Should We Let Our Emotions Guide Us in Business?

Emotion. Agitation or disturbance of mind; vehement or excited mental state.

(Ten points if you get the film. If not, read through to the end for the big reveal*.)

It’s safe to say that emotions have been running high over the last few months. There’s no single reason either – it could be any of the following:

  • Most of 2021 has been a mental health roller coaster trying to safeguard one family member’s physical health, darting across the country to attend hospital appointments month after month.
  • Workloads have been at an all-time high (yay! I am not complaining, fates).
  • Corona restrictions have yo-yoed and we’ve been getting back to normal-but-not-quite-normal.

It’s enough to make even the saintliest of us emotional. So when it’s a certified fruit loop like me, it’s even worse:

But what happens when emotions cross over with work?

One of the joys of being a woman is the danger of being tarred with the ‘overly emotional’ brush. Thankfully, it’s been nigh on 10 years since I’ve worked in an office dominated by men who told me they’d hired me for my tits, and continued to pay men more than me.

As a freelancer and managing director, I’m responsible for my own business decisions. And while I take pride in my ability to do that, it’s not always worked in my favour.

Doubtless, there have been a whole lot of decisions guided by anger, stress or simply being a crusader for justice throughout COVID-19. I know I’m not alone. In fact, a recent IPSE report revealed that the number of freelancers suffering from “poor” or “very poor” mental health shot up by 300 per cent during the pandemic.

Some personal screw-ups

Everybody uses social media to tell the world about their achievements. Well, here are a few of my emotional failings this year.

“I think it’s best we don’t take it any further.”

Sat in a salon while some long-awaited highlights penetrated my tresses, I received a text. It was a prospective client, who’d ghosted me 13 months previous. At the time, I was nowhere near as busy – so I let him waste my time with call after call after call.

He’d even asked for contacts to help with other marketing work. I happily obliged, and he proceeded to waste their time too. When he slid into my DMs, I was fuming.

After some Whatsapp back and forth, he told me I “seemed blunt”. Yes, I thought. You wasted my time and my friends’ time. Then you disappeared for a year and acted like nothing happened.

Somehow, I managed to hold my tongue and told him that we shouldn’t take it any further. Block. Buh-bye.

“Just forget about it.”

Later this year, I worked with a new client. We sorted the deposit and set the brief – all good. Then the brief changed, and changed again; goalposts were moved…nobody was happy.

In the end, they questioned the price. I read the email on the way out to yet another hospital appointment. Exhausted, I didn’t have the energy to fight it…so I told them to forget it.

Did I lose money on both accounts?

Absolutely. I said no to a potential project and lost time on another. And Lord knows, when I was playing full-time carer back in March, I probably sent out a few pissy emails as well.

The perils of letting your emotions get in the way

So, as freelancers, what’s the upshot of letting our emotions affect our decision-making?

  1. Alienating clients. Tone is hard to infer over email, after all.
  2. Reputational damage. What if our sharp tongues lead to nasty reviews?
  3. Burning bridges. Have we reacted on impulse?

One thing that my level-headed, incredibly sensible and somewhat introverted partner advises is to draft the email – but don’t hit send. Even better, as Meat Loaf said, sleep on it.

I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve woken up with a completely different view the next morning.

But what if emotions are actually our friend?

When emotions can be a good thing in business

Erik Larson, Leadership Strategist at Forbes, tells us that we are useless at making decisions without emotion. He cites a study from the Harvard Business Review, which states that humans essentially have “dog brains with a human cortex on top”. We can apply all the logic we like, but for whatever reason, sometimes, the dog takes over.

As it turns out, this isn’t always a bad thing. The study recounts an experiment on 50 patients who’d suffered damage to the limbic system –  the area of the brain involved in emotional response. While these patients had no issues with memory or language, they struggled to make decisions.

Standing up for the little guy

Any freelancer knows that each day is met with tricky decisions. We are our own marketers, BDMs and accountants, after all. So, surely we need help making these decisions, no?

That’s not to say our decisions are always right, but it’s different for the self-employed. We don’t have a larger brand to hide behind. One hungover account manager at Coca Cola isn’t going to destroy the company. One angry email from a peed off freelancer could.

Likewise, we don’t have the same means of self-defence. If a client attacks us, it’s an affront to us – as individuals. We’ve built this business and when we see injustice, we can’t help but want to stick up for ourselves.

Sometimes, this works out for the better. Case in point: I recently found out I’d invested a large sum in an advertising opportunity, which I could have got for free. I got angry about it and sent an impulsive email – but I got the refund, and now I could potentially generate the same return for a much smaller investment.

Emotions affect buyers…why not suppliers?

Any marketer worth their salt knows that buyers are influenced by emotions. Fear of missing out. Cravings for a sugar rush. Buying the bikini body.

If we can be this selective as buyers, why can’t we as suppliers? For example, why should we work with a client that challenges our values? What if we only want to work with people who share the same views, such as sustainable brands?

Tips on managing emotion…from one very emotional woman.

You’ll see from my cautionary tales that being too rash can have bad results. But we need emotions in decision-making – particularly when they’re affecting our welfare or our finances.

In my view, emotions have their place in business, so long as they’re supported by facts. For example – I was pissed off about the advertising gig and potentially missed an opportunity. But I also knew I was being taken for a ride.

The ‘pause’ advice rings true. Try not to act on impulse, however you’re feeling. Instead:

  • Scream, cry and rant to the closest person – but stay away from the keyboard.
  • Post-scream, write a really angry, pissy draft…then find the salient details and rewrite. You’re “charging this much because X” …not “you’re a cheapskate asshole”.
  • Look at the facts and consider the long-term implications. What is this client/project/proposition worth to you? How will it affect your health?
  • Turn to your network. The number of times I have ranted to the wonderful Ellen Forster’s Twitter group…it makes you feel so much better and stops you sending naughty emails.

And if all else fails, smash some shit up in a rage room like I did. It’s GREAT.

*Big reveal was OF COURSE the Rocky Horror Picture Show. 10 points for you!

Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
20th May 2021