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“Stress level: extreme. It’s like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode.” —Fiona Wood
It’s a great visual. My brothers and I used to come home from school on hot, August afternoons when Mother was canning bread and butter pickles. They were angry pickles. The acrid odor of vinegar engulfed the entire kitchen and we’d sprint, eyes watering and throats tightening to keep from gagging, out the back door in pursuit of a breath of fresh air. The thought of being around a jar of fermented pickles ready to explode today is enough to send me running.
Imagine your stress-induced emotions as acetous pickle juice just waiting to explode from a pressure-filled jar. Maybe it’s how you’re feeling right now…as if you’re on the brink of detonating into an eruption of anger, or find yourself jetting quickly toward an emotional melt-down. Prolonged stress can do that to the best of us. And while stress most likely won’t be going away any time soon, we can learn to make choices which will help us better manage it.
The Negative Impacts of Stress
Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but if we don’t learn to get a handle on it, it can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. Based upon results of a stress study done by the American Psychological Association, 66% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 63% experience psychological symptoms. Because our natural stress response is not designed to be continually engaged, we must find ways to shut it off. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that prolonged stress disrupts the balance in the brain, throwing off the normal cadence of brain cell communication. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-stress-affects-mental-health/) A study done by Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that negative impact of stress could be likened to smoking more than five cigarettes a day! (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2250106/Stress-bad-heart-smoking-cigarettes-day.html).
“Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” — Kris Carr
Your Stress Triggers
Developing awareness around your stress triggers is a good place to start. Grab a journal, ask yourself these three questions, and note your responses:
Which situations occur on a regular basis which cause you to feel stressed?
Which people in your life could you name as sources of your stress?
Which circumstances turn routine situations into stressful situations? (For example, do you feel more stressed when you haven’t eaten, or when you’ve overeaten? How does sleep (and a lack of) affect your stress levels? When you let your worries run rampant, do you find you’re feeling more stressed?, etc.).
If you can become aware of your triggers, there’s a good chance that you can avoid escalations, shifting behaviors before they turn toxic.
What are you feeling?
Do you recognize what stress feels like in your body? Those who have strong stress management skills are able to detect rising stress before it reaches a dangerous level. Physically, you may experience headaches, fatigue, or shoulder pain. Other common symptoms are stomach aches, excessive sweating, back pain, and a racing heart. Behavior-wise, you may find you are taking a habits to an extreme, like overeating or excessive smoking. You may find you’re short-tempered, grinding your teeth, or driving too fast. Emotionally, you may find you are bothered by unimportant issues, getting the cry-feeling more often, or feeling depressed and dejected. Cognitively, you may have trouble thinking clearly, or struggle to translate your thoughts into clear words. You may find it hard to concentrate or find yourself more forgetful than normal.
Learning to recognize how stress rears its ugly head in your body is something you want to tune into. Next time a stressful situation arises, take a moment to notice what you’re feeling and write it down.
“Everyone has the ability to increase resilience to stress. It requires hard work and dedication, but over time, you can equip yourself to handle whatever life throws your way without adverse effects to your health. Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.” –Amy Morin
Stress Reduction Techniques
Though you may not be able to make the stressful situation or person go away, you can learn how to control your own responses. Here are some techniques you can try to reduce the feeling of stress. Which of these could you undertake, in the moments when stress arises?
Take long, deep breaths.
Get some extra zzzz’s.
Remind yourself that this too, shall pass.
Rediscover your sense of humor and laugh.
Listen to relaxing music.
Spend some time in nature.
Become a realistic optimist and focus on positive outcomes of the current situation.
Have a good cry.
Forgive…yourself and others.
Eat healthy food and resist junk food/stress eating.
Do something you find to be fun.
Practice boundaries (learn to say no when needed)
Forgive others’ poor behavior.
Refuse to let irrational ideas and thoughts swim around in your head.
Visualize yourself in a peaceful place.
Pray or other spiritual practices.
Quit procrastinating and tackle some items on your to-do list.
Call a friend who is able to put you at ease.
Fill in the blank (what works for you?) __________________________.
Create an Action Plan
Now that you’re aware of your triggers, understand what you’re feeling, and have a few techniques to use, it’s time to create a plan. Grab a journal and write about these prompts:
1-The stress symptoms I need to notice and pay attention to are:
2-My current stress triggers, including both situations, people, and circumstances, are:
3-How do I currently deal with these stressors?
4-What’s a better way I could respond to these stressors?
5-What is one technique I can incorporate to remind myself to engage in stress management, as I begin to recognize my symptoms?
6-When do I anticipate the next stressful situation to happen?
I get it–changes are hard–but remember the jar of pickles. Who wants to be splattered by pungent negativity every time you lose control of your emotions? Sure, it’s tough to adjust how we respond to the stresses of life, but well worth the effort to learn to open that lid slowly and carefully so can enjoy its contents.
“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” —Steve Maraboli
I built a little pond on my plot at my community garden last year. I’ve put a lot of loving work into it, gathering and arranging rocks, purchasing a bubbling solar fountain, and nudging plants to life around its perimeter. I collected cattails from a nearby stream and replanted them along with a few lily pads and other water plants. One of my neighbors even put fish in it which we both feed.
So you can imagine my frustration arriving every day to discover the rocks have been thrown in, plants are torn up and knocked over, and the pump is disassembled in pieces at the bottom of the pond. The foam pump float has been ripped apart, full of tiny fingernail imprints. Grrr! Who would do this?!
My garden neighbors have a wild child whom I caught several times last year playing in my pond, throwing rocks, trampling plants, etc. The parents would yell at him to get out but he paid them no mind. So my assumption–of course–was to blame this hellion for the daily destruction. I know it’s a small thing in the big scheme of life, but I found myself getting really cranky that these parents would not discipline their child enough to keep him out of other people’s stuff! All the ‘facts’ matched up: he is an unruly kid and needs to stop.
Just when I had developed a real attitude about the poor little kid (and his parents), I read an article about the damage that raccoons can do to a garden pond. Raccoons! And as I started looking a little closer at all the signs, I see now that it is obviously one of these masked critters who is the culprit and not the little boy! Especially because the parents assured me (yes, I spoke with them) they haven’t even brought him to the garden this summer! Here I spent a few stressful weeks dissing on these parents and the kid, in my mind, and even talked to the garden manager about it, in my ‘kindhearted righteousness’. So imagine my chagrin at the realization.
Which got me thinking…
Sometimes we make negative judgments of people when we really don’t have all the facts. We think we do. But we don’t. We create a story in our mind based upon our views and outlooks and determine it is the truth…when it’s just not. It’s easy to do. And it’s hurtful. And wrong. And it’s a good way to ruin relationships and assure our hearts will become bitter.
Have anyone you’re judging today based upon YOUR set of facts? Someone you KNOW is in the wrong, and has bad intentions…so you think. What if…what if you’re wrong? What if there’s a different perspective, some whys you might not be aware of, some facts you haven’t noticed, which are missing from the narrative you’ve so carefully crafted? I’d like to encourage you to learn from my mistake…and let’s all take a lesson from the critters. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Quit pointing the finger. Accept that maybe your own closed mindedness may be the real ‘bad guy.’
“A single lie discovered is enough to create doubt in every truth expressed.” — Unknown
When trust is broken
There’s not much worse than catching someone you thought you trusted in a lie. Or several of them. You find you instantly go from believing in them to wondering if anything about your relationship is true. The damage seems irreversible and ending the friendship seems like the logical ‘next-step’–because how can you have a good relationship without trust?
The thing is, you can’t. As Stephen R. Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
How do you know when someone can’t be trusted? Often, you’ll notice one or more of these symptoms:
They are unable to establish open, candid, trusting relationships.
They have developed a reputation for lacking integrity.
They get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look when you ask them what values they stand for.
They behave erratically, in ways that ‘don’t make sense’.
They treat people differently based upon the situation (they may be nice to you, but make fun of others, for example.)
They’re willing to undermine others for their own personal gain.
They withhold information if they think it may get them in trouble.
Once trust is broken, the safe nature of the relationship unfortunately shifts, and you’ll find yourself second-guessing everything that comes out of their mouth. It’s extremely hard to believe in someone who has looked you in the eyes and told you an untruth. As one anonymous quote about trust says, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Lady Gaga says it with a little more poignancy: “Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that m…f…’s reflection” (pardon her French).
That being said, and this may come as a surprise–broken trust doesn’t mean the relationship has to end. Yes, there are times when someone has defiled your trust to the point you know you need to call it quits. This article is not designed for those of you who have been hurt over and over and over again by the same person, who obviously is not working to live in integrity and is bent on a life of cheating and deceit. And this is not about staying in a relationship with someone who is abusive or putting you or others in danger. This is written for the one-time offenders, or even the two and three timers (you get to determine the number), with whom you still see the value of continuing the relationship. In this case, healing the friendship will take some hard work–but it can be done. Taking the time to feel your feelings, lay aside judgments, understanding the whys, releasing the ‘all or nothing’ mentality, then meeting each other’s needs can help with the repairs.
Feel your feelings
Being lied to by someone you care about is a slap in the face. It stings. Your world that seemed safe just moments before now feels unstable and shaky. Depending on the depth of the lie, the sudden lack of trust can take the wind out of your sails and crush your dreams. Questions like, “How could she…?” and “How could he be so selfish?!” haunt us as we replay the situation over and over in our heads. Then we start to wonder if this was the first lie, and how long has this been going on? “Has anything she’s told me been real?” We begin to doubt the legitimacy of the entire relationship.
These feelings in response to dishonesty are normal. Anger-sadness-betrayal-pain-disbelief-chagrin-embarrassment-disappointment-discouragement– are normal responses. Find a safe place to sit with the emotions which are welling up inside you. Stuffing them inside, or, in a more passive-aggressive way, pretending you’re fine while making snarky comments will just prolong the agony. If you need to vent, grab a pen and write in your journal (not on your social media page!). Talk to a counselor. Seek out a close friend and ask them if you can unload for a bit. Cry. Scream. Yell. (Obviously, screaming and yelling in the office isn’t the ‘safest’ place to vent. Or, in the moment, screaming and yelling at the person who’s caused the hurt. Conversations done in anger never seem to work out very well). Be emotionally-aware of your surroundings by finding an appropriate setting but do let yourself feel. I find writing down the emotions I’m feeling, being very specific as to how I name them, and noting why I’m feeling them, helps validate that what I am feeling is legit.
Good guys vs. bad guys
It’s tempting, in the moment, to write the person off as one of the ‘bad guys’. I wish it was that cut and dry. If people were only that black and white, being able to point your finger and labeling them ‘bad’ would seem to make the heartache a little lighter. But the truth is, all of us are dishonest at some point in our lives. If you’re really honest–no pun intended–you’ve most likely been dishonest in some shape or form in the last week–or even today! Stretching the truth, withholding vital information, or feigning agreement are all forms of dishonesty. Have you ever checked your social media pages on company time? Have you used the company printer for personal use? Have you allowed someone to give you credit for something that others may have had a greater hand in? A study done in 2010 found that the average person lies 1.65 time per day. That’s 11 and a half lies a week, or 46.2 lies per month! (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201111/how-often-do-people-lie-in-their-daily-lives).
So, my point is we all exhibit some form of dishonesty from time to time, but just because you have been deceitful here and there doesn’t make you a bad person. Avoid the temptation to label the other person as one of the bad guys, unless you’re willing to include yourself in that category. People — all types — are at times honest and at other times dishonest. Does this justify lying as good and beneficial to relationships? Of course not. But it does humanize it and takes away the victim/villain mentality.
Rather than immediately adding the person to your list of evil people, instead, try to be open to discovering what value or unmet need was behind their dishonesty.
Discovering the why
Everything we do stems from a value or need. People say and act in harmony with things they deem as important. If we want to repair a broken relationship after dishonesty, it’s our role to attempt to quit focusing on the lie and take a deep dive into learning more about the other person’s values and needs. Again, this isn’t about justifying dishonesty. We are simply exploring the why behind it for greater understanding. This is a difficult step because we tend to be quick to assign motives (to match the story we’ve created in our heads) instead of seeking understanding. It takes good listening skills and requires us to suspend our own judgments–easier said than done.
For example, if someone has always been told they’re wrong, from a young age, a core value they may have developed as a result is a need to be right. Since they obviously can’t always be right, they may find themselves telling lies to make it look that way. Or, if someone’s core value is being loved, and they fear the other person may no longer love them if they fess up to a discretion, a lie may seem the best way to supply that need of being loved. Does this make the lie OK? No. But it can help you understand the why, and develop a little empathy. You don’t have to agree with their value–it may be different from yours–but you do want to offer respect. The goal here is to suspend our negative character judgment of them and see them with more empathetic eyes.
When you’re ready to find out the whys, wait until you are in a calm place, and you’ve processed your emotions. You’re going to need to be brave and ask open-ended questions to discover what the other person valued or needed so much in the moment that they chose to be dishonest. Sometimes the answers you hear may be a reflection of your own past behavior. For example, if you freaked out on your friend the last time she shared that spent a weekend with other friends (not including you), she may be a little more hesitant to tell you openly about the next time she does. As you ask, then listen, see if you can uncover the value which was most important to them in the moment. For example, maybe she valued your peace of mind more than being honest, knowing you’d be deeply hurt if you found out. Or, her need was to spend time nurturing other friendships, even if that meant excluding you — so she chose to lie. You may be surprised that all lies don’t stem from a place of selfishness. Again, you don’t have to agree with the other person’s values/needs — but understanding and acknowledging them can go a long way with the repair.
It’s not all or nothing
We have a tendency to think because one act of dishonesty has taken place that the entire relationship has gone down the drain. While it may feel like that, the truth is that this person most likely still possesses all the wonderful qualities you saw in him/her before the lie. Take a moment to write down all the positive qualities you value about this person, to help put the untruth in perspective. One lie doesn’t negate all the truths they’ve told you in the past. Instead of allowing the dishonesty to taint your entire view of the relationship, relegate it to its proper place: it’s a lie that happened in that moment around a specific event. Magnifying it to include all interaction you’ve ever had together won’t help things.
And don’t let yourself become a fortune teller. Just because they lied today doesn’t mean they’ll lie to you tomorrow. You’ve heard the phrase, “Once a liar, always a liar”. But is that true for you? Have you ever told a lie about something once that you vowed to never lie about again — and haven’t? People can grow and change. If the relationship is important to you, give them a chance to redeem themselves and move forward in honesty.
Meeting each other’s needs
Now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to understand the other person’s values and unmet needs, but making adjustments to meet those needs is another story. Their needs may trigger your insecurities. But if you value the relationship, and want to restore it, you’ll want to try not to take it personally, and attempt to create a safe space for open communication.
Once both parties’ needs are on the table, you then get to decide if 1-you want to meet their needs, and 2-if you are willing to meet their needs and 3-if you can meet their needs. If you don’t want to, then own it. Your friend say she needs time with other friends which doesn’t include you. Your need is to be included in everything she does. You may come to realize you don’t want to, aren’t willing, and can’t meet her needs, and she may decide the same for yours. Fair enough. Express this as kindly as you can, and decide if the friendship can continue despite these unmet needs. If not, this may be where you decide to part.
However, maybe there are partial needs that can be met, and visa-versa. How could you adjust your needs and she adjust hers to find a compromise for the sake of the relationship? What can you give and what can she give, and which needs can be modified, and how, without sacrificing who you are and what you value? If your friendship is worth it, there’ll be a lot of give and take as you come to a place of agreement. You’ll likely to have to give in and bend a little, and she’ll need to do the same. If the two of you are having troubles negotiating, enlisting the help of a coach or counselor may be productive in coming to workable terms.
“You must trust and believe in people, or life becomes impossible.” — Anton Chekhov
It’s your choice
Choosing to trust again is just that — your choice. English author Sophie Kinsella said, “In the end, you have to choose whether or not to trust someone.” I know, it’s not easy. It’s hard to know when to protect your heart from future hurt or forgive and allow them back in. Betrayal by someone close to you is one of the most painful things to endure, and for good reason, you may decide it’s best to be done. If that’s the case, put it to rest as kindly as possible, then begin to take steps to move forward as you craft a new life without them. But if you write off every single person who is dishonest with you, you’ll end up very alone.
Healthy relationships are vital to our wellbeing. If it’s a relationship worth salvaging, choosing to trust again may be the very thing needed to renew and restore the friendship. Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” It will take time and repetition of good behavior on their part to rebuild your trust. Giving others the opportunity to do that, by choosing to trust, is the only way to create the space for them to be trustworthy again.
“The chief lesson I have learned in a long life that is the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.” –Henry L. Stimson
If you’re human, you’ve most likely experienced the feeling of let-down when something you hoped for didn’t work out. Maybe it was that perfect job you wanted but didn’t get, or that relationship that finally seemed like the right one yet fell apart, or an offer you made on your dream house which wasn’t accepted. Maybe it was the chagrin of watching your teammate get promoted instead of you. Whatever the reason for your disappointment, the feelings of despair that accompany it can wreak havoc on your soul.
Unfortunately, when disappointment hits, we tend to turn inward and allow our self-doubt to be triggered. “What’s wrong with me? Why does this always happen to me? It’s because I am ____ (fill in the blank with your go-to negative quality)!” are just a few of the responses that may be going round and round in your head.
“There are some things in this world you rely on, like a sure bet. And when they let you down, shifting from where you’ve carefully placed them, it shakes your faith, right where you stand.” ― Sarah Dessen
Though disappointment can be difficult, there’s no reason to let it leave you disillusioned. If you’re in the middle of a heart-sick event, here are some things you can do to help with the healing process:
Feel what you’re feeling. Instead of trying to stuff your emotions inside, or pretend you’re not hurt, allow yourself to feel. Name the emotions you are feeling and accept them as part of the process. It’s OK to let the tears flow. “Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance.” (https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/is-crying-good-for-you#1). So grab the box of tissues and open the floodgates!
Write it out. Grab your journal and write about what went down. Include as many details as possible, and as you describe what happened, use “I” statements, telling the story from your perspective. Describe the feelings it evoked. Can you make a connection to what you felt and why you felt it? Write about that, too. Sometimes just getting it all down on paper can help you make sense of the event.
Talk it out. If appropriate (and safe!), and your feelings are in control, you may want to have a conversation with those involved in the offense. Lay your judgments aside and try to have an open mind to their viewpoint. Try to use “I” statements when talking about the event (“When you said this, I felt…”, etc.) and ask them questions for clarity. Avoid name calling, yelling, and finger-pointing. Remember the purpose of this conversation is to come to an understanding of both sides of the story.
Find a friend. Often it’s helpful to have someone outside of the situation to talk to about the upset. Find a trusted friend, counselor or coach, to discuss your feelings. If you can, try not to defame the other person(s) involved, instead, focusing on the role you played in the situation. Having someone else listen, nod, and say “I see why you’re feeling that way”, can bring much comfort and assurance that you’re OK.
But be careful with whom you talk to. It’s one thing to find a trusted friend or counselor for support, but be wary of sharing the story over and over with everyone you meet, opening up the opportunity to trample upon those involved. There’s no need to make the situation worse by spreading it around. You may think it makes the other person involved look bad, but it’s really a negative reflection on yourself. Posting about it on social media, especially before your heart is healed, is probably not a good idea, either.
Try not to ruminate. It’s easy to replay the scenario of disappointment over and over in your mind, which only will reproduce the negative feelings you’re working through. It happened. Once. No need to keep reliving the event if it’s not serving you well to go through it again and again. When you find yourself ‘going there’ in your mind, try moving your thoughts to something more uplifting.
Avoid always and never. When disappointment hits, it’s easy to think “this always happens to me”, or “this will never get resolved.” If you can, eliminate these two words from your vocabulary and recognize that this particular instance is a one-time event. Instead, focus on possible positive outcomes.
Don’t play the blame game. When we feel bad, blaming someone else for the incident can seem like an effective pain reliever. However, research says differently: “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game). This goes for yourself, too. Yes, own the role you played, but don’t go down the road of letting blame turn into shame.
Accept that it happened. What’s done is done. Though you may wish you could roll back time and make it go away, accepting that it happened–and putting it in your past– will help you move forward. We all make mistakes — you do, others do, and we all are capable of hurting each other with our words and actions. Accepting that disappointment is a normal part of interacting with others can help relive the anger and resentment you may be feeling.
Choose your ending. Ask yourself, “How can this help me grow? What is one thing I can now do that I couldn’t before the incident? What did I learn and what will I not repeat? How can this have a positive effect on my empathy? In a perfect world, what would my next steps look like?” Though the event is probably not one you would’ve picked out for yourself, you can choose how the story ends. Brainstorm all possible positive outcomes, and if you’re struggling to come up with any, ask a trusted friend for help. Sometimes those on the ‘outside’ can see the bigger picture and remind you of reasons why this may be a good thing in disguise.
Forgive — yourself and others. Easier said than done, I know, but deciding to move on will bring you the peace of mind you need and deserve. Forgiveness isn’t about pretending it didn’t happen, but letting go of the need to punish yourself or others for the wrongdoing. “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ― Alexander Pope
I get it. It’s tough to experience disappointment. But we can do hard things. And the rewards of working hard to move through and on past your disappointment will be well-received.
“Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger.”―Chetan Bhagat
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is critical to being able to manage stress. Out of all the major EQ competencies, the most powerful tool at your disposal is self-awareness. It allows you to know what your body is telling you, as well as be mindful of how you are adapting internally to outside stressors such as headaches, muscle tension, unsupportive self-talk, worry, and fatigue.
Here are 8 simple things you can do from the comfort of your own desk to combat stress every day:
1. Deep Breathing
The no. 1 most important and most successful stress reducer— resets your body and produces a physiological response.
2. Engage Your Senses
Listening to music, using scented lotion or candles, looking at vacation pictures, playing with stress balls – all of these actions reduce cortisol and increase oxytocin, which disrupts the stress reaction in your body.
3. Visualize a Happy Place
Seriously! It changes your mindset and hits the “restart” button in your body.
4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A long phrase for listening to where your body is hurting and actively working on relaxing those muscles, one by one. Roll your shoulders, stretch your arms above your head, touch your toes.
Laughing not only releases endorphins and fosters brain connectivity— it tends to be contagious!
6. Take a Break
(Okay, so there’s one of these that you shouldn’t do at your desk.) Stand up, walk outside, and let your eyes focus on something in the distance. A change of perspective can do you good!
Stop, listen to what you are saying to yourself, and make sure it’s supportive and positive.
8. Change How You Communicate With Others
Say no, set boundaries, be assertive, and ask for help.
Unless we are present, our bodies and minds react to stress. Knowing ourselves and creating a pro-active plan to reduce stress is our best tool.
This afternoon, at the garden, I kind of on purpose got caught in the rain, which turned into an all out downpour. I knew it was coming–I could hear its distant rumblings and smell its warning in the stirring breezes, but I kept on digging…until it hit. And it hit hard and fast. By the time I took refuge in the nearby gardening shed, with the shovels and rakes and wheelbarrows, swathed in the scent of freshly cut grass and newly-turned soil, I was drenched to the bone, hair dripping and clothes stuck to my wet body. I happily sat on an upturned bucket in the makeshift shelter and watched the torrent of rain soak our garden plots, splashing upwards in the newly formed puddles, transforming the dry, dusty soil into a wet, moisture-rich haven, mother’s milk for the tender, newborn plants struggling to survive their first weeks of life. Everything turned a brilliant green.
The lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, and I couldn’t help but wonder: if plants need a good drenching from time to time, wouldn’t it do us good, too? Maybe it’s my frame of thought after witnessing baptisms at church the other day, or maybe it was from watching all the people out near the street hurrying, shoulders hunched, hands over their heads, attempting but failing to flee from the rain. It’s our first instinct — Run! Cover up! Hide! It makes sense: rain ruins our clothes, smears our makeup, flattens our hair, and washes away all the outward appearance we work so hard to put on and wear all day.
When the lightning lessened, though it was still raining, I went back to my gardening, mud sticking to my Crocs and working its way in between my toes, dirt speckled the back of my legs, my hair a damp mop, until I got chilled and sought the comfort of my warm car. I glanced in the mirror and saw a bedraggled plain girl looking back at me, makeup long gone and hair in tangles, dirt smeared on her face… but eyes wild with wonder. I felt alive, giddy from the craziness of being out in the elements.
I think staying out in a rainstorm is like life itself — we can run and hide when the storm hits or stay out there and learn how to weather it, soak it in, and though we may get a little beat up in the process, come out on the other side more alive and resilient. It’s easier to cower, keeping our lives all neat and tidy and dry and safe, but then I think we miss out on the adventure riding on the edge of the wind and the rain, beckoning us to try something new, step out in faith, bear through tough times…and grow.
[PHOTO: H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/CLASSICSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES]
Soft skills have garnered increasing attention in the workplace over the last 20 years. In fact, emotional intelligence is one of the fastest growing job skills, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.
Emotions running amok can damage those who work directly with us. Although employees may get away with an occasional lapse in emotional control, leaders are not afforded that leeway. A leader who is not managing his or her emotions well can wreak severe havoc on an organization, seriously damaging employee morale, retention, and ultimately the bottom line. Every reaction–positive or negative–will have consequences for all those who are under them and effect the overall success of the company.
Here are five ways effective leaders manage their emotions.
1. THEY KNOW WHEN AND HOW TO SHARE
It isn’t necessary or healthy for leaders to be unemotional robots and keep all their feelings inside. Effective leaders are able to use their emotions to connect with others through their ability to share the feelings that enhance relationships with their direct reports.
Managing our emotions effectively in the workplace is a major component of success for all of us.
Whether an employee is feeling joy over a successful sales week or sadness over a family member passing, an effective leader is able to express emotions to let that person know they are connecting with them on a heart level.
While their emotions are under control, they know what to express and how much to let out in the circumstance. For example, if someone just lost a family member, the manager could express how they felt when they lost someone close to them and how good it felt to be supported. Then, they could ask the grieving person if they needed anything. Depending on the closeness of the relationship, they could put a hand on the person’s back or shoulder, or offer a hug.
2. THEY DO WHAT’S RIGHT INSTEAD OF WHAT’S POPULAR
There are many instances when leaders are tempted to make popular decisions as these will bring them instant feelings of relief from a pressing and difficult situation. However, effective managers overcome the urge to give in to what is popular and opt for what is right. This requires a great deal of self-confidence and courage.
If a particular unpopular employee was being subjected to ridicule and being ostracized, the manager could support that employee and confront his or her coworkers in order to stop the behavior. This may cause resentment from the offender, but it enforces the idea that bullying isn’t tolerated, and that’s more important for effective managers than being popular.
3. THEY TRUST THEIR INTUITION
When struggling with a decision, effective managers are able to tune into and use their gut instincts to make decisions, even though there may be compelling reasons for not doing so. That’s because they’ve relied on intuition in the past and trust it will be the best guide when there isn’t an obvious answer.
They’re more interested in using failure as a learning opportunity . . . than spending time and energy looking for scapegoats.
For example, they might make a decision to hire someone outside of the company who they feel would be a great fit instead of promoting someone from the inside who is popular, but doesn’t have the vision or initiative to take on the new role.
4. THEY ROUTINELY FIGHT APATHY, INERTIA, AND PROCRASTINATION
Ever have a day when you felt like doing very little, leaving things undone until later, or the next day? Perhaps you’re feeling tired, or just having a bad day or week. We’ve all had those days.
Leaders share this struggle but don’t have the luxury of giving in. Others depend on them to take action and get things done–even when they don’t they feel like it. They’ve disciplined themselves to do whatever it takes, regardless of how they feel. If they need to have a difficult conversation with an employee or customer, they’ll go through with it even if they’re tempted to put it off for another day.
5. THEY LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS, NOT SOMEONE TO BLAME
One of the easiest traps to fall into is to avoid responsibility when things aren’t going well. Poor leaders look for ways to shift the blame to others when things go wrong. It’s easier to avoid responsibility by pinning it on others or on outside circumstances–but that isn’t leadership.
Effective managers are able to tune into and use their gut instincts to make decisions.
Effective leaders immediately begin to look for solutions. They find out what went wrong to avoid the same problem in the future. They’re more interested in using the failure as a learning opportunity and moving on from it, rather than spending time and energy looking for scapegoats.
Often the reason for the problem is a breakdown in communication between leaders and those assisting them. Effective leaders find out where that happened and readily admit that their instructions may not have been clear enough.
This also creates an opportunity to reassure employees who are reluctant to admit they didn’t understand for fear of appearing stupid, and let them know their boss won’t think less of them for asking for clarification. It’s crucial for good managers not to show any signs of frustration if what they thought was a straightforward request wasn’t understood at first.
Effective leaders are acutely aware of their feelings and know their responsibilities toward staff, customers, and the organization. This isn’t easy–it takes effort. But they’ve worked on themselves to develop their abilities to keep their emotions in check when necessary and show them when the situation calls for it.
“No matter what twists and turns your life offers you, your ability to be adaptable and flexible will help you to stay open to all of the hidden gifts that difficulty may offer. ” –Mandy Ingber
The routine of habits
We are creatures of habit. Consider, for example, how you prepare your morning coffee each day. I’m guessing you go through the same exact steps, day by day, whether it’s stopping by your favorite local coffee shop and ordering that same drink you love, or whether you make your own, carefully measuring coffee grounds into your coffeemaker and adding the same amount of sweetener and creamer to your steaming mug. Or, reflect on the route you take to work. Do you tend to turn down the same streets each day or change things up?
Oxford dictionary defines a habit as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Habits often imply a refusal to flex. On the contrary, flexibility, or personal agility, is our ability to anticipate and respond rapidly and willingly to changing conditions.
Does your day-to-day life consist more of habits or agility?
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligence, but those most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin
Habits in and of themselves are not a negative thing. They are our way of getting necessary tasks done with a minimal need for brain engagement. You most likely could write down the steps you take from when you wake up to when you taste that first sip of piping hot coffee without much effort. And your route to work — you could draw the map in your sleep. Getting dressed for work, brushing your teeth, filling the car with fuel when the tank is low — all tasks that need to be done yet don’t take a lot of effort to figure out how to do them. You’ve been doing these for years. Forming a habit around these seemingly mundane tasks allow you to accomplish with minimal thinking.
