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Interpersonal emotion management (IEM) vs problem-focused strategy

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© University of Southern Queensland

A focus on team members’ emotional states can also be a two-edged sword. Attempting to resolve negative emotions rather than addressing the underlying problem can result in adverse impacts.

In an attempt to manage team members’ behaviours, leaders can resort to interpersonal emotion management (IEM) strategies (Little, Gooty & Williams, 2016). These are defined as leader behaviours that are specifically targeted at managing or regulating the negative emotions of those working under their authority. This often has negative results.

For instance, leaders who use emotion-focused strategies often leave the underlying cause of the negative emotion behaviour unaddressed, which hinders the LMX relationship (Little, Gooty & Williams, 2016, p. 86). They research the idea that if leaders use a problem-focused strategy, this will help to eliminate the causes of negative emotions and improve the quality of the relationships between the follower and leader.

Little, Gooty and Williams (2016) discuss four ways to alter a follower’s emotional states:

1. Situation modification: removing or changing the situation causing the emotion

2. Cognitive change: reappraising or reinterpreting the situation so that it has less potential to harm goals, concerns and well-being

3. Additional deployment: distracting the follower by inducing more positive emotions

4. Modulating the emotional response: engaging in behaviours designed to suppress followers’ undesired negative behaviours

This research is useful, as it adds additional dimensions or ways of thinking about how leadership can be practised in leader-member instances where a leader experiences somewhat negative emotions from their team members.

What are the most effective ways to address negative emotions in others? When might it be important to address an underlying problem?

Little, L. M., Gooty, J., & Williams, M. (2016). The role of leader emotion management in leader–member exchange and follower outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(1), 85–97. doi:
© University of Southern Queensland
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