External constraints on emotion


An emotion that is acceptable on the athletic playing field may be totally unacceptable when exhibited at the workplace. Similarly, what’s appropriate in one country is often inappropriate in another. These facts illustrate the role that external constraints play in shaping displayed emotions.

Every organization defines boundaries that identify which emotions are acceptable and the degree to which they can be expressed. The same applies in different cultures. In this article, we look at organizational and cultural influences on emotions.

Organizational Influences:
If you can’t smile and appear happy, you’re unlikely to have much of a career working at a Disney amusement park. And a manual produced by McDonald’s states that its counter personnel “must display traits such as sincerity, enthusiasm, confidence, and a sense of humor�.

There is no single emotional “set� sought by all organizations. However, at least in the United States, the evidence indicates that there’s a bias against negative and intense emotions. Expressions of negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger tend to be unacceptable except under fairly specific conditions. For instance, one such condition might be a high-status member of a group conveying impatience with a low-status member. Moreover, expressions of intense emotion, whether negative or positive, tend to be unacceptable because they’re seen as undermining routine task performance. Again, there are exceptional conditions in which this isn’t true—for example, a brief grieving over the sudden death of a company’s CEO or the celebration of a record year of profits.

Cultural Influences:

Cultural norms dictate that employee in service organizations should smile and act friendly when interacting with customers. But this norm doesn’t apply worldwide. In Israel, smiling by supermarket cashiers is seen as a sign of inexperience, so cashiers are encouraged to look somber. In Moslem cultures, smiling is frequently taken as a sign of sexual attraction, so women are socialized not to smile at men. Employees in France are likely to experience a minimal degree of emotional dissonance because they make little effort to hide their true feelings. French retail clerks are infamous for being surly toward customers. Wal-Mart has found that its emphasis on employee friendliness, which has won them a loyal following among US shoppers, doesn’t work in Germany. Accustomed to a culture where “the customer traditionally comes last,� serious German shoppers have been turned off by Wal-Mart’s friendly greeters and helpful personnel.

The above examples illustrate the need to consider cultural factors as influencing what is or aren’t considered as emotionally appropriate. What’s acceptable in one culture may seem extremely unusual or even dysfunctional in another. And cultures differ in terms of the interpretation they give to emotions.

There tends to be high agreement on what emotions mean within cultures but not between. For instance, one study asked Americans to match facial expressions with the six basic emotions. The range of agreement was between 86 and 98 percent. When a group of Japanese was given the same task, they correctly labeled only surprise (with 97% agreement) on the other five emotions, their accuracy ranged from only 27 to 90%. In addition, studies indicate that some cultures lack words for standard emotions such as anxiety, depressions, or guilt. Tahitians, as a case in point, don’t have a word directly equivalent to sadness. When Tahitians are sad, their peers typically attribute their state to a physical illness.

Gender and Emotions

It’s widely assumed that women are more “in touch� with their feelings than men—that they react more emotionally and are better able to read emotions in others. Is there any truth to these assumptions?

The evidence does confirm differences between men and women when it comes to emotional reactions and ability to read others. In contrasting the genders, women show greater emotional expressions than men; they experience emotions more intensely; and they display more frequent expressions of both positive and negative emotions, except anger. In contrast to men, women also report more comfort in expressing emotions. Finally, women are better at reading nonverbal and paralinguistic cues than are men.

What explains these differences? Three possible answers have been suggested. One explanation is the different ways men and women have been socialized. Men are taught to be tough and brave; and showing emotion is inconsistent with this image. Women, on the other hand, are socialized to be nurturing. This may account for the perception that women are generally warmer and friendlier than men. For instance, women are expected to express more positive emotions on the job (shown by smiling) than men, and they do. A second explanation is that women may have more innate ability to read others and present their emotions than do men. Third, women may have a greater need for social approval and, thus, a higher propensity to show positive emotions, such as happiness.

Emotions in the work environment play a major role for the individuals. There may be need on several occasions to deal with work related problems controlling their emotions. If emotions positive or negative are expressed more than required by senior personnel or managers then situation may turn out to be negative. For fresher or junior level cadres it is absolutely a must to control their emotions to a large extent and focus on getting positive results in their jobs even under adverse circumstances which most of the times may be passing phases.