This is Part Three of Six in our series on Emotional Intelligence
In this third segment of our series, we are focusing on managing emotions. Consider the following three situations:
- You feel personally attacked by a peer in a meeting. Can you effectively manage your anger and continue to participate productively in that meeting?
- You and your team feel overwhelmed and you are headed into a meeting to talk to them about moving a deadline up. Are you able to rally for them?
- You are about to talk with three leaders one and two levels above you about a serious mistake your team made last quarter, and you’re nervous. Can you summon the confidence you’ll need to succeed in that meeting?
These are just a few examples of times leaders need to manage emotions to be effective. At times, they need to reign in the expression of a strong emotion and at times they need to summon an emotion they don’t currently feel.
There are many specific strategies leaders can use to effectively manage their emotions throughout the day. Following are three of the strategies we teach in our course on emotional intelligence.
1. Take ownership of your emotions.
Your emotions and how you express them are your responsibility and no one else’s. Whenever you say “He made me feel…”, you are giving someone else control over your emotions. We’ve all said at one point or another, “She makes me so mad!” or “He drives me crazy!” From this point forward, erase these phrases from your vocabulary.
For example, Sara and Joe work together. Sara becomes impatient and frustrated working with Joe because his pace is slower than hers and he is more detail-oriented than she is. Toward the end of a one-hour meeting, Sara could no longer contain her frustration and snapped at Joe. The last 15 minutes were strained and unproductive in the aftermath of her outburst. They ended the meeting in awkward silence. Sara blamed Joe for her frustration. As long as the responsibility for the emotion remained with Joe, so did the responsibility for change. When Sara owned her emotional response to Joe’s communication style, she was able to apologize and intentionally change her response in subsequent meetings. By focusing on the strengths Joe brought to their working relationship rather than the behaviors that frustrated her, Sara had a more productive emotional response . This wouldn’t have happened if Sara hadn’t owned her emotions.
It’s important for leaders to take ownership of their feelings toward those with whom they work. Leaders are people too, and they will like some people more than others. If a manager has automatic or persistent negative feelings about an employee, the manager may fail to notice the employee’s positive contributions to the team and only notice the employee’s areas for improvement. Those negative feelings would also bleed into every interaction with that employee if the leader is not conciously managing them. The first step is to own those feelings.
2. Manage your thoughts.
Our thoughts drive our emotions and our emotions drive our behavior. Uncovering automatic thoughts and changing those thoughts can change the emotion that follows and result in more productive behavior.
For example, most stress comes from how we perceive or interpret events. The person who goes into a presentation for senior leadership thinking, “I hate presenting; they are going to annihilate me!” is likely to experience a destructive level of stress. The person who goes into that same meeting thinking, “I have an opportunity to prove myself. I am prepared for whatever they throw at me” is likely to be energized and ready to perform.
In order to effectively reframe a situation, it is essential to identify the thought causing the emotion. Once the thought is identified, it can be changed. That will in turn change the emotion making you more effective.
3. Escape the emotional hijack.
We experience emotional hijacks when the emotional part of the brain takes over or hijacks the part of our brain that houses the executive functioning. This leads to difficulty with concentrating, problem solving, and memory lapses. A person experiencing an emotional hijack often says or does something regrettable. Once they calm down, it is typical to hear, “What was I thinking?” The answer is, they weren’t.
Some of the signs of a person has been hijacked include:
- They don’t listen to others.
- They become very defensive.
- They lash out or withdraw.
- Their mind goes blank and they are unable to access information they thought they knew cold.
There are several effective strategies to escape the emotional hijack. They focus either on calming down from the intense emotion or reengaging the executive functioning so they can think again. For example, four by four diaphragmatic breathing sends a message to the emotional center of the brain that the stress response is unnecessary and calms people down. Simply inhale for four counts and exhale for four counts and you will calm down. A second strategy requires labeling the emotion you are experiencing. Research shows that labeling the emotion reduces the intensity. Forcing yourself to think is a third strategy that has been shown to be effective in escaping the hijack. This can be something as simple as focusing on an easy math problem. Doing this shifts the brain’s focus from the emotional to the executive center of the brain allowing you to reengage and concentrate once again.
Managing emotions is a critical skill that emotionally intelligent people exhibit. Those who have developed it earn the respect of others by remaining even keeled in difficult situations, responding effectively in a crisis, and treating others with respect in all circumstances.
For those of you wanting to learn additional strategies, join us for a public session of Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence or contact Heather Johnson to discuss options for bringing this topic to your team.
Stay tuned for our next installment in our Emotional Intelligence series. We’ll focus next on increasing social awareness to better understand individuals and teams.