Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Importance of Becoming Emotionally Self Aware

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.

As we all deal with stress on a daily basis, we become accustomed to the pressures and hardly 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. We've all heard of the damaging effects of stress, but what's surprising is that many people don't realize 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's Story:

One of my EI workshop participants, Jane (not her real name) 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. At our first coaching session, Jane, with tears in her eyes, revealed that she finally recognized that she did have emotions and those emotions, the negative ones, were hampering her work and home relationships. She realized that distancing herself made her peers feel that she was inapproachable. 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. Disregarding emotions and focusing on getting the work done, especially in technical roles, seems to be a cultural predisposition. 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. On a personal level, negative emotions spark a cascade of 1400 biochemical events, some of which result in physiological changes such as increased adrenaline, heart rate, 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 with the awareness of how important emotions are, people may experience a personal anxiety or hesitancy to openly advocate 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 identifying typical situations at work or at home in which you feel negative emotions such as anxiety, frustration, anger, fear, or sadness. For example, you may feel frustrated when people who have important information don't show up for a meeting. Or you may feel angry when you see a certain person because he always wastes your time. Or you may feel anxiety when your boss approaches you about a particular project. Or you may feel depressed on Sunday night when you think about all the work facing you the coming 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. Label the upper two boxes as high-energy emotions and the lower two low-energy emotions. Recall the day's activities, interactions and events. 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. Peaceful would lie in the lower right box and excited in the upper 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. If they lie on the left side, you are in a stress zone. 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.

Byron Stock guides individuals and organizations toward excellence by helping them develop their Emotional Intelligence skills as a powerful tool to achieve strategic objectives, lead change and create resilient, high-performing organizational cultures. Learn about Byron's quick, easy, proven techniques to harness the power of your Emotional Intelligence at .

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