We Need Emotional Interactions

It’s easy to forget about socio-emotional [interactions] — and that’s where we really need to be focusing now as we adapt to radically different circumstances. ~ Annie Peshkam and Gianpiero Petriglieri

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

There are two types of learning and we need both, especially in a crisis. I failed at doing this effectively last week.

First, the two types of learning. Cognitive learning, which is what we likely think of most often when we think about learning. In this case, we “absorb, process, and use information to complete tasks. Cognitive learning has us focusing on information and skills.” The second way we learn is socio-emotional. “We learn how we—and others—feel and think about the new situation we are in, and how to manage those thoughts and feelings. This type of learning has us focusing on people and requires that we inquire about our own and others’ experiences.” (Annie Peshkam and Gianpiero Petriglieri, HBR, April 10, 2020)

How I Failed

I was on a Zoom call with a client working through something we started BC (before Coronavirus). In my attempt to be considerate of their time, I moved the discussion quickly to focusing on information so we could complete the task. However, in my head I was thinking, “I should have everyone check-in, just to see where they are at.” At the close of the call my instinct went to the same thing, “I should ask everyone to close-out with how they are feeling right now.” But, I didn’t. I let time and the task become a higher priority than managing thoughts and feelings.

At the close of the call I was left with sort of a sinking feeling, like the interaction didn’t help move the project forward in a way that was helpful. By not managing thoughts and feelings the call was not as effective as it could have been. Even though I ended the call on time, I wasn’t considerate of how well I had used their time.

Why My Bungle Matters

Authors Peshkam and Petriglieri describe why my bungle matters. “A focus on socio-emotional learning allows us to move away from the burden of delivering a product to the practice of a shared and holistic learning process. That is the kind of learning that lets us process crises and bring about change. It keeps work human and continues the learning we care most about: transforming our organizations and ourselves.”

This doesn’t mean that we sacrifice all cognitive interaction for socio-emotional interaction. It means that we intentionally manage the balance between the two forms of learning. Putting socio-emotional interaction before, and after, the cognitive interaction can help acknowledge reality and provide the framework and tone for more effective outcomes.

This is one more example of the tension that leaders must manage: cognitive interaction and socio-emotional interaction. Leading with bold grace.

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