I am NOT OK. You are NOT OK.

Our Professor of Organizational Behavior at IIM-A one day asked:

So, how are you feeling now?

Some people said that they were feeling OK. I think the Professor was expecting someone to say that so that she could pick up on that and go on.

Professor told us that we often use words that don’t mean anything. Don’t convey emotions. “I am OK” is not a feeling, she said. Then she asked the persons to elaborate on the “I am OK” response and describe more. Some said they were sad, some irritated, some were joyful, and few relaxed. All these ARE emotions. OK is not!

What Professor was referring to was Theory of Emotion developed by eminent psychologist Robert Plutchik.

Plutchik conducted the initial research which later became full domain of study called “Emotional Intelligence”. He created a “wheel of emotions” consisting of 8 primary emotions. Those emotions can be further broken down into more granular ones which have subtle differences – more like shades of basic colors. Here is the Wheel of Emotions.


While attending the class I realized two things about understanding own emotion or state of mind:

  1. Our ability to perceive and understand own emotion in finer shades
  2. Our ability to describe it in precise word

First is the function of how well you can see through the finer shades of emotions and distinguish one from the other. For example, I might use words “frustrated” and “irritated” interchangeably without knowing the subtle difference from above wheel that “frustrated” is an extension of “angry” and “irritated” is an extension of “hateful”, both of which belong to primary emotion called “mad”.

Does this even matter? Well, it may matter if the recipient can understand subtle difference and interpret your differently. You may tell him that you are irritated(when actually you wanted to say “frustrated”, and the recipient would take it as a shade of “hateful”. In most scenarios such subtle difference wouldn’t matter; but when it does, it would really cause some trouble.

The second aspect of understanding own emotion or set of mind is ability to describe in precise word. The vocabulary – which is a function of your grasp over language.

I feel that is where a lot of people (including myself) would face challenges. It is one thing to express my emotion or state of mind in my native language/mother tongue – very convenient up to 4 or 5 layers of depth. However, if I am doing the same in a foreign language, I would be less confident. So instead of going to 2nd or 3rd layer of emotion I would stick to the first or primary emotion layer – even if I know all words for shades of emotions. And that may lead to unimaginable consequences, especially on Social Media.

Case in point is Shashi Tharoor’s eloquent tweet few months ago:


Exasperating = intensely irritating; infuriating

Farrago = confused mixture

So Tharoor took the emotion layer beyond the wheel and made it “intensely irritated”! The public, however, found most of the words incomprehensible and trolled him on Twitter for many days.

Anyways, coming back to main topic, I am OK is not a true emotion, state of mind. You should understand and express true feeling.

So, how are your feeling now? 🙂

P.S.: I am pretending to be “delightfully skeptical”!

P.P.S: There is a popular self-help book called “I’m OK, You’re OK”. I also came across another book titled “I’m OK, You’re NOT OK”.

I think I should write a new book titled “I’m NOT OK, You’re NOT OK” 🙂


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