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Leaders' Emotion Talk Open Access

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This qualitative study combined heuristic and narrative research approaches to explore how leaders talk about emotion in the workplace in the context of the organizational affective culture (OAC) through the experiences of eight leaders in the national and international security industry. Following the heuristic methodology, the researcher's experience of verbal expression of emotion in the workplace was also included in the data. Narratives were collected through in-depth, semistructured interviews and analyzed through the creation of individual depictions, exemplary portraits, a composite depiction, and a creative synthesis. The results of this study were discussed through the lenses of the enactive approach in cognitive science (Varela, 1970; Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1991; Thompson, 2007). Conclusions suggest that the OAC may play three different roles in how leaders in this study talked about emotions: (a) strict normative system; (b) reference system; and (c) ideal to be attained. The role played by the OAC seemed to be connected to how each leader related to it or what modes of coupling were being experienced between the leader and the OAC. In the imperative mode of coupling, the OAC was a strong normative system that the leader accepted and enforced with little or no questioning. There were no clear boundaries between the OAC and the leader's own perspectives on emotion, and the leader avoided the verbal expression of emotion. In the relative mode of coupling, the OAC played the role of a reference system that the leader respected but could cautiously divert from in specific circumstances. The leader was more open and accepting of verbal expression of emotion and would attempt to express emotions in ways that mostly respected but sometimes challenged the OAC. In the generative mode of coupling, the OAC was an ideal to be achieved. The leader saw the OAC as a product of his or her own influence and made conscious attempts to shape it according to his or her perspective on emotion. Tempered with respect, the verbal expression of emotion was modeled by the leader as a way to demonstrate that emotion is a natural and integral part of human experience at work.

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