Five Reasons Why Emotion Has a Place in the Boardroom

21/05/2014 17:02 BST | Updated 21/07/2014 10:59 BST

In the UK only 20% of board members of FTSE 100 companies are female. At last count, only five had women leading them. Why? Last week a member of one of the world's largest professional skills training firms suggested it was down to our lack of emotional control.

In this post for Forbes entitled Do This to Control Your Emotions and Gain The Upper Hand in Negotiations, the exec wrote: 'Women are fearful of losing control when they get emotional...and they're right. Emotional control during negotiation - leading to successful outcomes - can help you differentiate yourself from male colleagues and break through the glass ceiling into senior leadership roles, where women are extremely underrepresented.'

Yet, that's only one side of the argument. While, in the era of the power suit, it would easy to think that a steely demeanour is the passport to success - and to feel like a failure if a difficult meeting or deadline sends you reaching for the tissues, or something stronger, after hours, the presence of emotion in business can be a good thing. A raft of recent research suggests that with our greater levels of emotional sensitivity, we women should be playing to our strengths. There are five key ways we can use our emotions to increase our success at work.

1. Use emotion to maintain long-term working relationships

In January, research produced by Havard Law School and published in the Negotiation Journal showed that those participants who had higher levels of emotional intelligence were rated more highly on measures of trust, rapport and the desire to work together in the future by their partners in a negotiation task because they could show empathy.

In practice, women should use their ability to establish common ground, to build good relationships with clients and consumers.

2. Use emotion to manage stress

Psychologists have shown that those who are able to demonstrate emotions more readily may be less prone to experiencing workplace stress. Grant, Kinman and Alexander (2014) found that methods to increase emotional sensitivity helped individuals to become more reflective and better able to handle complex situations.

Writing down and acknowledging emotions can help an individual to tolerate high pressure environments.

3. Use emotion to guide ethical ways of working

One of the most important aspects of business is employing trust-worthy and responsible individuals and as a result, the presence of moral judgement and sensitivity can help employees to demonstrate their value.

Studies have shown that individuals can use greater levels of emotion to recognise the right course of action in a given situation - listen to your instincts. Anxiety can occur for a reason.

4. Use emotion to be innovative - and likeable

In a classic nod to the stereotypically cold-blooded business mind, psychologists in Australia published the results of a personality study on 674 business graduates which found that while they were likely to be emotionally stable, they typically scored low on measures of openness and agreeableness.

It is important not to underestimate the value of being liked - as well as respected - by colleagues in the workplace. If you are open about your own feelings, you are more likely to be receptive to the ideas and thoughts of a colleague - organisations need good listeners, as well as high morale.

5. Use emotion to find a job you love

When it comes to behaviour in the workplace, the context of our actions sometimes has to guide us more than our emotions. For example, someone who values the truth in all circumstances, might find themselves having to uphold patient confidentiality if working in a medical environment. Many psychological studies have shown that the presence of traits does not guarantee behaviour in the workplace and many of us will have to solve conflicts between our emotions and the rules implemented by others.

If we compromise on our feelings too often, we may start to feel frustrated - or miserable. Wherever possible, it's advisable to use our emotions as a guide to finding a job that's right.

If you enjoy a role you are much more likely to put the effort in that guarantees success.