Startup CEO Coach Anamaria Nino-Murcia on how startup leaders can manage the emotional lives of their startups more effectively by attending Women 2.0 partner event T-Groups For Startups.

By Anamaria Nino-Murcia (Startup Leadership Coach)

A startup CEO once told me: “I want my team to stop being emotional.”
“But emotions are such valuable data for evaluating how your team is performing.” I argued. “Why would you want to shut that off?”

She just wanted everyone to focus on the business and stop making everything so personal. It sounded reasonable, but I still pushed back.

“Not only could you never hope to take the emotion out of it, you wouldn’t want to.” She looked at me quizzically. I went on to explain.

I “cross-train” for my coaching by facilitating T-groups at the Stanford Business School. In T-groups, students share emotional reactions and exchange feedback to gain unique insights into interpersonal dynamics.

In every T-group, I am reminded that the key to managing emotions in a business setting is not to minimize or eradicate them, but the opposite: to disclose them more and to raise awareness of how they influence our behavior.

Here are three T-group lessons that I regularly share with the startup leaders I coach:

1) Anticipate Emotional Triggers

You might think you run a small team, but your team is much larger than you think.

Every member of your team (including you) brings family, friends, former bosses and others to work with them. Well, not literally, but psychologically.

Other people show up in your startup through “emotional triggers”—when teammates experience something and it gives them such a strong memory of a past interaction with someone else that they actually start feeling the old emotions.

When teammates react with a strong emotion to something you did or said and you sense a disproportionate reaction, you might have accidentally stepped on an emotional trigger. (A classic example is a negative reaction to an authority figure—it might have more to do with their parents or a former boss than with you as their manager.)

You can’t get rid of emotional triggers—yours or others’—but you can learn how to identify them in the moment and manage your reactions so you don’t get triggered into an unproductive behavior. And you can coach other teammates to do the same.

2) Avoid A Harsh Startup

John Gottman, a renowned relationship psychologist, discovered that a “harsh startup”—initiating a relationship conversation with criticism, sarcasm, negativity or some other form of contempt—will lead to the conversation ending on a negative note 96% of the time. Since startups are extremely relationship-driven, founders can benefit from applying this data to how they give feedback.

If you are a founder who tends to be direct and efficient in your communication—be mindful that what seems “direct” to you might be perceived as “harsh” or “negative” by a teammate.

And be wary of using critical feedback to motivate. A founder once told me: “What I said was a little harsh, but if you throw the ball hard against a wall, it will bounce back at you even harder. I was motivating him.”

What happened to the ball? It did bounce back hard…and sailed right past him: His teammate left the company.

3) Show Vulnerability. It Makes You…Stronger

When founders start to grow their teams, they often assume they should maintain an ultra-confident façade and never share doubts, insecurities or vulnerabilities.

But here is what every T-group participant learns: Vulnerability is not a weakness, it’s a strength.

Why? Because it makes you more influential.

How? Because when your teammates see you showing vulnerability they feel closer to you. They can relate to you and empathize with you more.

And when your teammates feel closer to you, they are more open to your influence.

I’m not advising you to share every vulnerable feeling with your team. (See my previous Women 2.0 post about startup CEO transparency.)

But when you stop looking at vulnerability as a weakness and start seeing it as a way to connect—then you will form the emotional bonds that power high-performing startup teams.

Reading about these topics is valuable, but the best way to learn about emotion regulation, feedback and interpersonal dynamics is to experience a T-group for yourself. If you’d like to participate in a T-group with other founders and startup leaders, I invite you to apply for an upcoming T-Groups For Startups Weekend. The deadline to apply for our next weekend event is Jan 13. To learn more, click here. We’re excited to receive your application!    
anamariaAbout the blogger: Anamaria Nino-Murcia (@footholdcoach) is a leadership coach who works exclusively with early-stage founders and startup CEOs. A former entrepreneur, she founded Foothold Coaching and also facilitates for the Interpersonal Dynamics course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.