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Instincts and emotions are tightly aligned. Emotions allow us to name the feelings we experience as a result of our stimulated instincts. Whether we are sexually aroused or frightened to the point where we want to fight or flee, the alignment between instinct and emotions provokes a mindless reaction.

Somatic markers are the biochemical changes deep within the mind-body. These changes, known as “somatic” or “body” states, impact posture, blood flow, heart rate, muscle contractions, hormones, and other bodily conditions. For example, when someone is happy, the associated bodily change may be a smile as well as a change in breathing pattern.

These changes in somatic markers may be pleasant or unpleasant, and they may impact a person’s attitude concerning the event or object that influenced the change. For example, if someone experiences their “stomach being tied up in knots” before speaking in public, the mere thought of public speaking may elicit a similar experience, albeit to a lesser extent (Moss, 2011).

When we become aware of somatic markers, we name them, and they become our feelings. Becoming aware of our feelings, naming them, and describing them in a way that is accurate and useful to ourselves and to others is a fundamental component of effective communications (Kehoe, 2011).

The cognitive unconscious mind, the automatic function that operates out of our limbic system, supports rational decision making in our conscious, intellectual mind. It assesses the biochemical patterns in our minds to sense our environment before our conscious mind can do so. The cognitive unconscious enables us to quickly recall the meaning of words and to detect subtle nonverbal signals. However, the more automatic our thinking, the less effort is required, and the more prone we are to mistakes. It is easier, requires less energy, to react than to think; to say what comes to mind first instead of to carefully choose our words (Kehoe, 2011).

Basic Emotions

Hurtful speech damages relationships because it causes emotional pain. The listener’s brain recalls similar hurtful experiences stored in the limbic system and again experiences the psychic pain associated with that memory. The speaker may apologize, and may try to take back what was said, but the impression from the offensive speech lingers and impacts how the listener interacts with the speaker for the rest of their lives. As the great poet Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Shriver, 2014).

Table 3-2 describes views on a few basic emotions from Dr. Robert C. Solomon, a philosophy professor from the University of Texas at Austin.

Resentment is a particularly important emotion for IT leaders to understand. I have found that after resentment builds up within employees over time, they seek their vengeance by resigning. A colleague of mine was resentful because he felt that his supervisor did not respect his skills and experience. He became very irritated by his supervisor’s habit of second-guessing all of the consultation he provided. His team was at a critical juncture in their project. He shared with me that he found another position and that he could not wait to leave his team so that they would be short of resources and facing failure.

LeRoy Ward writes at, “While there’s a long list of risks any organization faces when starting an IT project, certainly one of the biggest risks has to be the potential that the team members you start with might not be the same ones you end with; and changing team members in the middle of a critical project can be very disruptive. If you lose a key technical person, or one who’s doing a great job at client relationship management, this could pose serious obstacles to project success” (Ward 2014). According to Baseline Magazine, 81% of IT professionals surveyed in 2014 said they were open to new job opportunities. This was true even for happily employed IT geeks that were in the job market. Taking actions to prevent resentment, such as maintaining a dialogue with your team members, treating everyone fairly and respectfully, standing up on your team members’ behalf, and involving team members in decisions, can prevent turnover and save your project.

Table 3-2 Description of Basic Emotions




Most explosive and dangerous emotion. Violent anger is called rage. Anger can be used strategically.


Perhaps the most important emotion—keeps us from being vulnerable to danger. Fears can be mistaken, exaggerated, and irrational. Panic, anxiety, and horror are related to fear.


Most complex emotion. Eros, philia, and agape are forms of love.


Sharing an emotion with another person, whether sorrow or joy.


A “moral sentiment” at the very heart of human nature. Compassion.


A positive evaluation of something one has done. A social emotion.


Opposite of pride. One takes responsibility for the event or act. Guilt, embarrassment, regret, and remorse are similar.


A desire to have what someone else has. Envy separates us, love is inclusive. Personal in nature. Spite is an escalation of envy.


A social emotion that binds one with a rival who has the same desire.


The feeling that there is nothing one can do about one’s frustrations.


The most violent and dangerous of emotions. The natural extension of resentment. It is an attempt to right a wrong.


Grossly misunderstood emotion. Triggers thoughts of a lost loved one, but also provoke thoughts of one’s own mortality.

Data derived from Solomon, R. (2006). Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions. Chantilly, VA: The Great Courses.

Like instincts, emotions are essential to our humanity. As we have evolved beyond solely identifying with the instincts transmitted by our reptilian brain, our emotions do not define us. We can separate ourselves from our emotions if we choose to. By separating ourselves from our emotions, by being mindful, our emotions do not control our behavior. We can choose to behave in a rational way no matter what emotion we are feeling. Being mindful— engaging our intellect to live in the gap between the stimuli and the response—causes fears to subside and anger to cool, preventing us from saying or doing things that are inappropriate and that we may later regret.

Once an emotion manifests itself, it intends to run its course, to be acknowledged and satisfied (Chopra and Tanzi, 2012). Emotions are not concerned with your efforts to be mindful and not to express them. In our mindful state, we can use our emotions to gain perspective on the situation without anyone else ever knowing what we are feeling. We may subconsciously display cues through body language, but most people will only be able to guess at what we are feeling. In this way, we experience life and enable ourselves to understand how others feel—their perspectives and the reasons for their behavior.

Two particular feelings—fear and desire—are closely linked. They both are rooted in our instinctive brains. They manifest themselves in our emotions, provoking us to act to resolve them, to alleviate the fear or to satisfy the desire. Unbridled fear and desire are dangerous. Unbridled fear can cause us to cower from trivial threats, such as the irrational fear of harmless bugs. Unbridled desire entices us to lust after things and people that are forbidden, even dangerous. We use our intellectual brains to keep our emotions in check, to control or prevent our response to these stimuli (Kehoe, 2011).

The limbic system is the control center for our emotions, but it also stores our long-term memories. It unites our senses—smell, sight, sound, touch—with memories and the emotions associated with those memories (Kehoe, 2011). Th rough these experiences and this link between memory, senses, and emotion, we learn and grow. These experiences are captured in long-term memory, anchored in emotions. They are triggered by senses and shape who are. They leave indelible impressions concerning our likes and dislikes, shaping our preferences.

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