Everyone has had to deal with a difficult challenge, the poor performance of others, or something that didn’t go as planned. When such a situation occurs, we may begin to experience an emotional reaction. The question we must then answer is, “Do we manage our emotions or do they manage us?”
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) deals with an individual’s ability to recognize the presence of a negative or “hot” emotional reaction in himself or herself, or in another person. This type of intelligence also encompasses the ability to manage those emotional situations in a way that enhances respect, builds relationships, and achieves results.
Recently I was invited to present at a conference. When I arrived at the venue, the first thing I did was to visit the conference bookstore. I wanted to be sure they had a number of my books on hand for the book signing that was scheduled after my presentation. I was shocked to discover that for the second year in a row, they failed to order my books! I was livid. I took a deep breath and left the bookstore, fearing I might say something I would regret later. Then the real work began.
Unmistakably, I experienced a negative emotional reaction, and I was determined to surface the thinking behind my reaction, thus dispelling my current energy and feelings about the situation. This was extremely important to me because I did not want to speak from a place of anger or frustration when I delivered my presentation the next morning.
Emotional Intelligence is an important aspect of leading effectively and building interpersonal relationships. In fact, researchers studying emotional intelligence have identified that 58 percent of an individual’s successful performance in all types of jobs is attributed to emotional intelligence. What, then, must we do to become more emotionally intelligent? One way is to learn to recognize and control our own emotional reactions.
Here are a number of tips that will help you manage your feelings more effectively:
Identify your emotions. Naturally, people cannot help but make observations about any situation in which they find themselves. What we observe, however, is filtered through the lens of our past experiences. Because of our filtering, we simply can’t see events entirely clearly for what they are, so we see those events more as a reflection of what we are. We register the data, then make some interpretation or judgment about the data based on our experience. It is our thinking that in turn drives what we feel, say, and do in response.
The first step in becoming more emotionally intelligent is to notice when your feelings start to well up. Increasing your emotional awareness will allow you to be more in control of the situation.
Surface your thinking. Every emotion is preceded by a thought. Because emotional intensity can be overwhelming in the moment, thoughts are often difficult to identify.
In order to surface your thinking, try finishing this sentence, “I’m angry because ….” Finishing this sentence as many times as you can, will allow you to identify the thinking that is floating around in your subconscious and often goes unidentified. I like to write down my thinking so that I can examine and reflect upon the accuracy of my thoughts.
After my experience in the conference bookstore, I did this exercise to surface my thinking. When I finished this sentence stem, these are the kinds of issues that showed up:
“I’m angry because …”
…I don’t have any books to sign.
…I will look unprofessional.
…I am tired of working with people who are unreliable.
…I don’t have the time to visit a number of bookstores to purchase books for tomorrow.
…I need to spend my time preparing instead of looking for books.
The more time you take to identify your thinking, the more complete picture you will gain of what is driving your feelings.
Identify your values. Your values are what are most important to you. I like to define a negative emotional reaction as the symbol of a violated value. When I look over the sentence stems I finished, I begin to recognize that my values include my image, professionalism, reliability, use of time, and preparation. When you are able to identify your values, you can more objectively assess whether those values are actually being violated or not, or perhaps why you are perceiving that they are being threatened.
Ask questions. Whether you ask questions of yourself or of another person, the simple process of answering questions will allow emotional intensity to subside. To answer questions, the brain has to vacate its emotional center, which also serves as the protective-reactive mechanism. To come up with answers, the individual has to tap into the higher-functioning regions of the brain, which are more logical and rational. When others are able to answer your questions, their emotional state diminishes.
Breathe deliberately. Often when we become emotional, we quit breathing normally, and begin to breathe more shallowly and quickly. When this happens, the brain shuts down our logical-rational thinking functions to prepare us for a fight or flight response. Slower, more deliberate breathing helps the brain maintain cognitive functioning, which also supports our rationality.
Change your movements. You can change or lessen your emotional intensity by physically moving. In fact, research by Amy Cuddy at Harvard University suggests that striking a number of different “power poses”—positioning your body in a way that expresses confidence and control—helps you become more assertive, optimistic, and more confident in stressful situations. “Power posing” prior to holding a conversation that you anticipate might end up being highly emotional is a great way to prepare yourself to be more in control of the situation than you might otherwise be.
Change your words. Using” angry” words in a heated situation tends to intensify the emotion that you are experiencing, while positive words have the opposite effect and tend to calm the emotion. Notice the difference in these two phrases: “That makes me livid!” versus “That makes me curious.”
Because the brain attaches meaning to the words we use, using neutral or positive words deliberately in a heated situation will change the emotional intensity.
To use this strategy effectively, you will need to take three steps: first, listen to yourself and identify the angry or negative words you are using. Second, identify a number of positive word substitutions. Finally, deliberately use the positive words you have selected. You may end up laughing at yourself when you use the positive words but you will definitely feel your emotions shift.
Everyone has feelings. Sometimes our feelings get in the way when we need to work effectively with others. Learning to identify your emotions, the thinking behind them, and the values that they represent will help you understand yourself and others. By asking questions, slowing your breathing, changing your movements and your words, you can learn to manage your feelings and help to defuse the negative reactions of yourself and others.
Once you get past the emotions to the thinking that is driving them, you can effectively solve the challenges and problems you are facing. I used a number of these skills to defuse my feelings at the conference so that I could speak calmly and professionally to a large audience the next morning, and the strategies worked. Developing emotional intelligence is critical as you work with others to achieve what you really want.
1 Bradberry, Travis, PhD and Jean Greaves, PhD, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, San Diego: Talent Smart: 2009, 20.
Want to learn more about improving your emotional intelligence?
Watch my webinar on “5 Strategies for Managing Your Emotions.”
You will learn how to:
- Identify your emotional triggers
- Eliminate what causes you to react emotionally
- Release your trapped emotions