Emotions: Event’s Report

Moderator: Sandra Sassaroli
Date: April 13th 2011
Location: Herman Miller Show room
Illustrator: Eelco Van Den Berg (The Netherlands)
Storyteller: Filippo De Bortoli (Italy)
Photographer: Boukje Kleinhout (Germany)
Filmmaker: Simona Tortolano (Italy)

Starting sentence by the moderator Sandra Sassaroli

“Emotions are signals of what is going on around us” according to Sandra Sassaroli, a psychotherapist and Emotion Talk moderator. They come up to organize our lives and we live them through our body too. They can help us arrange our life projects because “all the emotions are useful know about world and our place in it in a given moment.” A workplace that does not allow for express of emotions is bound to have employees that don’t work well: “in a workplace it is fundamental to give values to emotions as a creative act in the process of reading our own world. There’s no opposing duality between negative and positive emotions; from each of them you can learn something useful and significant you may apply to your job.”

Development of the City Talk

“Emotions should be constantly recognized. The participants point at anger (specially for women) and control (for men) as the most important emotions at work: perfectionism and necessity to avoid mistakes are the fundamental emotional priorities. During the talk “a real emotional and creative approach took place, which allowed the participants to work together and share their opinions.” “Inner and collective emotions”. Sandra considered this talk as a sort of brainstorming session and wanted to highlight the evocative potential of keywords, through “the game of the opposites” (happiness/sadness). The introduction of topics and the discussion was done also by showing people some peculiar scenes or sketches (from TV shows such as “Camera Cafè”), just to provoke reactions and quarrels among participants. Sandra intended to put keywords on an imaginary chessboard, thus allowing participants to search for individual and personal balance, that was then going to be shared with other people and discussed during the talk. For this purpose, Sandra tried to call up and suggest case histories, that were used for discussion about relationships between personal identity and other people/the world.

Report, by Filippo De Bortoli

emotions_1Looking through the glass of the Herman Miller’s Milanese showroom walls the suggestion of transparency gives us a hint to start this adventure from a good perspective. In fact, the 16 persons gathered in this Talk about Emotions share the genuine desire to “play” their game for what they are, at a personal, intimate level, leaving behind them roles, filters, schemes. And gives immediate evidence to the fact that we can’t live without emotions. The first approach is a good example of shyness, participants feel quite embarrassed to answer the starting suggestion: feel free to give out your own emotions about being here, sketching, drawing, writing on the paper laid  around the showroom.  It’s a space that recalls the design shape of things. A design made of colours and curves, as original as (apparently) simple. And now we are trying to design something more original, simpler, intangible as light but not less powerful.

“Emotions are information signals, about what’s happening in the world now, coming before our thoughts, and proceeding after them” – explains Sandra Sassaroli (a psychiatrist specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy), called to be the moderator and the engine of this Talking. Opening the discussion as a sort of brainstorming session, Sandra highlights the evocative potential of keywords, and traces a line to define the playground: “there aren’t good or bad emotions, nor are there unuseful emotions, that we are not supposed to have. We need to recognize them, to give them the right names, and use them in the correct way as we express ourselves in workplaces or in the social or personal sphere.” Strictly connected to behaviors, all emotions seem to have a goal are useful – says Sandra. Are there well defined codes to be aligned..? Or is something more “habitual”, recognized practice  of living together…? Is true, for example, the most common cliché about women is that they are considered to be “emotional”?

“Emotion – as defined by Wikipedia – is the complex psycho-physiological experience of an individual’s state of mind as interacting with biochemical (internal) and environmental (external) influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience. Emotion is associated with mood, temperament, personality and disposition, and motivation.

Motivations direct and energize behavior, while emotions provide the affective component to motivation, positive or negative.” Sounds quite complicated, sophisticated. But should we be responsible for our emotions?!? Should we care about being too strong to show our emotions so that we don’t damage anybody? Culture, gender, personal values could be an “obstacle” to live proper relationships within workplaces? Used to express and trace our feelings in SMS texts and email with the simple visualization of ‘emoticons’, we are probably not so accustomed to considering the weight and the thickness of emotions. “We should take the distance” (from emotions), suggests Andrea, confessing his own necessity to rationalize, to calm down  the anger that grows so frequently reading too many mails colleagues, customers, people inside and outside the company send him in such a reckless way.

emotions_8The introduction of  the “time” factor in processing emotions opens a new window in the talk, as we start considering how we show different time reaction due to the “temperature” of the emotion that a certain situation produces: more often the hottest kind of emotions, like anger and anxiety, are quicker than happiness. But time can also create pain, in very special manners. “Time is torturing me,” reveals Licia. “The more time passes the more I get involved in other persons’ stories, while I find myself squeezed in 10 minutes schedule, one after the other.” The doubt we’ve got the same problem crosses many of us, desperately engaged in micro-management of short time slots trying to schedule days packed with all that we’re afraid to loose. Do we take the time to consider our emotions? Or is it just a collateral of our daily routine?

Looking out we catch the puzzling glance of people passing by asking probably the same question many participants still have in the back of their mind: “what are they doing?” “What are we here for?” “From emotions we have to model a new attitude, especially in the contest of change.” Adriano’s proposal throws a light on the chance that emotions can effectively help solving problems. In his own experience Christian tells us how much curiosity makes the difference: approaching a new situation you could feel like in danger, something like when you’re in front of the “don’t cross the yellow line” warning, down in the subway… But soon afterward you can have a positive feedback, and everything can change. The curiosity of testing new flavors drives Guido (soon baptized the “chocolate man”, by the company he leads) to search, taste and smell essences mixing them like an alchemist – and giving life to something new. “You need silence,” he tells us, returning to a very deep and intimate dimension of emotions.

