Emotional self-awareness is the foundational competency of the Emotional Intelligence (EI) model I have worked with for over a decade. This competency provides a solid base upon which to build and enhance Emotional Intelligence competencies including emotional self-management, emotional self-motivation, empathy and nurturing relationships. Yet many of us go through our day unaware and very accepting of the emotional roller coaster daily events evoke. And without recognizing where we are expending our emotional energy, it becomes difficult to progress to developing other EI competencies.
We have become so accustomed to the pressures of today’s world that we barely notice when the heat is turned up. Our stress levels rise when we experience negative emotions and are unable to cope with the challenges of our environment. While the damaging effects of stress are well-known, it’s surprising to realize that many people don’t recognize that they are experiencing negative emotions. If you don’t know what emotion you’re feeling, you don’t have the information you need to decide whether to stay in that emotion or change or transform it.
Jane (not her real name), one of my EI workshop participants, worked in a technical field. It seemed far-fetched to Jane that emotions and emotional intelligence could be important to performance. The concept that emotions played no role in her work was reinforced by both the company culture and the extremely objective, rational nature of her profession. This impression also carried over into her personal life. When we had our goal-setting interview before the workshop, Jane told me that she didn’t notice emotions and emotions played no role in her work. She also told me that her colleagues were difficult to work with. Disconnected from her emotions, Jane didn’t see the emotional impact she had on others. Additionally, her boss perceived Jane as causing all her problems. He felt the difficulties Jane was having were due to her distant behavior and lack of emotional self-awareness and insensitivity to others.
During and after our first training session, Jane started practicing techniques to help her become more aware of her emotions. Jane shared with me that she finally recognized that she did have emotions and those emotions, the negative ones, were negatively affecting her relationships both at work and at home. She realized that distancing herself made her peers feel that she was unapproachable. Jane confided in her boss about her revelation. Before this discussion, Jane’s boss had no idea that she was clueless about her behavior and its impact on others. This understanding shed a new light on what was going on and, with this different perspective, the boss became more willing to listen to Jane and support her.
Jane’s story is not uncommon. Many of us lack an awareness of our feelings and how those feelings may be affecting our work and our relationships. There seems to be a cultural predisposition to disregard emotions and focus on getting the work done, especially in technical roles. What we don’t realize is that disregarding emotion is detrimental to effectiveness and productivity.
Without the awareness of the importance of emotions, we do not have insight into how our responses to negative feelings are affecting us and those around us. Negative emotions, on a personal level, spark a cascade of 1400 biochemical events, some of which result in physiological changes such as increased heart rate, adrenaline, blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone). This negatively affects your physical energy, mental clarity, and personal effectiveness. Experiencing these negative emotions, can cause us to become defensive, short with people and sometimes angry. And when others observe this response, we can loose their valuable suggestions, insight and help as they start avoiding us.
Even when people recognize the importance of emotions, they may have a hesitancy or personal anxiety toward openly advocating for developing EI skills. Some of my workshop participants have reported significant benefits from using the EI techniques I teach, yet, particularly in a technical field such as Engineering, are hesitant to promote an EI program for others. While there certainly is a bell-shaped curve of those who do or don’t make a choice to benefit from the development of EI skills, not providing the opportunity is an opportunity lost for everybody.
What Can You Do?
Start by listing typical work or home situations in which you feel negative emotions such as frustration, anxiety, fear, sadness or anger. For example, you may feel frustrated when you attend a particular group meeting. Or you may feel angry when people from another department don’t follow-through with their commitments. Or you may feel anxiety when your boss shortens a deadline on a project. Or you may feel depressed knowing that you’re going to have to work late every night this week. Identifying these situations helps you realize those events that trigger negative emotions.
Next, pay attention to and name the emotions the identified triggers evoke. Also recognize and name the positive emotions you experience during fun times such as playing with a puppy, sharing dinner with friends, or just sitting in the sunshine. Start developing an emotional vocabulary and expand upon it as the occasion permits.
Create a baseline of where you are expending your emotional energy now. Draw a four-box grid, labeling the two right boxes as positive emotions and the two left as negative emotions. Mark the lower two boxes as low-energy emotions and the upper two boxes as high-energy emotions. Recall the day’s events, activities and interactions. For each, identify your emotion and write the emotion in the appropriate box on the grid, noting how long you were in the emotion. For example, hesitant would lie in the lower left box while anger would lie in the upper left box. Excited would lie in the upper right box and peaceful in the lower right box. Annoyed, depending on your level of annoyance, would lie somewhere in the left two boxes.
When you finish you will have an emotional map of your day. You were in the zone of peak performance if the frequency and duration of your emotions lie on the right side of the grid. You are in a stress zone if they lie on the left side. As you develop your EI skills, periodically recreate this map. Over time you will want to see yourself more frequently in the two right quadrants by choosing to transform negative emotions into positive, productive emotions.
Training Resource: Studies have revealed that leaders with high EI (or emotional intelligence) are typically star performers. CRM Learning’s Emotional Intelligence program shows how individuals can develop strengths in five emotional intelligence competencies.
About the Author:
Specializing in the area of Emotional Intelligence skill-building, Byron Stock is devoted to making work a place where people flourish and productivity improves. Typical improvements in personal goals range from 30% to 50%. To learn about Byron’s quick, simple, proven techniques to harness the power of your EI, visit www.ByronStock.com.