What I am looking for is not out there. It is in me. -Helen Keller
On a recent trip overseas, I asked the usual, “Hello, How are you?” when I walked into a meeting. I kept walking to my table expecting the canned reply, “fine and you?” To my surprise, the gentleman, in broken English, started to answer me. He told me about concerns with his son’s health and where he and his wife were talking about going for their summer holiday. He asked me my thoughts on current affairs in the USA and expected a thoughtful answer beyond, “I’m fine, thank you.”
As the conversation washed over me, I realized how important those three words are in the work place and beyond. Unfortunately, in many organizations, we are expected to check our emotions at the door which, many of us know, is not entirely possible or healthy. I am not suggesting we answer in depth when someone routinely asks, “How are you?” but rather we reorganize our businesses to support enhanced self-awareness. Why? Because without it, there is no foundation for emotional intelligence and therefore little opportunity to thrive.
There are four components to Emotional Intelligence that fall into the two areas of personal and social competence.
It makes sense then that without the ability to understand our own emotions and their effect on performance, we can’t begin to lead others, yet we do it every day. A leader is someone who needs to influence others in some way. As I wrote about in last months’ article, we are all leaders sometimes. Leadership is not a series of adjectives that only fit certain people. We all need to lead and emotional intelligence is a huge part of the equation for success. Self-awareness is not a box to check. It is a collaborative practice. We will never get it done but we will become more proficient and fulfilled. Without practicing it every day, our efforts to manage our own behaviors or the behaviors of those around us are futile and wrought with resistance.
What is the practice?
It starts with you – The psychologist Dan Siegel uses the term, “name it to tame it,” when referring to our emotions. The premise is that by simply acknowledging that a certain feeling exists we can diffuse the charge and lessen the burden.
Seek trusted observers – We can’t change what we don’t notice so ask people you trust to point out certain behaviors that you exert when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or angry. Eventually you will be able to observe those patterns in yourself and make intentional choices about managing negative emotions before they turn into behaviors.
Feelings have power – many of us have been taught that emotions are a sign of weakness. It is important to recognize that emotions are energy and they are powerful channels through which we create what we experience. There is vivid accountability in this knowledge which is both liberating and full of enhanced responsibility. Conversely, when we soar, it is because we are ready.
Practice questions – As many times as you need to throughout the day, answer the following question: “How am I feeling?” Once you are proficient in asking yourself that question, you can start to ask others: “How are you feeling?”
With a strong practice in place, our orientation to others shifts, and therefore our experience of others is more positive because we looked within first. I know many performance management systems, organizational decision-making processes and meeting guidelines don’t reward emotional intelligence but that is because they don’t understand it. This is much bigger than who you are at work. Quite simply, this is about who you are and who you are becoming.
It takes courage to refuse to check what matters most at the door but that is exactly what is required to thrive. This re-org starts with your commitment to yourself that will inevitably and powerfully change the lives of all those you come into contact with every day.
Are you ready?
Start now by asking yourself the routine and profound question we ask many people in passing, “How are you?” Be honest with yourself as you answer your own question. Jot down phrases that come to mind regarding how you feel in this moment.
Can you feel the burden lifting? Can you feel excitement building? Can you feel the energy?
Your practice has begun …