A Psychologist’s Take on Clarksongate

It’s been a while since I felt the urge to write a blog, and the re-emergence of this itch has coincided with a spare hour in Caffe Nero[i] (Waterloo Bridge, if you’re asking). So, in my first blog of the year, I thought I would write something about an uncontroversial topic that is unlikely to divide opinion.


Jeremy Clarkson.


Now, I have written before about amygdala hijacking (see Biting the Arm that Feeds You) and here is another classic example. Another example of a limbic system overload creating a result that no-one, including Jeremy, wanted; being sacked. Therefore, by definition, emotionally unintelligent.

The whole sorry debacle brought to my mind in this coffee shop a saying from an old manager of mine back in the days when I was gainfully employed. “Emotions have no place in the workplace” he used to say, nodding sagely. I assume he meant this generally. Not at me specifically. Anyway, I still remember it and he was utterly, hopelessly, naively wrong.

Because, to put it incredibly simply, emotions are pretty much all we are. They inform virtually every thought we have or action we take. An emotion prompts us to do something, whether it is to smile at a potential client or to escape a sabre-toothed cat arriving unannounced in your cave just outside Basildon. It’s what they are for. Without an emotion we couldn’t make a decision; logic and rationality assess the pros and cons of a situation but it’s an emotion that chooses between the alternatives. They help us determine what is urgent, what is important (although we often get our wires crossed with that one) and what needs careful handling and who (and how) to build relationships with.

So I think what he meant is that being emotional has no place in the workplace. Is this necessarily true?  – or even possible? It depends, I guess. If you are constantly bursting into tears because someone has looked at you in a funny way or going into a sulk because you haven’t got your own way then I guess there is likely to be an impact on your perceived credibility and you might want to try some alternative coping strategies. If we never show emotion, however, what does this say about our authenticity? There are whole leadership tomes and models devoted to being the authentic leader – showing your true self with its strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies but with skill, subtlety and nuance. Emotionally intelligently.

Obviously, there is a limit. Expressing displeasure, annoyance or excitement is one thing in the workplace. Biting an opponent or punching a colleague quite another. No ifs, no buts. No matter what else is going on in Jeremy’s life, or indeed how talented he is, no-one is above the law. The BBC effectively had no choice – we have seen where not addressing problems with on-screen talent has got them recently. Whilst sad for all concerned, we should applaud the strong managerial stance they have taken despite it presumably hitting them financially and firmly where it hurts – right in the ratings.


It is sad because he is undoubtedly talented; watched by 350 million throughout the world. That is more than read these blogs, probably. Top Gear is also my own guilty pleasure; I know I shouldn’t like it but I am a middle-aged man who likes cars and has an irreverent sense of humour. I am the target audience. I do like it – even though it does bear more than a passing resemblance to Last of the Summer Wine (ask your parents). The lesson here is that emotions – or rather, the way we handle our own and others’ – has everything to do with the workplace. Emotionally intelligent recognition and expression of emotions, situationally appropriate and in the spirit of authenticity makes for career success – way more than our intellect, if we believe the emotional intelligence literature. The alternative, as we have seen this week, can be somewhat career-limiting.


And yes, I’ve got a course for that.

[i] Other coffee shops are available