Finding humans…at work?

Is it not part of the human condition to experience, among others, confusion, despair, pain, vulnerability?

We are human and not robots after all.


Robots and artificial intelligence are a reality. It is irrelevant in which market one operates- they are here to stay, like it or not. We need rewiring. We need to zoom into that component that cannot be replaced by technology: the very essence of what being human is (also)- emotions and feelings. Executive Education Programmes around the world are connecting with this reality, developing programmes that enable professionals to be/become their best selves, as in a complete package.

For a company or organisation, within its four walls (collaborators) and along the value chain (consumers, buyers, suppliers etc.) to acknowledge and commit (at the level of senior leadership) to emotional intelligence in the workplace, is representative of an absolute need to adapt to new global rules, practices and tendencies. Employees need human(ised) leadership i.e. leaders who are compassionate, resilient, and empathic. Consumers expect to be noticed and increasingly demand more personalized tailor-made services. Professionals are required to be better at being professionals, with greater cognitive competencies to stay competitive and marketable.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Harvard Business Review about its Emotional Intelligence Programme. This programme covers a number of themes such as mindfulness, resilience, influence and persuasion, authenticity in leadership, happiness, and empathy. In a nutshell, it provides insight into the human condition of professional life, embedded in studies of the role emotions play in improving the work experience. I bet none of these themes were part of any content material at school or in tertiary education? Let us not try to rationalize that if one is a competent director, compassion is not something he/she lacks. I think we can agree, more often than not, that is far from the truth, right? I have observed, more and more programmes at The School of Life of São Paulo, and elsewhere, offer courses on self-awareness and emotional intelligence. It is a trend on the rise. The point I want to make is that it is no longer a choice, but an absolute necessity that as professionals we become our best possible selves. All the parts in the equation win.

The stakes on intuition

Could it be the latest trend? A new rhetorical craze in the air? Or maybe, just maybe, humankind is evolving, and that it is more acceptable, and applauded to feel good in one´s skin i.e. to just simply be MEMein the context of this article takes on the meaning of the person as a whole: body, mind, and heart-intuition. Elisabeth Kingsley, a leadership coach, wrote in a recent think piece, that generally speaking, human beings are more apt at using the brain and less the gut-heart for intelligence. The heart is a truer source of knowledge and wisdomit knows what is best, says Kingsley. I agree. The heart-gut plays the role of power-house: enabler, facilitator, influencer, self-starter, energy provider, clarity-giver and more…(but only) if allowed. The heart-gut does not operate alone- it depends on personal initiative, effort and lots of practice. Renowned neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf provides evidence in her work, that the human mind and brain are actually buddies/allies. They work in tandem. For example, the mind provides a safety net for emotional intelligence to generate activity through the brain.

This knowledge (to own it) must be assimilated as self-consciousness in action so that it does not remain merely a theory. The mind exercises (all) power over matter, no matter what matter it is. The mind controls the brain and not the other way around as we may have been led to believe. Leaf explains that the brain must be regularly and consistently fed with positive thinking (patterns), distance itself, prevent, and auto-regulate negative thinking to attract/reproduce desired and positive (behavioral and external) outcomes. Dr. Leaf admits unequivocally: negative thinking/thoughts that enter our mind (consciously or subconsciously) cause brain damage.

The power of personal experience

Convinced I knew it all, heart-intuition is the vortex around which my whole being rotates. I know which steps to take before making any decision, or confronting adversity. The truth on the other hand- what I think I know about what I know, does not necessarily correspond to what I actually know. What I know is the perspective I have of reality. That depends on a number of factors, primarily what I put into my brain: what I feed it. Fear is often decisive.

I had hands-on experience two weeks ago. I had a very tight deadline. The closer I got to (the inevitability of not possibly meeting the) deadline, the more anxious I got. I came so close to giving up. I did not give up, but I almost did. I felt I was drowning in the pressure and the solitude that suddenly crept in. I felt absurdly ashamed. I did not ask for help because of the stigma I would have to face- only the weak seek help. But, let us think about this together- is it not the opposite? Is it not the strong that recognise they have a problem- who face up and show up? Is it not part of the human condition to experience, among others, confusion, despair, pain, vulnerability? We are human and not robots after all. What can we gain from this? Where is the cost-benefit when it comes to work?

The experience actually worked out to be emancipatory, but it could have been paralyzing. I learned that what I think, what I do and how I act are not a constant: a work of precision. It is messy. I was able to understand this with the help of a coach, which took me along the path of self-consciousness only because I chose self-empathy and love, over self-pity and condemnation. I incarnated my being, as a protagonist, and simultaneously took on the role of objective spectator, which gave me incredible clarity and insight. I was intentional about dealing with the root of the fear and explored ways to control it, as opposed to having it control me. According to the neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, it takes 63 days to build a habit. To reinvent oneself is possible. Change and transformation are at hand: engage daily in the practice of renovating/renewal of the mind, step-by-step, always looking ahead, always in movement, without stopping.


We intended that the reflection in this article would stimulate our thinking around possibilities and the power of self-interrogation, self-observation in a process of lifelong evolution. We have a single life – the personal and the professional merge means that, contrary to common belief, we take our whole selves to work and from work home again – we do not leave any part of ourselves behind. How can we deal more effectively with the pressures, fears, anxieties of life-work as a whole?

We ought to seek and find our best pathway. Coaching, therapy, psychoanalysis, meditation, sitting with God, there are many paths from which to choose. The key is to learn to embrace and confront whatever is standing in the way: fears, frustrations, negative sentiments/emotions, resentment- understand them, identify/seek the root, release them, do not suffocate, or push them aside. They will not simply go away and will come back (often with a vengeance) to haunt, and often block us from becoming our best versions as parents, lovers, friends, leaders, managers, and professionals.

[* This co-authored article is the product of an extraordinary collaboration with Rafaela Britto, expert and lecturer in Corporate Comunication, São Paulo, Brazil. Extremely grateful for the engagement, insight, and opportunity to work with Rafaela Britto in an ambiance of excellence, in spite of our geographic positions.

*A note of appreciation to Aloisio Miranda Menescal for revising this think piece.

Authors: Carla Paiva and Rafaela Britto

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