InsideOut at Work: The 5 emotions driving our progress and achievement

Copyright 2015 Pixar

Last weekend I took my two girls to watch a much anticipated film of the year: InsideOut. For those that haven’t yet seen or heard of it, the film is set in the mind of a young girl, Riley Anderson, where five personified emotions—Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness try to lead her through life as she moves with her family to a new city. Critically acclaimed worldwide, the movie is a unique view into how prominent our emotions are in interpersonal relationships, values and perceptions –  shaping who we are and what we do. As I was driving home with the family, my mind started to drift into the working world, and it got me wondering: if InsideOut was based on the dominant emotions at work, what would those be?

Here’s my take on the 5 emotions that drive us at work:


Confidence is the core emotion that governs many choices and decisions we make at work. Whether it’s the feeling to put your hand up and take on a task, to raising a challenging issue, confidence is essential to your overall satisfaction and ‘delight’ with your career and work. Just like ‘Joy’ in the original film, ensuring there is confidence behind your every action at work helps keep you motivated, focused and grounded in your capability and in addressing shortcomings.

Too much of it looks like…
Confidence can be overused. Having too much confidence at work can build a perception of being overbearing, arrogant and forceful.

Too little of it looks like…
When confidence isn’t spending enough time on your ‘brain control deck’, emotions like “anxious” takes over and we begin to feel nervous, worried and stressed about how we are being perceived and our level of involvement, input and ‘voice’ suffers.

“I feel confident…”


The ability to feel positive, optimistic and good about actions, directions, people and plans is essential. Being able to critically assess situations, interactions and strategies with a good dose of realistic optimism and positivity is so hard to do at times – we tend to focus on what can go wrong, highlighting risks, addressing concerns and voicing obstacles; rather than articulating possibilities, talking about the opportunity in risk and aligning to solutions to problems at the onset. Feeling positive about who you are, what you do and how you do it has a fundamental impact on interpersonal relationships, team dynamics and quality of work.

Too much of it looks like…
Feeling too optimistic can lead to risks being overlooked, reckless decisions being made and a disconnect where the situation can be misinterpreted by others perceiving you as fake or on some different plant altogether!

Too little of it looks like…
Feeling no optimism at all can be like a cancer that spreads throughout the organisation and in other aspects of your life. It depletes energy stores and is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, gossip and stress.

“I’m feeling really optimistic…”


One of the primary emotions that routinely takes over the brain control deck more and more these days is the feeling known as “anxious” (or anxiety). When I talk about feeling anxious it is specific to work related situations and is not the wider anxiety term. For example, how many time have we felt anxious about that performance review, stepping into the room and delivering the presentation, or walking into a meeting with the boss? Or what about when we interact with people at work where the ‘connection’ isn’t there? Why did they argue with me? Why are they ignoring me? Why wasn’t I invited to the meeting? Feeling anxious is also a key ingredient to stress at work as we will mix worry, pressure and outcomes into situations that skew how we perceive and react to them.

Too much of it looks like…
Feeling overly anxious, nervous or worried about situations is not healthy. It can lead to greater instances of stress, lack of clarity in decision making and impact interpersonal relationships as people perceive you as paranoid or worried all the time.

Too little of it looks like…
Just like sadness in the move InsideOut, feeling anxious at work in key situations and decisions can make a positive difference – it can help you reassess situations, analyse risk and build self-awareness in areas that need personal development. Feeling anxious can also give ‘birth’ to feelings of reassurance in our confidence and capability, just what we need before stepping into the job interview or board meeting.

“I feel anxious about this…”


This one is a biggie at work. How many times have we felt frustrated at a situation, decision or action where we don’t understand how that could’ve happened, or what was driving that decision to come to be the way that it is? How could someone have let that happen? How come I don’t get this when everyone else can? Feeling frustrated can overshadow logical and sound decision making, impacting on how we perceive people and situations as they happen.

Too much of it looks like…
Feeling frustrated all the time can burn you out too quickly. Being able to stop, reassess, challenge and become curious about the situation can quickly neutralise feelings of frustration. Feeling frustrated about everything can also impact the way people connect with you, creating isolation and lack of input and involvement.

Too little of it looks like…
Believe it or not, it is healthy for us to feel frustrated from time to time. Feelings of frustration help challenge how you view situations, and encourage openness and transparency in communication by igniting curiosity that leads to open-ended questions.

“I’m so frustrated by the way….”

5. POWER –

Just like Anger in InsideOut, power has the ability to overtake the ‘brain control deck’ and either make situations worse by having too much power injected into scenarios and interactions; or better by people stepping up and taking control and accountability for their actions and decisions. Power is NOT hierarchical, command and controlling and is not linked to span of control or number of direct reports. Feeling power means you feel the right balance of trust, capability and personal leadership in the interaction or situation you are in that helps you feel motivated, in control and above all, confident.

Too much of it looks like…
Every heard of the term power drunk? I’ve seen my fair share of people in authoritative and managerial positions where too much power cultivates negative culture, disengagement and disconnection. Overusing power is the most damaging of all ‘work emotions’.

Too little of it looks like…
Ever felt powerless? That feeling that your voice isn’t being heard, feeling out of control, helpless or disconnected from the team or organisation overall? Feeling like you have no personal power at work impacts accountability, distorts responsibility, and creates vulnerabilities.

“I’m feeling good – feeling powerful…”

So, there you go – if our brains had that ‘control deck’ these five emotions: confidence, optimistic, anxious, frustration and power would all be taking turns pulling levers, pressing buttons and guiding how we react, interpret and remember things that happen at work.

Now that you’re aware of these, remind yourself of the role each of these play, and how using too much or too little of these emotions can create reactions to situations that distort how we perceive colleagues, customers and decisions at work.

Until next time,


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