What Makes "Touchy-Feely" a Dirty Word?

Using our emotional lives to maximum effect brings more complete success.


What is it that makes the term "touchy-feely" subject to such scorn and derision?  When uttered by a client, it is invariably accompanied by a sneer, a curled lip, or a look that makes me think he has just stepped in something smelly.

Usually, this means that the person doesn't want to get involved with talking about feelings, or relationships, or how we're interacting with each other.  "Just stick with the facts."  Preferably facts that look like numbers.

After all, there are no emotions in the numbers, are there?

From what I’ve observed, business is all about relationships.  All the numerical data in the world isn't going to alter that basic notion.

A story from my Wall Street past illustrates this:  An entrepreneur approached J.P. Morgan for a loan to fund his fledgling business back in the early part of the 20th century.  Mr Morgan wasn't willing to extend credit to this particular individual, so he did the next best thing.  He took him on a walk down Broad Street, past the NY Stock Exchange and many of the other banks.  Morgan was visibly engaged in an intense conversation with the man, putting his arm around him and laughing at different points during the walk.

After this brief encounter, so the story goes, the young entrepreneur walked into several of the banks he had just passed and secured more than enough funding to get him started.

Whether this story is factual or a myth, it illustrates an important point.  We do business like this all the time.  The "numbers" take us only so far.

Recent work with emotional intelligence has begun to change the way some people think about touchy-feely.  Daniel Goleman has made a convincing case since the 1990s that EI (emotional intelligence) matters more than IQ in predicting workplace success.

Reuven Bar-On has developed a tool that allows for the reliable measurement of EI capabilities.  The instrument defines emotional intelligence as “a set of...skills that influence the way we...use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.”

Brene Brown from the University of Houston has done some fascinating research into vulnerability.  This is another one of those apparently squishy and uncomfortable ideas that just shouldn't be brought into work, right?  I mean, how can we be successful if we’re running around being vulnerable?  Except that Brown’s research shows how it leads us toward greater connectedness and creativity: exactly the things our organizations keep saying they want more of.

The point about these examples is that no matter how hard we try to have it otherwise, our emotions are always with us.  One of the many paradoxes about feelings is that the harder we try to keep them at bay, the more obvious they become.

Another thing is that the more we learn about the impact of our emotional lives, the clearer it becomes that it is this very aspect of ourselves that contributes most greatly to our success and that of our organizations.

The sooner we stop looking at our emotions as something to check at the door of our offices, the more quickly and easily we can move into this greater success.