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The Power of Being Precise

Scared businessman

Sometimes accuracy is a requirement, not an option.

I was reminded about the importance of precision in business after reading a recent article in the New York Times. It was about the value of accuracy in emotions. Surprised? The connection between career success and the ability to identify our feelings is much closer than you might imagine.

In the article, author Lisa Feldman Barrett profiles people with finely tuned feelings—the ones psychologists describe as exhibiting “emotional granularity.” These individuals accurately recognize and experience a broad spectrum of emotions rather than lumping them all together in one general category.

As an example, think about selecting paint colors for a room. Do you classify everything off-white as Beige? Or do you see and appreciate the distinctions of unique colors like Buff, Sand, Biscuit, Ecru and Oatmeal? (And, yes, there are at least 50 shades of gray.) People with emotional granularity take the time to notice the differences in feelings that are, admittedly, very similar and then react in ways that are more carefully tailored for a particular situation.

Understanding the Benefits

Research shows that emotionally granular people have an edge when it comes to navigating interactions with colleagues and co-workers. Because they can sense the nuances within different feelings (in themselves and among others), they can measurably increase the quality of their communications and interpersonal relationships. That capability is especially valuable for leaders, since it helps them to develop greater levels of trust, create more collaborative environments, and manage their teams more effectively.

But wait, emotional granularity has more benefits that extend beyond the business environment. Barrett explains that being able to dissect and evaluate our feelings more precisely delivers a wide range of advantages such as living longer and healthier lives, lowering the levels of inflammation throughout our bodies, and even reducing the likelihood of drinking too much when stressed or retaliating with violence when provoked. Whether you are at work or at home, emotional granularity gives your brain more tools to handle whatever challenges come your way.

Increasing the Skill

The process of improving your emotional granularity isn’t about simply expanding your vocabulary or using longer descriptions when you talk about your feelings. While your English teacher might give you bonus points for making stronger word selections, this is more about defining your inner experience at a given time. Specifically and honestly. Are you fearful? Or are you anxious, terrified, worried, obsessed or suspicious? Do you feel hurt? Or are you betrayed, let down, disappointed or needy?

To get more clarity about your emotions, pause and think about what you are truly feeling. Drill down to consider what contributing emotions might be lurking under the surface. Consider the different level of granularity in these statements:

“I am so angry.”


“I am frustrated that they were late to the meeting, annoyed that we didn’t have time to strategize about the new project, and anxious about missing our deadline.”

When you work to clarify your feelings, you’ll gain the information needed to better guide your response and take positive action. Using the same example from above, think about the difference between stewing in your anger versus acknowledging the more specific emotions and taking responsibility for the outcomes.

“I could send team members an extra reminder about the start time for the meeting.”

“I could facilitate the meeting and agenda more carefully to ensure we have time for strategizing.”

“I could prepare a production schedule to keep everyone in the loop about our process.”

The lesson here? Think before you speak. Consider the multiple underlying emotions involved. Yours and theirs. Whether we are interacting with people personally or professionally, getting granular with our emotions can be a smart way to help us achieve greater results.

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