Psychologist John D. Mayer explains that emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions and to understand the signals the feelings send about relationships. Is this something we should learn to do at work? I believe we should.

At CXM, we want to talk more about emotions at work. Being emotional doesn’t make us less professional. Especially in the time of global suffering, turning to the emotion of empathy might be the only way to heal humanity.

an image showing the founder of emotional culture deck Jeremy Dean.

With this in mind, we invited Jeremy Dean, the founder of the New Zealand enterprise riders&elephants to talk to us about this subject. Jeremy created an insanely simple but powerful game to help teams communicate their feelings in the workplace.

In this conversation, we explore the concept of emotional culture, vulnerability, and the mind shifts needed for a team to grow mentally strong.

The emotional culture deck is one of the most impactful conversation starters I’ve ever come across. The cards evoke hidden needs, struggles, and fears in the workplace context. As an ECD concept designer, how do you interpret the value of the tool? Did ever get surprised by its real-life application?

Yes, I’m constantly surprised (and blown away) by the application of The Emotional Culture Deck. It’s quite humbling. My original idea was to design the game for corporate organisations and teams. However, schools, sports teams, hospitals, and different community groups have all started playing with the deck.

People want to talk about their feelings, but most people haven’t been given permission. Unfortunately, most leaders underestimate the impact emotions have on their teams. They typically use cognitive values and behaviours to shape their workplace culture. The game I designed helps people talk about what really matters to them (which is not the list of values companies put on their walls).

Riders&elephants is only four years old now. The pool of practitioners and consultants is growing, and more leaders are becoming aware of the importance of the emotional level of organizational culture. What mind-shift do you think a team needs for embracing the emotional culture and integrating it into daily operations?

an image showing the empathy and emotional intelligence.

I believe leaders need to adopt an experimental mindset. Most leaders believe you need big solutions to solve complex problems. Small things, however, can have a large impact. So, I always say start small, try one simple experiment, learn, and iterate.

Dealing with emotions can be challenging for leaders – most of the leaders are uncomfortable expressing their feelings and encouraging their people to be open and vulnerable. I see people wanting to talk about emotion but not knowing how to. They don’t have the language or the labels to express how they feel. When people are able to label their emotions, it helps them better regulate their emotional experiences. This is known as affective labelling.

Leaders who share their emotions first demonstrate vulnerability and encourage reciprocity from their people. I suggest other leaders see this as an experiment. You will be surprised by the outcomes.

Typically, smaller teams generate faster positive culture change because of the intimate and focused conversations. How do you think emotional culture can be best scaled across multiple teams and even whole organisations? Are there some examples?

For me, talking about organizational subcultures is crucial. I believe leaders overlook the importance of subcultures in large companies. Strong, decisive, and visionary leadership is needed for large scale culture change. However, change won’t happen if it’s only a top-down or one-way process.

This approach breeds cynicism because most of the executive leaders mentally distance themselves from the day-to-day organizational processes. Therefore, they can’t create meaningful connections and understand the subcultures teams create over time. The solution to this common mistake of neglecting feelings is in equipping managers to define and foster their desired emotional cultures within smaller teams.

Your team designed two more games, one called The Customer Experience Deck and another one launching in the next few weeks called The Wellbeing Deck. Could you tell us more about your motivation to explore and enter the CX world? What CX techniques should this deck accompany or support?

an image showing a person at work trying too balance emotions and emotional well being.

A little-known fact is I designed the CX Deck when I started riders&elephants. We ended up releasing the ECD before The CX Deck because of its initial success.

Additionally, a huge part of my professional journey involved working in brand design and CX roles. I naturally was trying to understand this incredibly complex space and simplify existing methods and approaches.

At the time of creating the CX deck, I was obsessed with Brian Solis work – and I heard him saying that “experience is the new brand”. I loved the simplicity of this thought. This got me thinking about what an experience really is about.

To me, experience is something you feel. So, I put 100 feeling words in a pack of cards and posed a simple question: what do you want your customers to feel? Once you explore and pick the emotions you want and don’t want your customers to feel, it is easier to design a meaningful product or service experience.

Maya Angelou said it best “People don’t remember what you said, or what you did, but they always remember how you made them feel.”

Finally, we are excited you’ll be speaking at the Ei evolution summit on the 12th of October. Could you give our readers a little glimpse of what they can expect from your presentation?

I’m thrilled to be ‘speaking’ at the Ei Evolution Summit. For those who come along, we’ll be playing with The ECD and exploring why the F-word matters to the culture of our teams. I’m diving into how emotion impacts workplace culture. I prefer to test and try our games with people more than preach about the reason they make a difference. I let people discover those reasons themselves through practice!

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