This is a different kind of friction: the uncertainty, delay and discomfort that comes from lack of trust or understanding. Like bureaucratic or procedural friction, emotional friction slows us down and makes things more difficult than they need to be. It takes many guises:
- The extra time we spend second-guessing and explaining ourselves because we’re worried someone will take what we’re saying the wrong way;
- The time we spend crafting a treading-on-eggshells email to a customer or colleague or skirting around an issue;
- The things that really need to be said that we avoid saying completely because we’re desperate not to offend, or can’t stand upsetting others (the relationship is too fragile to take it);
- The energy we waste worrying about how we sounded or looked, or what people thought of us (whether or not anyone cared);
- The work we lose (in terms of time and quality) to distraction frustration, disappointment, heartache, and hurt when trust breaks down;
- The opportunities lost because we (or they) couldn’t listen or properly consider an idea because of the (noisy) emotional elephants in the room;
- The energy loss that comes with dreading the next conversation / message / arrival at the office;
- The knock-on damage to our health and other relationships (we’re snappy, distracted, less generous) that emotional stresses cause;
- The small problems that grow way out of proportion to their importance because un- or mishandled as a result of emotional avoidance;
- The decisions that get left unmade because they touch on painful issues.
Emotional friction has causes on both sides of any relationship (in intentions, words and actions, and how they’re perceived), and it usually needs teamwork to solve and avoid it.
So what, Sharky?
- Recognising emotional friction – in yourself and others – is the first step in being able to address and minimise it.
- Once you’re aware of the negative impact of emotional friction, you’ll learn to see it coming – to spot energy drainers, time-wasters, unpleasant customers as they enter your life – and politely say ‘no thanks’ at the door, because they’re not worth it.
- You’ll also better understand the value of enthusiasm, a positive attitude and healthy sensitivity to others (as opposed to technical skills) when you’re hiring or building partnerships.
- When emotional friction is bringing you to a standstill, recognising the emotional component (yours and theirs) can help you separate the problem from your feelings about the problem, taking out some of the heat making it easier to see a way forward. Talking about how your’re feeling can help.
- Understanding how vulnerable we are to emotional friction forces us to talk about it in our team, and be explicit about the culture we hope to build, and how we hope to get there – and to acknowledge that this takes a long time.
- Seeing the waste that emotional friction causes pushes us to be more direct in our communication, speaking frankly and cutting problems off early rather than living with the ongoing friction for months or years.
- Understanding the importance of how people (you!) feel eliminates any last excuses for sloppiness or rushed-thoughtlessness in the name of ‘busy-ness’ or ‘being professional’ and motivates you to invest in slack.