When it's time for a "tune-up" | Mike Cook

By Mike Cook
Contributing writer 

Do you ever get out-of-sorts, let it linger and not notice it yourself? I do, and it isn’t pretty.

Last week while out for dinner on our anniversary, my wife asked me if I had something on my mind. I hate that—being busted I mean.

There you are, privately (you think) going along in a low-level funk. Every now and then you toss off a lame comment intending to be funny, missing the mark by a mile, making people cry (my wife) without meaning to and wondering why they are being so sensitive, and it is you that’s the one who is out of sorts.

Ugly indeed.

Just when you thought you’ve made it through another day, someone brings your attention to your mood and how it is affecting those around you.

This is just one of the many reasons I love my wife. She loves me of course, but from a practical perspective, she knows that my mood has a lot to do with our income. (By the way, I would assert that the same goes for you and the people reporting to you, in case my point is too obtuse.)

That’s right. In my view, mood and performance are to some degree related.

It turns out that at a fair amount of research has been performed on this hypothesis in a general way, concluding that in complex problem-solving situations, mood has a definite effect.

Away from the experimental and inside the workplace, recent research has also found that mood can be passed along from worker to worker and more employers have come to understand and act on the realization that employees’ emotions are integral to performance.

A recent article from the Wharton School offered the following quote from the paper: “Why Does Affect Matter in Organizations?”

“The state of the literature shows that affect matters because people are not isolated ’emotional islands.’ Rather, they bring all of themselves to work, including their traits, moods and emotions, and their affective experiences and expressions influence others.”

The authors of the paper, Sigal Barsade and Donald Gibson, discuss various types of emotions and how they can be transmitted from one employee to many, leaving your work group in an unproductive state.

No doubt you’ve seen signs of all of the following:

– Discrete, short-lived emotions, such as joy, anger, fear and disgust.

– Moods, which are longer-lasting feelings and not necessarily tied to a particular cause. A person is in a cheerful mood, for instance, or feeling down.

– Dispositional or personality traits, which define a person’s overall approach to life. “She’s always so cheerful,” or “He’s always looking at the negative.”

As a manager, being tuned to this possibility can help you short circuit emotional epidemics in your own group of immediate reports and can also inform your actions to help stem situations where your work might inadvertently touch off emotional wildfires in other parts of the organizations—thoughtless emails on touchy subjects being one case in point.

But what about yourself, or maybe more importantly, what about me?

Well here’s the deal.

My wife keeps a fairly close eye on me. We work from our home, albeit in separate parts of the house, but she has amazing sensory powers.

She knows my patterns and habits, especially the counter productive ones, and if she mentions my mood as she did over dinner that night it almost always is followed by the question, “Do you need me to tune you up?”

The term “tune-up” may sound benign, but in our household it sets off alarms.

If she is asking me about a tune-up, it means she is preparing for a period of micromanagement (my worst nightmare), because she knows that I get in this place by letting a bunch of “tasks” that I don’t like doing start to back up, then get all pouty about it.

I know the next thing up is “the list.” We will make a list and she will hold it and regularly ask about progress. We’ve done this enough times that I simply surrender. It is the least-painful approach, and she doesn’t really want to micromanage me anyway—but she will and she knows I hate it.

So, after dinner that night I head home make my list, start completing the tasks next morning and lo! Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle!” the list is whittled down and my mood is remarkably improved.

Next time you get out of sorts let me know, and I can have my wife give you a call.

Or maybe, you’d rather just make the list and get on with it.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. His columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He also publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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