How Expressing Emotions Influences Resilience At Work

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Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome John Paul Stephens of Case Western Reserve University, Emily D. Heaphy of Boston University, Abraham Carmeli of Tel Aviv University, and Gretchen M. Spreitzer and Jane E. Dutton, both of the University of Michigan, whose article “Relationship Quality and Virtuousness: Emotional Carrying Capacity as a Source of Individual and Team Resilience” was published in Vol. 49, No. 1 (March 2013) of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.

How does the expression of emotions influence resilience at work?

pullquoteWe started to pursue the topic of emotions in relationships at work based on the work on high-quality connections by Jane Dutton and Emily Heaphy. In the past, researchers have looked at how people exchange resources in relationships, or how people might express emotions in close relationships. Instead, our perspective focuses on the quality of the relationship itself: what is the emotional texture of the relationship between two people? We focus on what we call emotional carrying capacity. We asked people – Is that relationship capable of handling more absolute emotions, as well as more positive and negative emotions? Are emotions expressed constructively, in a way that allows relationship partners to learn from those emotions? When the answers were yes, this showed that together dyads or teams were better able to process emotions.JABS_72ppiRGB_150pixw

Another unique aspect of our research was our examination of whether and why emotional expression can help cultivate resilience among individuals and teams.  We were able to identify emotional carrying capacity as a mechanism for explaining how closeness in dyadic relationships, and trust amongst team members leads to individual and team resilience.

We hope that this research will prompt managers and scholars to reflect on how emotions are expressed in relationships, what kinds of emotions get expressed (or not), and the relational skills involved in expressing emotions. The challenge for organizations concerned about developing resilience in their individual employees and teams is to create norms and safe spaces for expressing different kinds of emotions constructively.  These safe emotional spaces are so critical in times of greater uncertainty and complex challenges. Therefore, leaders, especially, will have to think about how they create this context and model behaviors that help to build and nurture high quality relationships in ways that augment their employees’ capacity to cope with difficulties, adapt and grow.

Read the article, “Relationship Quality and Virtuousness: Emotional Carrying Capacity as a Source of Individual and Team Resilience,” in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.

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