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Why emotions matter to meetings

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Why emotions matter to meetings

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It’s probably quite unfashionable to say so, but meetings continue to form the bulk of our collaborative efforts at work.  Developments in social network software, crowdsourcing platforms and their ilk have still not shifted the meeting from its place as the bulwark of workplace communication.

Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t a whole lot of things wrong with the office meeting.  Research has suggested that one often overlooked area is with regards to the emotions of participants.  Researchers decided to delve a little deeper into what is known as surface acting, which is the process whereby we deliver what we think other people want to see rather than what we’re really feeling.

Whilst this is quite widely studied, it is generally done so in the context of interactions with customers, but the researchers believed the relatively public nature of a meeting can enable the charade to surface there too.

The hypothesis being tested that when surface acting was in evidence, not only is it ensuring we’re not true to ourselves, the effort to maintain the act was also distracting us from the actual point of the meeting, which meant a less satisfactory outcome was likely.

They collected data from nearly 200 participants from a range of roles, who on average would participate in 3 meetings per week. Participants rated items like ‘I tend to fake a good mood when interacting with others in the meeting’ to produce a surface acting score, and this score was negatively associated with their rating of typical meeting effectiveness, in terms of networking, achieving work goals, or learning useful information.

The researchers then measured the long term effects of surface acting three months on.  They found that employees who had exhibited a higher level of surface acting reported higher emotional exhaustion scores, which is consistent with the hypothesis that surface acting is emotionally draining, thus leaving participants feeling the need for recovery time after meetings. In addition, habitual surface actors were more likely to have an intention to quit the organisation entirely. Again this is linked to the harmful effects of surface acting.

Whilst the authors recommend a degree of caution in drawing to strong a conclusion from their work, it would appear sensible for organisations to encourage employees to be honest and forthright with their feelings if they want both productive meetings and engaged employees.

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