived complexity, a goal or task will be ascribed a physical limit – for example, x needs to be finished by such and such time.

Emotional time, on the other hand, moves differently. It has its own rhythm. Feelings have no limits; applying a constraint such as ‘time’ to emotion is akin to lassoing water. Someone can hold a feeling for years, decades, far beyond when the physical context expires. Emotions, therefore, are not bound by chronological time; they will often elicit a reaction to an event that has nothing to do with the present situation.


Emotionally hijacked

In business, awareness of the powerful influence of emotional time provides the leader with important sensitivity and understanding. When you understand emotional time, you allow people to be their messy selves. You understand that people are a walking compendium of all their current and former selves and experiences; you recognize that actions and reactions may be flowing from emotions that have not evolved beyond childhood.

As leaders, one of the most useful skills you can develop is to recognize when colleagues or team members have been hijacked by their own emotions and remind them of the present context without judgment. For example, perhaps a colleague is not aware that they cannot move on from an issue. The team leader versed in emotional time recognizes that the colleague needs to talk about it and sets up a one-on-one meeting. Proactively designing for emotional time effectively builds a team’s collaboration muscles.


On (and off) the clock

Approaching colleagues and team members with an understanding of emotional time generates numerous benefits for leaders and organizations. It begins with recognizing that while employees and colleagues are on the clock (so to speak) their emotions may be situating them elsewhere. Present moment awareness does not mean that emotions are ignored or suppressed. Rather, it accepts and embraces the full human in real time.

For example, ideas produced within the urgency of a half-hour chunk of time – the quintessential “off the top of my head’ response – favour certain learning and working styles. Different people process differently; some are “good in the room,” while others work better with the time allowed to process. Sensitivity towards emotional time gives folks room to respond cogently, reflectively and perhaps most importantly, in an authentic manner. And the most exciting, game-changing ideas always emanate from authenticity.

Ultimately, businesses that choose to trust their people and view them as creators rather than executors, as gifts rather than resources to extract work from, will recognize the value of addressing emotional time. It is a cornerstone of innovation, as a deep understanding of emotional time creates opportunities for the full participation of the full human – both intellectually and emotionally.