3 mistakes to avoid in dealing with the people stuff

Do you have a control problem? It may show up in subtle ways: small comments to direct an outcome, doing somebody else’s work for them “because it’s just faster that way”, or constantly checking up on someone. Control is one way leaders get in the way of people doing great work. More than that though are the SYSTEMS and STRUCTURES in place (or not in place) to encourage conversations about feelings.

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Dennis has control issues.

Dennis believes he knows the best outcome for the team. He lets them have a go, but ultimately he steers the direction of the project. He censors his input while still signaling his intent. His team shuts down around him, but he is oblivious. The outcome is assured for Dennis.

In a podcast interview I did with Lynne Cazaly, she asserts there are two ways leaders get in the way of teams doing good work: they censor their input, and conversely hold on tight to assure a predetermined outcome. It stifles creativity and innovation.

I believe there is also a bigger concern at play, as an effect of the control issues:

With no system or protocol to talk or deal with emotions at work, changes to Dennis’s style or to the team’s creative output is doomed.

At work, like at home, we need to get emotions on the table. 

In his fabulous book, The Intelligence Trap, David Robson shares the research that supports what we all know already: emotions can derail good thinking, and can get out of hand, wreaking havoc on reputations, relationships, and sometimes remuneration. We just need to look at various Australian tennis stars, their emotive outbursts, and the consequential fines, to see that in action!

Robson shares his antidote to pesky emotions: he calls it the ‘emotional compass’. It consists of:

  • Interoception: paying attention to our body’s emotional signals
  • Emotional differentiation: precise emotional vocabulary
  • Emotional regulation: being able to observe feelings and not let them get out of hand.

Herein lies the three mistakes to avoid when it comes to people stuff. People Stuff is generally tough because of the emotional effects of interactions. 

If we don’t handle the emotional stuff, we don’t handle the people stuff.

Mistake 1. There is no emotional intelligence language or practice. 

Team members are not encouraged to share how they feel about a situation, project, or even their day. It’s all task, no people.

Mistake 2. Over reliance on dopamine, endorphins, cortisol and adrenaline to get stuff done. 

These are the bio-chemicals of task and outcome orientation. If we show up day after day under pressure, with nothing but the task at hand to focus on, we wilt. We need to include practices that encourage the rejuvenating biochemicals of serotonin and oxytocin: acknowledgment, praise, recognition, belonging, fun, gratitude, and generosity.

Mistake 3. Blaming emotional outbursts on personality weakness. 

Emotional people can be like water bombers – the flood of their emotions can be saturating. Some may indeed lack emotional intelligence skills and have a weak emotional compass. Far more likely is a system of work and a structure of engagement in the workplace that does not allow for diffusion of emotional energy, acknowledgment of concerns early, or exploration of emotional cues.

The risk for poor emotional intelligence practices is culture decay.

We can do better! It’s time we include the emotional side of ourselves at work, so it can better inform and support our intellectual selves.

What emotional intelligence practices do you have at work? What mistakes do you tend to make?


Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff – the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff practical and fun.

Zoë is the author of three books: ‘Composure – How centered leaders make the biggest impact’,  ‘Moments – Leadership when it matters most’ and ‘Loyalty – Stop unwanted stuff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates.” Zoë is also the producer of the Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.


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