man standing at a crossroads

Naomi Rothman Suggests Leaders Embrace Emotional Ambivalence in Harvard Business Review article

The professor of management notes that sharing the feeling of ambivalence with your team can lead to creative problem solving. 

Story by

Emily Collins

Harvard Business Review features research from Naomi Rothman, associate professor of management, in the article "Embracing the Power of Ambivalence."

In this article, Rothman and her colleagues define emotional ambivalence as the simultaneous experience of positive and negative emotions about something — or feeling "torn." 

As employees experience these feelings when it comes to topics such as returning to the office, Rothman suggests leaders embrace this ambivalence as sharing the feeling can unlock problem solving and encourage teams to get creative and develop plans that work for everyone in the company. 

"Evidence suggests that experiencing emotional ambivalence can make people more creative, receptive to advice, and adaptable," explains Rothman and colleagues. "On the other hand, promoting cultures of happiness through social pressure not to experience negative emotions can actually promote rumination and loneliness and reduce well-being in people experiencing negative emotional states."

The authors offer six critical leadership lessons for encouraging emotional ambivalence and harnessing its benefits: 

  • Cultivate the experience of emotional ambivalence
  • Show that mixed emotions are OK
  • Authentically model emotional ambivalence
  • Use cultural symbolism
  • Structure interactions for emotional ambivalence
  • Reinforce the value of emotional ambivalence with fair reward systems

"As we enter this new phase of the pandemic, leaders need to realize that a relentless focus on boosting positivity may not be enough to keep employees engaged and can even be alienating for those who are awakening to the reality of their own emotional ambivalence," they write. 

The full article can be read on the Harvard Business Review website.

Story by

Emily Collins