Today, I spoke to Anne Kreamer, who is the author of It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace. She is a former executive vice president and worldwide creative director of Nickelodeon. In this interview, Anne talks about the impact emotion has in the workplace, emotional management, and more.

What impact does emotion play in the workplace?

Perhaps the better question might be is there anything that emotion doesn’t touch at work? Antonio D’Amasio, the neurologist who wrote Descartes Error, has written extensively about how emotion is essential to decision-making and without our emotions informing our point of view we’d be paralyzed, incapable of taking any action or making choices. Imagine a workplace without the ability to take action.

In the binary shorthand we use to compartmentalize modern life, we think of home as the realm of emotion and work as the place where rationality rules – a tidy distinction that crumbles in the face of experience. In fact, in the workplace we are bombarded by emotions – our own and everyone else’s. “Traditionally, organizational behavior has only examined things people could easily see or report, says Sigal Barsade, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “But I think we’ve missed an entire level of analysis, which is unconscious. If I asked a man who gets cut off in traffic on his way to work and then has to make a strategic decision in a 9 a.m. meeting if the anger he felt in any way influenced his decision, he’d answer, ‘Absolutely not,’ when we have concrete evidence that it would. This lack of awareness can be insidious.”

In the research for your book, what was the most fascinating thing you uncovered?

I discovered three things that were fascinating. The first is that 88% of Americans feel that the expression of more emotion in the workplace would be a good thing. Secondly, that those people who cry at work reported that they were not necessarily unhappy – crying was simply something that they did every once in a while. And finally, people at all levels of management – from CEO’s to clerks – reported that they cried at work. So crying is not a barrier to success.

How does the emotion of a manager impact their direct reports?

Emotion, whether positive or negative, is contagious. Almost literally. In 2008, Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard, and James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, published a fascinating study in the British Medical Journal showing that “social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation…A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friend, and their friends’ friends, an their friends’ friends’ friends – that is, to people well beyond their social horizon.” And thus “good behaviors,” as a New York Times Magazine article about the study put it, “like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy pass from friend to friend almost as if they were a contagious virus…and the same is true of bad behaviors – clusters of friends appeared to ‘infect’ each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking.”

The result is that angry, negative bosses create an atmosphere managed by fear which is counter to productivity and happy managers create environments that stimulate problem solving and creativity.

In a remote workplace, does emotion have the same or different impact?

In remote workplace emotions are equally important, and in fact, sometimes more so because we lose the nuance of tone and facial expression in our exchanges. The home worker can begin to feel isolated and estranged from the day-to-day office exchange – imagining slights where none might be intended, potentially blowing something out of proportion to the precipitating event. This is something that people on both sides of the interaction should be sensitive to.

Do men and women respond differently to various situations at work?

This is a giant question that goes to the heart of much of what I discuss in my book and the short answer is yes and no. Women and men equally reported feeling frustrated and anxious at work, but it is in how they respond to situations, both biologically informed and culturally reinforced, that set up different kinds of gender responses to a wide array of emotional encounters. I guess the best thing I might suggest is to read my book.


Anne Kreamer is the author of Going Gray:What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity and Everything Else that Really Matters, a former executive vice president and worldwide creative director of Nickelodeon, part of the founding team of SPY magazine, and a onetime columnist for both Fast Company and Martha Stewart Living. Her work has appeared in Time, Real Simple, Travel & Leisure, and More. She graduated from Harvard College and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the writer Kurt Andersen.Her latest book is called It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace.