Personality at work: the scientific notions behind Lumina Emotion

Emotions have long been acknowledged as either the ladders we scale or the eggshells on which we walk in the workplace, and our success or failure with those tricky balancing acts exerts a huge, shaping influence on our personality and self-worth.

However, emotions are too often relegated to the side-lines in everyday workplace discussions. At best, they are dismissed in the face of plain-old competence matters related to technical tasks. At worst, they are greeted almost with embarrassment, as if feelings shouldn’t be allowed to intrude on professional relationships and blur our focus on organisational goals.

Neither path, though, gets anyone anywhere – and, with that in mind, psychometrics experts Lumina Learning have devised Lumina Emotion: a tool designed specifically to bring emotions out of their hiding place in an effort to see what needs to be enhanced, re-evaluated… or even harnessed.

We spoke to Lumina Emotion’s creator Julie Ensor to find out how it works…

Tell us a little about your background. How did you get interested in business psychology, and what brought you to Lumina?
I’ve taken what you could call the ‘scenic route’ towards my career. Before my degree, I contemplated studying clinical psychology (the world of occupational psychology was not on my radar back then). However, I chose to do something ‘safe’ instead to keep my options open – so I studied business and politics at Trinity College in Dublin. Which mainly taught me that I definitely didn’t want to become an accountant!

Following that realisation, I went right back to my original passion: psychology. I did a Master’s in pure psychology in Glasgow, which I loved, then specialised in occupational, or ‘business’, psychology, gaining a Master’s from the University of Nottingham. I was tempted to do a PhD for about five seconds before deciding to get a proper job.

My role at Lumina Learning came about after I was put in touch with CEO Stewart Desson through a mutual contact. A few weeks later, I had an interview with Stewart – in Starbucks of all places – and we really hit it off, chatting about psychology for hours. I started as an intern, and five years later I’m still here.

The role involves developing new products and enhancing existing ones. I also do a lot of research and validation of our existing offerings and developing bespoke psychometric solutions for our clients. About two years ago, I began to develop what became known as Lumina Emotion.

What are the greatest, daily challenges that emotions present to individuals in the workplace?
People are under ever-increasing levels of pressure. Some people I speak to reveal that they’re almost permanently in an Overextended state. One buzz phrase that’s particularly relevant here is ‘emotional contagion’: the phenomenon whereby one person’s emotional behaviour triggers similar emotions in others. I think everyone can relate to that. We’ve all experienced the impact that just one person who’s stressing out – or having a bad day and taking it out on others – can have on the rest of the team. Trouble is, negative emotions spread like wildfire. Left unchecked, they can spawn really quite toxic atmospheres.

When we’re under threat, we also tend to go into survival mode. That can inhibit us from engaging our conscious, ‘thinking’ brain, because our emotionally reactive brain takes over. One of the aims of working with Lumina Emotion is to help people get better at being more mindful and conscious of their emotions, and to process them more effectively. Victor Frankel puts it best: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” For me, ‘emotional intelligence’ reflects how well we manage that space between stimulus and response.

Another obstacle I think people struggle with sometimes is managing their emotions – and often their natural ways of being – in order to be effective and achieve their goals, while also trying to maintain their authenticity.

Authenticity is a vogueish word in business, but it is often quite fuzzy to define. I’m often asked how managing our emotions is reconciled with being authentic. For me, it is possible to manage your ways of being to be effective, without denying who you are. For example, I am very naturally Introverted, but I think I’m somewhat of a learned Extravert in that I invest energy into tuning up my extraverted side, and recognising when I need to do that.

It’s not about denying who you are, or what you are feeling – but making conscious decisions to act in certain ways and finding strategies that work for you that feel authentic. I also don’t think that we should use authenticity as an excuse to indulge our emotional reactivity. Sometimes my authentic self, in a given moment, could be feeling quite impatient or frustrated – but you learn that there are times when being totally authentic may do more harm than good. There may be better ways to convey those same feelings, but in a less destructive way.

When working with Lumina Emotion, clients focus a lot on understanding their core values and goals, which can help to anchor their behaviour, particularly in challenging situations. When we have a clearer idea of what it is that we want to get out of a situation, it can help us to be more objective and considered in our responses. It can help us stop and think: “Is this response really going to help me to achieve what I want?” To me, acting authentically means acting in a way that aligns with our values and facilitates the effective achievement of our higher-level goals. As a result, that creates a more meaningful life.

In which ways can emotions be potentially beneficial or advantageous in the workplace?
Emotions are everywhere, and they have huge power to influence the emotions of others. They are so tightly weaved into our behaviour and decision making, even if we’re not quite aware of how. Just as negative emotions spread, so too do positive ones.

We can all do our best to contribute positively to the emotional atmosphere at work. Maintaining positive attitude is perhaps more crucial than ever in these difficult times, as we know that uncertainty can breed fear. When it comes to positive emotions, a little can go a long way. However, it’s not all about them: finding effective ways to express the full range of our emotions – including frustration, fear and so on – can effectively also help us develop deeper and more meaningful relationships in the workplace and build trust.

We tend to reserve a lot of what we feel only for those that we are closest to or feel safest with. I think we can sometimes find it difficult to know what’s appropriate, and sometimes avoid saying what we really feel for fear of being judged. Also, certain work cultures can subtly create unwritten rules as to which emotions are acceptable, and which are not.

