It's an emotional week. So how can we, as agency and business leaders, learn the power that our emotions can lend in our role without giving them the space to get the better of us? Here's one way — be your own spin doctor.

All sorts of things, both inside the work environment and outside, will trigger us into emotional responses. Events, triumphs, obstacles, conversations, sleep (or lack of it!) and many, many other things besides, all engage our emotional selves. That's a vital and necessary part of being human — our emotions help us to make sense of the world, and through our feelings we are able to appraise what's happening around us.

Our powers of appraisal are the key. We have an innate ability to assess what's happened (or happening) to us, to identify what's significant, and then evaluate its importance, its value, its merits. A lot of that is entirely subconscious and happens too fast for us to even realise we've done it, but much can also be done with our conscious mind as well.

That ability of the conscious brain to revisit the conclusions of our subconscious and to give it a second reading is powerful. Our conscious self can intervene. So, if there's several alternative ways of looking at things that lead to different emotional states, our conscious mind enables us to choose which we want, to opt for the one that will be better for us.

It's what we call reappraisal, and it's a superpower when it's used right.

Reappraisal is about recognising the negative patterns in your mind and finding a way of intervening, to prevent them wreaking damage, and redirecting them towards something better but still founded in the real world.

With reappraisal, we can decide what value we're going to assign to events, what meanings we're going give to our experiences.

And the best thing about it? — it can be trained.

Becoming your own spin doctor

Like learning a difficult skill (riding a bike, learning to swim, driving a car, etc.), reappraisal in the midst of intense emotions is really hard to do at first, and very difficult to do well. But the more you do it the easier it gets, until eventually it's second nature and we hardly need to think about it. At that point, it's become instinctual.

In that 2010 study of securities traders that I mentioned yesterday, reappraisal was the skill that marked out the best traders, over the long term. Bankers who could say to themselves, when dramatic things happen with large amounts of money, that virtually no one is defined by single events, by a huge loss, say, or even by a huge win, and then shrug it off and focus on what should be done or on progress towards the next goal — those were the ones whose trades were the best in the long term.

Reappraisal allowed the best securities traders to spin their immediate experiences by setting them against a broader context or throwing them in a different light. By reevaluating them, they chose the meaning that they would allow themselves to give to those events, freeing them to focus properly on what to do next.

So, what would this look like in practice for us as agency leaders?

A powerful way of exercising reappraisal in our working lives is to learn some tiny mantras that you can lean on, ways to short circuit the patterns of negative emotions. Paul Bellows of Yellow Pencil suggested this go-to question as a great example  — if money weren't part of the equation, how would you decide? We can take this approach and extend it to other things:

  • If we didn't need this client or project, would we still do it?
  • If things were ideal, would we choose this strategy for the business?
  • If we didn't have this skills gap, how would we feel about this person being in the team?


Another powerful reappraisal technique for challenging situations is to think about the outcomes rather than the difficult path to get there — focusing on the benefits to the business, or on the pride it will give you when you get there.

Our emotions affect the balance of how we think about things. Having tools to mitigate powerful emotions is vital when you're leading a business. Reappraisal is one of the most effective skills we can learn to regulate our emotions and use them to make us better leaders at the same time.

Tomorrow I've got a secret super-power to tell you about — expressing your emotions changes the game.

Other posts in this series:

Like reading things like this? Then why not sign up for the Convivio newsletter, and get expert insights in your inbox every Monday morning.

Get your Agency Espresso every Monday

A shot of inspiration for agency leaders, direct to your inbox

We will never share your details with anyone else