The sketch of Flavio brings another point of view to this curiosity issue. Working on his sketch he shows a group of people looking out of the window, and a number of very different elements appear: an UFO, ice cream, kids playground, soccer. “Curiosity is the essential driver of creativity, and in a teamwork organization you can see (and appreciate) the difference it makes.” Looks like even distraction could be useful, widening one’s mind to new solutions.” “But sharing emotions – remarks Enrico, “need something else (motivation, friendship, fear, interest?), a deeper levelof emotion.” The notion of “sharing” (that we normally consider at the very basis of teamwork, and that, in the Facebook era, sounds almost like an imperative way of life) opens another door along the path of comprehension of this mysterious world. Take “pride”, for instance, and you can immediately understand that what is considered “good” for somebody (a team that has reached its goals, thus using a collective sense) could become “bad” once turned to another level (the single promotion in the career of an employee that produces anger, frustration, hate in the nearest colleagues left a step behind). This kind of “collective value” could even extend its positive effect lasting through the years: it happens, Francesco suggests, when you’ve climbed a mountain, and later on, even after the conquest your memory works to find new energy, the will and the strength you need to win new kind of obstacles, not made of rock and ice.

emotions_4Not pretending to give any kind of statistic, the “never relax” mantra seems to be one of the highest ranking issues in the “need of control” and anxiety scare of perfectionism common to many men, while gender and diversity express more a female perspective. “Gender gives different interpretation of the same situation, through a different set of emotions” – says Laura – “creating a language that needs to be understood to catch the positive contribution that a person can give in a workplace”. “Diversity,“ adds  Fabiana, “could really be an opportunity to test different approaches to the same problem, carrying additional values thanks to different identities, cultures, histories that reflect each worker’s origin.”

Living in a world where multiculturalism seems to be a must – if not affirmed as a true ideology, followed by governments, analysts, sociologists and international organizations – the word “diversity” could take the intangible power of changing personal behavior once you’re talking about simple emotions. How different could be our approach to a message contained in an e-mail if we have just had a quarrel with our boss instead of a romantic, rapid rendezvous with that charming colleague that’s always smiling when we meet at the workplace? There is something done with interest: stressing friendship’s values, Nicoletta figures “lack of passion” as the worst scenario, considering “bad” emotions the void of “good” emotions.


emotions_2A void of emotions sounds dramatic and could bring to real panic. For Corrado emotions are the main product to sell: he plays in the advertising scene, and panic represents the “black beast”, the nightmare to run away from. “The first thing my boss told me when I joined the company,”he explains,“was never panic.” But  isn’t a boss supposed to manage his teams emotions, bringing them to (new) momentum of balance? So for Corrado panic is bad, fear is good. “Fear is good because it makes you move searching for solutions.” The “connections game” is the one to play, and panic breaks the “net” of relationships and disrupt any networking tentative.

The panic issue opens to a very different pattern, from the over-simplified perfectionist fear of mistake that obsess more and more people in all sort of workplaces. “Working in a hospital,”says somebody in a whisper echoing as loud as thunder,“you’re not allowed to make any kind of mistake: it’s a matter of life or death.” This is something more similar to the path towards perfection we expect from any skilled craftsman and artisan, so far away from the specialization anxiety that express perfectionism terror of a “standards-based” economy and society. “I want the freedom to be ‘not perfect,’”is Christian declaration of independence. “No God in my workplace.

So is quite clear: nobody wants a “flat” world nor pain neither repression. A “smiling” work¬place wins the “top of the pops” in the Emotions chart. A place where you can smile because the heart that you put in your work is the strongest feel¬ing increases productivity as much as self-fulfillment. Is this possible, now? It’s not breaking news, as unfortunately did catastrophes, killings, distraction and many other “bad news” stuff.

But the smile of these 16 faces gives us the credit to be sure it is.

Creativity Perspective

Collection of the impressions of Eelco Van Den Berg (illustrator) and Boukje Kleinhout (photographer)

The theme was so deep and evoking that it easily dragged the best out of the collaborators; Eelco Van den Berg’s style follows emotions: “First step is some quick pencil sketches to visualize some ideas to start from. From here I begin to dig a little deeper in some sketches and finalize them by hand drawing in clear lines. Starting from my basic idea I then just follow my intuition which leads me to a journey of trying and discovering.” This was the key concept of the Talk; discover and narrate yourself and others by carefully watching others and listening to your feelings. Boukje Kleinhout, as a photographer, chose the viewpoint of the observer: “I prefer to observe than being observed and I usually hide behind my camera as I wait for others to reveal themselves. I know myself well enough to know where and what to look for.” Emotions are interaction for Eelco: “I’m used to operating alone in my own studio most of the time.” The emotions he relates his workplace with, as a freelancer and ‘loner’ do not look like those he discovered in the Talk: “It was interesting to hear their experiences and to see how they tried to visualize this from the beginning.” He enjoyed looking at the way participants whose work is far from visual art tried to fulfill their task: “Some did this quite spontaneously, whereas others needed some more help.” Emotions are body expressions for Boukje: “The body often reveals us. The body does not lie, the body just reacts. Small contractions, a fleeting expression, posture…what the hands are busy with, where the feet go…what goes where and when it does. Mostly in absolute unawareness.” This was her story by images, the fleeting moment that communicates more than hundreds words, as only emotions can do: “I look to catch that unnoticed moment where thought and control leaves a person for just a split of a second and it opens up to the authentic human space.” Time is a transforming concept, never the same and tightly linked to personal experience; the two-hour Talk might not have been long enough but the experience nonetheless left its mark. “In order to visualize ideas and get deeper into it time could be endless but I think that, even in that short time, we did manage to raise discussion and confrontation,” Eelco concludes.