Reading Emotions

Our work life is filled with emotions. How we feel on the job, what we say we feel, and what feelings we display all these are important aspects of organizational behavior and workplace culture.

The goals of normative control in factories, offices, and shops may be similar across cultures. Organizational structure, normative control at work place and the surrounding culture are the factors that affect how that control is conceived.

Understanding another person’s felt emotions is a very difficult task. But we can learn to read other’s display emotions. We do this by focusing on verbal, non-verbal, and paralinguistic cues.

Ask about emotions: The easiest way to find out what someone is feeling is to ask them. Saying something as simple as “Are you OK? What’s the problem?” can frequently provide you with the information to assess an individual’s emotional state. But relying on a verbal response has two drawbacks. First, almost all of us conceal our emotions to some extent for privacy and to reflect social expectations. So we might be unwilling to share our true feelings. Second, even if we want to convey our feelings verbally, we may be unable to do so. Some people have difficulty understanding their own emotions and, hence, are unable to express them verbally. So, at best, verbal responses provide only partial information.

Look for non-verbal cues: You’re talking with a coworker. Does the fact that his back is rigid, his teeth clenched, and his facial muscles tight tell you something about his emotional state? It probably should. Facial expressions, gestures, body movements, ad physical distances are non-verbal cues that can provide additional insights into what a person is feeling. Facial expressions, for instance, are a window into a person’s feelings.

Notice differences in facial features: the height of the cheeks, the raising or lowering of the brow, the turn of the mouth, the positioning of the lips, and the configuration of muscles around the eyes. Even something as subtle as the distance at which someone choose to position him or herself from you can convey their feelings, or lack of feelings, of intimacy, aggressiveness, repugnance, or withdrawal.

Look for how things are said: As Zeenat and I talked, I noticed a sharp change in the tone of her voice and the speed at which spoke. I was tapping into the third source of information on a person’s emotions – paralanguage. This is communication that goes beyond the specific spoken words. It includes pitch, amplitude, rate, and voice quality of speech. Paralanguage reminds us that people convey their feelings not only in what they say, but also in how they say it.

  • Divya

    Good article indeed…It would have been great if more insight into “paralanguage” was provided.