A study was done at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to determine how much of our behavior is fueled by habits. The researchers outfitted students with a box that monitored their activities throughout the day–sleeping, eating, walking, working, going to class, talking with friends, etc. They discovered that a whopping 90% of our daily activities follow predictable routines! And many of these routines are simply reactions to the world around us. John Bargh, psychologist at Yale University, says this: “…most of a person’s everyday life is determined not by their conscious intentions and deliberate choices, but by mental processes put into motion by the environment.”
Many habits can lead to a healthier, happier lifestyle. Take for example, your routine to eat healthy food, to exercise every day, or to spend quiet time in mediation or self-reflection. Habits such as these enable you to live the life you want, whether it be to achieve a level of health, find peace of mind, or relieve stress.
Habits get us into trouble, however, when a need for change arises and we refuse to respond. Some habits lead to poor physical health, such as overeating. Some lead to a lack of connection, such as spending too much time staring at your cell phone. At work, a refusal to flex can lead to frustration when the new manager arrives, or an inability to work well with others if you’re tied to always doing things the way you want to.
Signs of personal agility
Not sure if you are flexible? Take this short quiz (adapted from the ISEI Coaching Toolkit developed by Dr. Laura Belsten) to find how you score in personal agility. Read each statement and determine how frequently you demonstrate the behavior, on a scale of 1 to 5 (1=Always, 2=Almost Always, 3=Occasionally, 4-Almost Never, 5=Never):
I find it easy to operate out of my comfort zone.
I am comfortable with change.
It’s okay when things are ‘up in the air’.
I readily embrace new ideas and concepts.
I quickly make decisions and solve problems even when there’s not enough information.
I shift gears quickly when changes arise.
I don’t curse change nor do I let change put me in a bad mood.
I like to learn new skills and new ways of doing things.
I can take action without having the complete picture.
I readily embrace shifting priorities.
I am comfortable if I have to do things differently than they’ve always been done.
Others view me as someone who is curious in new ways of doing things.
I am comfortable working with people who are different from me in their thinking and problem-solving.
I anticipate change and respond readily.
I can juggle multiple demands with ease (and a smile).
I am comfortable with risk and uncertainty.
I tend to be an early adopter (of things like technology, new ideas, new procedures).
I adjust quickly to the need for change even if the facts available to me are limited.
I happily rearrange my schedule to make sure new priorities and deadlines are met.
I am comfortable with chaos and complexity.
Total Score ________
If your score is:
1-20 = Your personal agility is high
21-40 = Your personal agility is moderately high
41-60 = Your personal agility is moderate
61-80 = Your personal agility has room for improvement
81-100 = your personal agility needs improvement
It’s about comfort
Why are some resistant to change, and instead want to cling to habits and old ways, even if those ways are no longer serving them?
Habits are comfortable, like a favorite pair of socks or a warm, cozy blanket. Carol Kinsey Goman, an executive coach and author of the book This Isn’t the Company I Joined: How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down, writes this in an article entitled, The Effects of Change on the Brain:
“Change jerks us out of this comfort zone by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, an energy-intensive section of the brain responsible for insight and impulse control. But the prefrontal cortex is also directly linked to the most primitive part of the brain, the amygdala (the brain’s fear circuitry, which in turn controls our “flight or fight” response). And when the prefrontal cortex is overwhelmed with complex and unfamiliar concepts, the amygdala connection gets kicked into high gear. All of us are then subject to the physical and psychological disorientation and pain that can manifest in anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, fatigue or anger.” (http://www.sideroad.com/Leadership/change-effects-brain.html)
The thing is, change threatens to push us out of our comfort zone. And we love our comfort zones! But personal agility is increasingly becoming a vital self-management skill. Change is inevitable. It occurs within all areas of our lives — our kids grow up and leave home, coworkers come and go, relationships shift, job descriptions mold into a new set of tasks, and our bodies — need we mention our bodies and the aging process?! Instead of fighting the need to flex to ever-changing situations, it’s more advantageous to learn how to get comfortable with ambiguity, be adaptable, and shift gears when needed.
Where to start?
“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” — Charles Duhigg
Though change can be difficult, learning to flex and move in a new direction will help you navigate the ever-changing world around you. Here are a few ideas to try:
Acknowledge and accept the normal human responses to change: denial, resistance, exploration, and new beginnings. Think of a change you are currently being asked to navigate. Which phase are you experiencing? Have you gotten stuck there? Simply recognizing where you are in the process can help you see the need to move forward.
Recognize what is in your control, and what isn’t. Focus on the tasks you can control. Note: Other people and their behaviors are NOT something you can control!
Look for peoplewho can support you during difficult transitions. Find someone who’s been through something similar, or who has endured a tough time and made it to the other side.
Let go of your preconceived ideas about ‘the way things should be.’ Be open to new perspectives and be willing to try out new ideas.
Get your emotions in check. Sometimes we allow our emotions to flood and create more drama around the change than necessary. Take note of how you are feeling, and why, and spend some time processing those feelings by journaling or talking to a coach or counselor.
