Being Affective in your Profession

Being effective is the ambition of those of us in educational, health and industrial professions.  However, what is often not appreciated, by men in particular, is that being affective is an essential aspect of being effective.  The mind without affect is not mind at all.  Equally, the practice of a profession is not practice at all without heart.  The word ‘affect’ means to influence and the word ‘effect’ means to cause, to get a result.  It appears to me that these two words are inextricably linked; they are bedfellows that when used together have the potential to bring about powerful and enduring change.

A professional approach that is not affective in nature in that it does not encompass concern for each individual manager and employee or teacher and student or health professional and client can act like a dark force in the lives of those exposed to it.  Men have typically referred to affective qualities as the ‘soft’ aspect of management, but is it not ironic how ‘hard’ it is for men to embrace an affective approach in their professional lives.  There is no mystery to this reality, as males are channelled into believing that it is a weakness to show emotion.  The opposite is the case – it is a profound weakness (in the ‘defensive’ meaning of that word) not to be affective!  The irony of it all is that when professionals lead with both head and heart they themselves are far more balanced and effective and they create an environment where a sense of belonging is felt by their charges.

Where does the fear of being affective begin?  The reality is that the ability to perceive and express an affective experience is a fairly recent phenomenon.  There are still cultures in the world today that do not value and often punish the perception and expression of emotions.  In many workplaces such a taboo exists, as it does in many schools and health services.  Within families – and each family is a unique subcultural group – there can be a ban on emotional expression – more so for male children.  Children frequently get the messages: ‘Don’t feel what you are feeling’; ‘Don’t feel too deeply’; ‘Don’t be so intense’; ‘Feelings are dangerous’; ‘Feelings can lead to you being out of control’; ‘You are weak when you show feelings.’  The reality is that feelings don’t disappear because we are told not to have them.  Feelings creatively arise; they are there to give expression to needs or the reality of unmet needs.  When children or adults repress or suppress their feelings in a creative and protective response to the dangers of emotional expression, these buried feelings will find substitute means of expression – substance addictions or illness or emotional outbursts that appear to happen ‘out of the blue.’

In terms of the wellbeing of children, and their roles as future professionals, it is critical that the adults responsible for their care and education allows children to express their honest feelings and say in words or vibrationally ‘I am so pleased you are letting me know how you are feeling.’  The most powerful way to encourage and support children to be emotionally expressive is for the adults to model emotional authenticity; this means expressing openly how they are feeling in ways that they take responsibility for themselves and for their own feelings, thoughts and actions.  Children necessarily take their cues from adults and it is crucial that the significant adult males and females in all children lives model emotional expression and receptivity. 

Emotional expression is about revealing feelings as they arise with the realisation these are about the person experiencing them and adults need to help children to own their feelings and to communicate the unmet needs that give rise to the emotions.  On the other hand, emotional receptivity is about the other person being open to listening to another’s emotional expression and holding to the realisation that what is being emotionally expressed is not about them, but is about the person who is either expressing a welfare or an emergency feeling.

It has not been the practice for managers of social systems to ‘know themselves’ before embarking on their managerial or leadership responsibilities.  To ‘know self’ is to appreciate that every feeling, thought, image, dream and action that arises in us is about us and calling for us to take responsibility for self.  If this is true for us, it is also true for everybody else.  Systems neglect their members when opportunities are not provided on an ongoing basis for individual managers and their charges to ‘know self’ in the ways described.  It is not a simple process because we live in a society that has fostered co-dependency rather than in-dependency.  The benefits of self-reliance for systems and their members are huge.  When opportunities for the development of self-reliance are not provided, systems experience great losses and their members can often have a life of misery.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of books on practical psychology including The Mature Manager.