In my last article, I talked about boosting one’s emotional intelligence. To do this, you need to concentrate on three specific disciplines:
- Awareness of Emotions
- Expression of Emotions
- Managing/Controlling Your Emotions
Let’s break these categories down a bit further.
Awareness of Emotions: Have you ever asked a teenager, “What are you feeling right now?” only to have him respond, “I dunno”. Unless that kid is remarkably ahead of the self-awareness curve, he probably possesses a relatively low level of emotional intelligence. Not that this would be surprising, of course: most teenagers, in general, are struggling simply to understand themselves and the world around them. But what about adults? What’s our excuse? Alas, many “grown ups” are little more than teenagers in grown-up clothing. I’m betting you know at least half a dozen people in your work/social circles who repeatedly act out impulsively on their feelings, wearing their emotions on their sleeves without much self-refection, utterly unaware of how their emotions and behaviors affect and influence others. Scary, huh? And so common! The fact is, most of us have never been trained in the development of emotional awareness. Certainly we don’t learn it in school!
Emotional awareness requires us to take a step back from ourselves and observe what’s going on in our hearts and minds. It asks us to notice how different feelings – anger, upset, joy, frustration – land in our bodies. Where, for example, do we hold anger? Our necks? Our stomachs? Our throats? How about anger? Joy? And when we do have these feelings arise, what thoughts run through our minds (and vice versa)? Awareness of emotions means stepping outside of ourselves and making a study of our thoughts and feelings as if they were those of another person. Through curiosity and objectivity, we take a heartbeat of reflection between feeling what we feel and proceeding to the expression of those emotions.
Expression of Emotion: There are two pieces to the puzzle of emotional expression. The first is: How much of our feelings should we share (especially at work)? … and the second is: How do we express them appropriately? No doubt you’ve encountered someone in your life who you just can’t read. That person is like a professional poker player: private, inscrutable, keeping all her feelings “close to the vest”. Although fine for card players, for the rest of us hiding or suppressing our emotions inevitably leads to problems. For one thing, it’s hard to trust someone who holds their feelings back so rigidly. And for the individual doing the suppressing, the cost can be severe. Those pent up emotions tend to be like a powder keg, waiting for the proper catalyst to explode out into the world.
People with high emotional intelligence fully express their feelings (allowing for increased accessibility, vulnerability and trust), but they do it appropriately. Rather than slamming a door in disgust, or rolling their eyes dramatically when they hear a comment they don’t like, people skilled at emotional expression are clear and respectful in their communication. They let you know what they’re feeling without demanding your capitulation. They think before they act.
Managing/Controlling Emotions: This category of emotional intelligence refers to our ability (or inability) to manage our moods, as well as our capacity to exercise self-control. Especially when we’re under stress, strong feelings can sweep down upon us like a sudden storm, catching us unawares and blowing away all of our emotional defenses. Let’s say, for example, that your teenage son (the one who said “I dunno” above) calls you from the police station, where’s he been busted for a DUI. Chances are that before your empathy kicks in, you’re going to feel frustrated and angry with your son, not to mention resentful that you have to drop what you’re doing to go bail him out (again!). Someone adept at managing and controlling their emotions would notice those “catabolic” feelings and then decide what actions serve him best. You might, for instance, choose to express some anger towards your son (respectfully, of course). Or you could decide to exercise forgiveness. Or you might channel your inner feelings of “service” and use this situation as an opportunity for selflessness. You might even seek out a win-win scenario (ie. I’ll help him AND I’ll also stop by Jamba Juice for a smoothie along the way).
You get the idea. No matter what you’re feeling, you don’t have to act out immediately. As a master practitioner of emotional management, you realize that you always have choices on what you do and how you do it. Rather than responding in a knee-jerk manner, you get to pick — consciously — from a full range of actions and expression.
Remember, too, that as a leader (someone who influences people), you have an effect on others, whether you like it or not. By exercising your own emotional intelligence, you can shift the moods of others, both at home and at work. As you raise your own level of energy, your contagious EQ will automatically have a powerful and positive effect on those around you.
[With thanks to IPEC Coaching. Web copy used by permission. No reproduction or retransmission is permitted without expressed written consent of Bruce D Schneider and the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). © 2006 – 2014 Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC)]
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