Lately I’ve been training so much on emotional intelligence, or EQ. Some of it by design, courses that are requested by organizations and some of it is more organic conversations that turn to the impact of our or others emotions. And often the question becomes, what “to do” about them. For example, a consistent risk I hear in having difficult conversations is the fear that the other person will become emotional. As if there couldn’t be a worse outcome than needing to figure out what to do with someone else’s emotions. Or I’ve also heard several times in the last several weeks that leaders acknowledge, “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” Saying this with the objective of trying to change that. As if that was a bad thing, something to be corrected.
Emotions are fascinating to me. Probably because I can look back on my life and my career and see how my lack of insight in this area affected me. Not being self-aware, not managing my emotions in a healthy constructive manner resulted in stress for me, bad decision making, some really poor life choices and sadly, this had an impact on those around me. Both personally and professionally. It’s an area I wish I would have embraced earlier.
If you’ve not explored this vital area of leadership, emotional intelligence is basically understanding your emotions and those of others around you and using this insight to guide your behaviors and actions.
There are four domains of EQ:
- Social Awareness
- Relationship Management
And while many people think this is a relatively new area, it’s been studied for decades, though Daniel Goleman and Travis Bradberry have definitely brought it to the mainstream. And both have studied the impact of EQ at work. It is a differentiator. And EQ is correlated to high performance.
But there are indeed exceptions to this rule! I remember working with an executive, let’s call him Pete, who after completing a leadership assessment, came out as a 3 on a scale that measured personal warmth. Meaning the higher the score, the warmer you were (meaning your connection with others). And he was a 3. This intrigued me and because I knew this, I tried exceptionally hard to engage him. I was so focused on trying to connect with him on some other level outside of the somewhat transactional nature of our relationship, because we had to partner to create his leadership plan. I didn’t want this to be transactional for him. I wanted it to be transformational for him. In a shocking plot twist, this did not occur. We just focused on the content of the plan. And after awhile, I too became more detached in the relationship with him, more transactional—just anxious to get the plan done. I accepted the experience wouldn’t be meaningful to him, and I guess not to me either. I could feel the shift occurring, because emotions are contagious. Daniel Goleman also discovered this phenomenon. Leaders impact the emotions of their team. They own the emotional energy.
So, in thinking of Pete, or working with a leader who wore their heart on their sleeve? I’d say, yes please give me your heart and your sleeve. At least I’d have a gauge of what’s going on in that person’s or heart. It’s authentic. It’s data and insight that many people try hard to compartmentalize. To not let it show.
For fear of what? So often it starts with our beliefs.
Consider these beliefs about emotions and see which resonate with you. (Or maybe you have your own!):
- If I lose control of my emotions in front of others, they will think less of me.
- I should be able to control my emotions.
- If I tell others how I feel, they will use it against me.
- If I tell others how I feel, they will think I am weak.
- Other people don’t feel this way. There must be something wrong with me.
- I should be able to cope with difficulties on my own without turning to others for support.
- If I show signs of weakness, then others will reject me.
- I’m stupid for feeling this way. I should just suck it up!
According to Positive Psychology, each of these are false beliefs. Each of these beliefs affect the way we show up at work, how much we engage, how transparent and authentic we are. It means we are controlling emotions rather than expressing them constructively. There is danger in thinking that emotions are to be controlled, rather than to be felt and understood.
Because if I’m resentful about the way I’m being treated by my boss—it means I don’t share this information. I might vent to others, pretend to ignore it, say something passive aggressive and hope he gets the hint, or end up binge eating Doritos and consuming mass quantities of wine (or is that just me?). I do these things, rather than telling my boss how I am feeling, and why. Engaging in a dialogue to improve the relationship. To create a more meaningful relationship.
I’m not advocating to just let extreme (especially negative) emotional reactions fly free with no regard for the impact on others. Rather being thoughtful about how and when to express and share your emotions with others, which I consider a significant and important leadership skill. It takes self-awareness, and self-management to choose when and how to communicate emotional experiences in a way that build trust, maintains credibility, and deepens relationships.
So, in trying to strengthen our emotional intelligence, it’s important to examine our thoughts and beliefs. Here are some questions for you to consider:
- How would you describe your relationship with your emotions?
- What are your beliefs about expressing emotions in the workplace and where did those beliefs come from?
- What are the consequences to you of continuing to hold on to any false beliefs you may have?
- How might exploring emotional intelligence improve your leadership effectiveness?
- If it’s true that your emotions are contagious, what are you spreading?
And if you are intrigued by EQ, join us next episode when we’ll tackle how to strengthen your self-awareness and self-management.
“Emotions are not problems to be solved. They are signals to be interpreted.”