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Kirsimarja Blomqvist Thoughts from The Journey – Mietteitä matkalta

Something strange is happening in Finland

Finns have started to publicly talk about emotions. Last Monday Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen discussed Finland’s emotional climate, in last Monday’s seminar led by Minister of Economic Affairs Jan Vapaavuori even passion was discussed. Also Juha Sipilä, Chairman of the Center Party called for a passionate attitude to work on Friday’s talkshow.

Emotions have not been common vocabulary among Finnish business men and decision-makers. Actually, I would claim that in Finnish working life it has been considered unprofessional to talk about emotions, or show emotions. We are known for our competences and task-orientation rather than feelings and relating. For us work has been a serious business.

But what if politicians have picked up a right signal – what if today’s – and even more tomorrow’s – work life requires us to pay attention to ours– and other peoples’ emotions?

Why do we need emotions at work?

Emotions influence on how people think and behave. All over the world people coming across a stranger evaluate first the warmth in the stranger and only after that his/her competence. This makes a lot of sense from the risk point of view, just think of our ancestors meeting a strange group of hunters in the woods…  Based on the research on social cognition positive affect provides information on the other persons’ goodwill.  Susan Fiske and her research group are some of the leading researchers in social cognition and emotions.

Emotions also inform and motivate social interaction and have an effect on cooperation. Positive affect has a positive impact on inclusive social categorization, i.e. how we perceive others as being similar or different from us. For example, friendly social talk may bring in some commonalities and break down the invisible silos between participants coming from different organizations, and having different professional backgrounds.  Building a positive atmosphere in a meeting by investing in coffee and some time for a small talk may well pay off in the quality and outcomes of the meeting.

Emotions, idea generation and creative problem solving are also related. Experimental research by Alice Isen shows that positive affect may facilitate variation leading to idea generation and more creative problem solving. Positive affect may also make diverse individuals willing to talk with each other to create a shared vision, argue creativity researchers such as Teresa Amabile.

Positive affect helps us to see the opportunities instead of being afraid of the risks and potential failure.  Researchers interested in entrepreneurship are increasingly paying attention to the role of emotions in the entrepreneurial process – which can basically be seen as opportunity recognition and opportunity exploitation. Positive affect helps not only the entrepreneurs, but any individual working for private or public sector to see not only the bright side of change, but also issues that can be changed for better.

Emotions are contagious

Emotions become easily visible to others who not only listen what the other person is saying, but are also tuned to observe facial expressions and bodily gestures. These cues act as stimuli for the interaction partner and can have an impact first on his/her emotions and secondly on his/her thinking and behavior. A supervisor’s positive (or negative) affect may therefore diffuse in the team meeting either raising or flattening the group mood and spirit.

Sometimes the source for a positive affect may be even unrelated to the task and people. Even nice weather may uplift one’s mood and make one more open to collaboration.

Implications for today’s work life, business and politics

Researchers argue that humans are more prone to use affect as information when the issues are complex and there is little familiarity and time.  It seems that many of the today’s work life, business and political issues are complex and there seems to be always too little time for decision-makers and participants to familiarize oneself thoroughly with other parties and the issues to be discussed and decided.

Sometimes just recognizing and understanding the impact that emotions have on our cognition and behavior is useful. Self-reflection and self-regulation can also be learned at least to some degree. However, this is not about manipulation and being authentic pays off, as people are generally very good in reading facial expressions and behavioral cues.  May be just understanding the role of emotions in thinking and behavior is useful in our complex and dynamic world full of opportunities!

Winter Scene

Working in train from Lappeenranta to Helsinki today: Finnish winter scenes make me happy!



Amabile T. M., Barsade S.G, Mueller J.S. and Staw B.M. (2005). Affect and Creativity at Work in Adminstrative ScienceQuarterly (50), 367-403.

Baron R.A. (2008). The Role of affect in the entrepreneurial process in Academy of Management Review 33(2), 328-340.

Isen A.M., Niedenthal P.M. and Cantor N. (1992).  An Influence of positive affect on social categorization in Motivation and Emotion 16(1), 65-78.

Fiske  S.T., Cuddy A.J.C and Glick P. (2007). Universal dimensions of social cognition: warmth and competence in Trends in Cognitive Sciences (11)2, 77-83


Finetuning emotions – the difference between sympathy and empathy…


About The Author

Professor for Knowledge management, Vice rector (International affairs) at LUT. Interested in new ideas, knowledge co-creation, innovation, networks and trust.

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