Navigating the complexity of mixed feelings in relationships and work

From personal relationships to workplaces, our feelings often swing like a pendulum, mixing joy and sorrow, love and hate, or satisfaction and regret

By Ritu Kant Ojha

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Reuters file photo used for illustrative purpose only
Reuters file photo used for illustrative purpose only

Published: Mon 17 Jul 2023, 7:46 PM

Ever had a love-hate relationship with your favourite food? You love how it tastes, but hate the calories it packs? That's mixed feelings for you. They are part of our everyday life. From personal relationships to workplaces, our feelings often swing like a pendulum, mixing joy and sorrow, love and hate, or satisfaction and regret. Consider your feelings for your best friend, for instance. You love them for their loyal companionship but sometimes their habits might drive you up the wall.

There's nothing wrong with these mixed feelings. In fact, they're part of the complexity of human relationships. You might experience simultaneous positive and negative feelings towards people you're close to, causing an intriguing blend of happiness and sadness, love and anger, satisfaction and disappointment. This paradox can significantly impact our mental health. Acknowledging these feelings might bring you peace and could potentially improve your relationships.

Taking this understanding into your workplace could be transformative. We often have mixed feelings about our bosses or colleagues. One moment, we appreciate their support. The next, we feel frustrated when they don't seem to understand our viewpoint. In reality, relationships at work are not just 'good' or 'bad'. They are a complex blend, full of ups and downs. Understanding these ambivalent relationships and harnessing the power of both positive and negative conversations can lead to stronger leader-employee dynamics. It's similar to understanding why your friend's habits can be annoying - they might be coping with their own pressures.

A good leader recognises the impact of their actions and understands they can stir different reactions. Like a captain steering a ship through a storm, they need to adapt quickly. Leaders can boost their team's morale by highlighting the positive aspects of work while also addressing the not-so-great parts. Adam Grant, the Wharton's top-rated professor who has researched extensively on ambivalent relationships, argues in his book - 'Give and Take' - "Today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. It turns out that at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return. Although some givers get exploited and burn out, the rest achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries.”

The role of a leader, however, goes beyond the give-and-take. They need to embrace emotional complexity, acknowledging both the positive and negative aspects of their relationships with employees. This openness and flexibility can empower followers to speak-up and initiate change.

We can apply this concept of embracing mixed emotions in our own lives too by engaging in "dialectical thinking", a mindset that accepts the coexistence of opposing emotions as normal and compatible. Instead of trying to simplify our lives, we can be fully awake and alive inside the mess, using our emotional agility to adapt, survive, and thrive amidst life's inevitable ups and downs.

Yet, it's essential to understand that ambivalent relationships can also lead to stress and anxiety due to their unpredictability. During arguments or conflicts, we might experience increased heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels. Over time, chronic exposure to this stress can lead to more serious health problems. However, individuals who feel supported by their teammates or loved ones are better equipped to handle this stress.

You can use the power of conversations to manage mixed emotions and ambivalent relationships, personally and professionally. They facilitate understanding, empathy, and growth. In personal lives, open dialogue allows for expressing emotions, better handling ego battles, and strengthening connections. Similarly, in the workplace, conversations foster psychological safety, encourage collaboration, and resolve conflicts constructively. By valuing diverse perspectives and engaging in empathetic conversations, organizations harness collective intelligence and create inclusive environments. Conversations serve as a useful, but often ignored, tool, providing space to process complex emotions, nurture connections, and foster personal and professional growth. Embracing open dialogue cultivates a fulfilling life, both when dealing with loved ones or office colleagues.

Life isn’t a simple line from point A to point B, but a winding road filled with ups and downs. Neither our experiences, nor our feelings are one-dimensional. The relationships - personal or professional, often brew a cocktail of emotions. We love, and sometimes, we hate. We feel joy and sorrow, often simultaneously. Embracing this emotional paradox makes us human. It gives depth to our experiences, helps grow emotionally, and allows us to navigate relationships and work-life with a deeper understanding.

After all, life, like that favourite food of yours, is a mix of flavours. Sweet, sour, bitter, or spicy, each adds to its richness. So, let’s savour it, one mixed feeling at a time.

(Ritu Kant Ojha is the author of Real Conversations in Digital Age and a Dubai-based communications expert)

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