“Try it, you’ll like it.” Sometimes the best way to navigate change is to give it a try. Take small steps in a new direction and try it on for size. Look for the positives, noting opportunities that may arise with the shift.
“Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.” — Bill Gates
What injustices have you suffered in your work as a Business Professional? Are you harboring resentments right now over slights or mishandled situations? We all experience negative emotions in our work and they are painful for sure. As hard working professionals, respect can often be hard to win with clients and staff alike and negative stereotypes can influence others’ treatment of us at times. Whether you have chosen your field of work or have fallen into, we all acknowledge that the casual rejections and ups and downs of any business can overwhelm even the most successful of us. Do you think it is easier to bury the negative emotions of past hurts or project failures deep inside than to face them? Guess what? Those past resentments that you are holding onto are impacting your energy and success today so you need to let them go so you can focus on the present instead of living in the past.
I remember a few years ago working on a huge ERP Recruitment project with a large U.S Client project. It was an incredible success for a year. Then the client got bought out by a bigger company and soon informed us that they were hiring an internal recruitment team and my team all felt doomed. Sure enough, within weeks of working with the internal recruiter, he started consistently rejected our candidates even the rock stars. I was working with our team of recruiters in both Canada and the U.S and there was enormous frustration involved. Everyone started to complain and there was a lot of anger, frustration and resentment. One of the recruiters became almost aggressive with the internal recruiter and the animosity increased. I noticed that things were heading in the wrong direction and was happy when she asked me to take over. What I did to turn this around was not rocket science. I started by separating the internal recruiter’s actions from him as a person. I developed a rapport with him and learned about his life and interests by asking genuine questions. I learned more about his past work and reasons for joining the current company which gave me insights into his decision making confidence. We shared stories and ideas and even laughed together. Then, I started questioning his decisions to reject our candidates without rancor. I used compelling facts to reconfirmed their skills and track records and create a win-win for both sides. As trust built between us, he started selecting candidates for interviews. Eventually one was hired and the relationship started to become positive and productive. This was not magic. I have built a successful recruitment firm over 20 years because I learned the simple lesson that it never pays to get angry at the other party’s behavior just as it never pays (metaphorically and actually) to hold onto resentment.
If you are able to observe yourself every day and notice that you becoming more tense, irritable or angry on a regular basis, ask yourself what set you off. Sometimes a lost deal or rejected offer can really hurt and it is normal to feel frustrated but if you go to work consistently in a bad mood, you are doing yourself, your staff and your business a real disservice. If we’re honest with ourselves, past wrongs committed by people we expected to respond better aren’t easily forgotten like our normal everyday problems. Betrayal seeps into the bones and carves a well of toxic thoughts and feelings. Anger feels like an effective answer to betrayal, and it takes a lot of pain and suffering to raise your own little army of resentments. Unfortunately, that army is actually a bunch of crafty warriors that are attacking YOU and destroying your ability to let go and move on to better circumstances. Letting go of resentment can be incredibly hard but is incredibly powerful and will help you shift back into higher productivity at work and in life.
Below are some great tips to shift out of resentment and get back to being productive and
GAIN PERSPECTIVE- It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when your unresolved feelings begin snowballing into anger and blame. Be aware of or record your feelings in writing. Revisit later and see if those feelings make sense in the bigger picture.
LET IT GO – They probably forgot already. Consider the perspective of the one who hurt you. This person is not sitting gleefully reliving how they once affronted you. More likely, they were unaware they did you harm or totally forgot. No amount of emotive rage will change the past. It’s natural to go through stages of grief when you’ve been hurt in some way. Let yourself go through them. Then let it go.
TAKE THE HIGH ROAD – Taking the high road feels amazing. By now you’ve probably noticed that resentment hasn’t gotten you anywhere. That’s because you’re putting your energy and resources into nursing animosity instead of more fruitful endeavors. When you discuss the situation with the person who wronged you, focus on win-win outcomes for both to build a better go forward. Try to understand why the other person responded the way they did and whether stress or specific circumstances caused the reaction. Bring empathy and understanding to the discussion is hugely helpful. If there is a pattern of disappointment or lack of trust, opt to move on graciously instead of making a scene. It never is worth while holding onto a client or any relationship where trust has been permanently breaches.
To avoid resentment, set clear and realistic expectations with clients, candidates and staff/managers to start. Think of what you want and what they want and how both parties can achieve their goals successfully. Remember the below quote when a situation is taking charge of your moods:
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” —Hermann Hesse
I’m inspired to help other Business Professionals achieve their true potential. Why? I’m passionate about the business of living fully and achieving personal and professional goals that are meaningful. During the decades of owning and running a leading Talent Solutions company, I have witnessed countless people suffering from burn-out, chronic illness, severe stress, depression and anxiety. I’ve experiences the joy of the ups and the agony of the downs in our business and decided to use my decades of experience and training as a successful Business Professional, Black Belt Martial Artist, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Emotional Intelligence Trainer to develop specific training and coaching programs that address the soft skills needed to create lasting success. These (6 Session video and audio) on-line courses help you learn how to increase energy, improve performance and build more resilient, focused and engaged teams and are available at www.tishconlin.com
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” ~ Johan Wolfgang von Goethe