Lumina Emotion helps individuals process their emotions by becoming more mindful and objective about what they think and feel, and also to challenge and validate those thoughts and emotions. This can help to boost emotional awareness which, in turn, can help people make better sense of their emotions – and also better able to articulate them in a more conscious, less reactive way. When people feel more in tune with their emotions, it can help them feel better able to connect with people, building trust. That can lead to deeper and more open communication.

To what extent have psychometric methods tried to address emotions in the past?
Psychometrics have attempted to examine emotional intelligence for some time. However, unlike other psychological concepts – such as personality – there’s no clear consensus on what comprises emotional intelligence, how it should be measured, or what distinguishes it from personality.

Lumina Emotion is based on research that suggests there’s a strong overlap between constructs measured in emotional intelligence and personality traits. Lumina Emotion uses all five factors within the ‘Big 5’ personality model to demonstrate that personality traits actually cover the majority of traditional emotional competencies.

However, Lumina Emotion also takes a holistic and balanced view, recognising that every trait can be helpful and effective in its own way. This is unlike a lot of traditional models, which tend to define emotional intelligence as consisting of the most ‘socially desirable’ personality traits – suggesting that experiencing more negative emotions such as worry or self-doubt makes one less ‘emotionally intelligent’. Indeed, in most psychometric tools that measure emotional intelligence, we tend to see a bias for traits centred upon extraversion and emotional stability. The message is that to be ‘emotionally intelligent’ you need to be very happy, gregarious and outgoing, rather than being a bit more contained, or prone to worrying a bit more.

By contrast, Lumina Emotion views emotional intelligence as the practice of managing our personality effectively to live in a conscious, values-based way – whatever our traits may be. We define emotional intelligence as “our ability to understand emotions in self and others, and to process and adapt our emotions to guide effective thinking and meaningful behaviour.” While that definition is not radically different from how it would be framed in other psychometric tools, I would say that we go deeper into trying to measure that process of how people act in emotionally intelligent ways, rather than simply classifying some traits as emotionally intelligent and others as not.

What were the main goals you set out to achieve by devising Lumina Emotion?
We wanted to achieve a measure that we felt made a comprehensive assessment not only of who we are and what we feel, but what we do. Of huge importance to that was applying Lumina’s humanistic ethos of valuing both ends of the spectrum to try and tackle some of the biases that tend to emerge from traditional measures of emotional intelligence, as I’ve explained above. We wanted a model that recognised the richness of human emotion and to measure it in a way that spoke to people in a meaningful way.

In particular, we wanted to demystify the factor of personality known in psychological literature as ‘Neuroticism’. It is the one area of personality that seems to be considered uniquely ‘bad’. However, that’s because it’s often poorly conceptualised and misunderstood. People get a bit nervous when they hear the word Neuroticism, and understandably so – psychologists have not always been the best at labelling scales in ways that could be called user-friendly! However, the fundamental basis for being higher on this scale is simply down to the degree we perceive threat in our environment and the type of situations that evoke this response.

We have evolved to see threats: it’s our brain’s way of keeping us out of danger. Some of us are more attuned to seeking the risks in an ambiguous situation, while others may not see those same risks – or may even see positives instead. It really just boils down to a difference of perspective. In Lumina Emotion, we examine your ‘Risk Reactors’ and ‘Reward Reactors’, and – crucially – allow for both in the same individual. This acknowledges the complexity of emotions, and that what we ‘feel’ does not always equate to what we ‘do’.

Importantly, we really try to value and embrace the full range of emotions – after all, they are simply part of the human condition. To my knowledge, Lumina Emotion is the first model to ever really tap into this complexity, or give clear value to both ends of what is typically a biased scale. We have seen a big movement in recent times towards valuing Introversion and challenging the Extraversion bias, thanks to authors such as Susan Cain. I feel that demystifying Neuroticism would break one of the last personality taboos, and I hope that Lumina Emotion goes some way towards this.

In what ways does Lumina Emotion represent an evolution from Lumina Spark… how does it go deeper?
We designed Spark and Emotion to fit together nicely and to work as two pieces of a bigger puzzle. In fact, they actually reflect one ‘unified 40’ quality that comprehensively measures the personality. By ‘unified 40’, I mean that when Spark and Emotion combine, they create a really rich and comprehensive framework that looks at a total of 40 qualities in detail, across the whole range of personas.

That combination provides an incredibly rich insight into the complex and dynamic nature of personality, with the aim of considering the ‘whole person’, in terms of their emotions, behaviours – and any, potential Overextended areas. However, the lens of Emotion has a different focus, exploring the underlying emotional component more so than Spark.

Spark is a great introduction to personality, as it’s safe, accessible and works well with teams. Lumina Emotion does indeed go deeper, and brings out slightly ‘less-safe’ emotional areas, such as our self-concept, confidence, resilience and anxiety. It also explores our values and our fears. On that basis, it is dealing with areas that may need to be handled more carefully, and may be less appropriate for all groups. That said, it can also add significant richness and insight into coaching conversations, which can be really powerful.

Which types of professionals does Lumina Learning hope will benefit most from exposure to Lumina Emotion?
It hasn’t been designed for any one group of people – we see it as applicable to anyone, from boardroom to classroom. As with all our products, we really tried to ensure that Lumina Emotion is accessible to anyone. We kept the psychological ‘jargon’ quite light so that people can engage easily with it.

Find out about Inemmo’s Lumina Emotion offering here