Emotional Intelligence – the Importance of Becoming Emotionally Self-aware

For over a decade, I have worked with an Emotional Intelligence (EI) model that indicates emotional self-awareness as the foundational competency. Emotional self-awareness supports and serves as a basis upon which to build EI competencies including emotional self-management, emotional self-motivation, empathy and nurturing relationships. Yet, on a daily basis, unaware and even unwittingly accepting, we experience a roller coaster of emotions brought on by today's varied and face-paced demands. Yet it is awareness of our emotions that is critically necessary in order for us to enhance our emotional competence.

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's Story:

Jane (not her real name), one of my EI workshop participants, worked in a technical field. The idea that emotions and emotional intelligence were important to performance seemed far-fetched to Jane. Both the company culture and the extremely objective, rational nature of her profession promoted the concept that emotions played no role in her work. This impression also carried over into her personal life. Before the workshop, during our goal-setting interview, Jane indicated that emotions played no role in her work and she didn't notice emotions. 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.

To help her become more aware of her emotions, Jane started practicing techniques during and after our first training session. 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 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). Your mental clarity, physical energy, and personal effectiveness are negatively affected. As we experience these negative emotions, we may become short with people, defensive 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 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 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 approaches you about a particular 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, marking the two left boxes as negative emotions and the two right as positive 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. 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. If they lie on the left side, you are in a stress zone. Periodically recreate this map as you develop your EI skills. 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.

Tailoring the art and science of Emotional Intelligence (EI) to your needs, Byron Stock focuses on results, helping individuals and organizations enhance Emotional Intelligence skills, leadership competencies and core values. Visit www.ByronStock.com to learn about his practical, user-friendly techniques to enhance Emotional Intelligence skills.

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