I can vividly remember the first time I had to present to the Executive Team. I was nervous and felt intimidated. While I can’t remember what I was presenting, I can remember how I felt. My face flushed and felt hot. I imagined my cheeks turning bright red. Soon I started noticing other circumstances where this happened. My emotional self-awareness was developing.
Now when my face flushes, I know to pause and take a breath, even if I don’t know what happened to cause the reaction.
My friend and business partner, Mark House, offers a soundtrack to accompany his Leading With Music blog. Each post has a song linked at the top. If you like to listen to music while reading, you may want to pull up Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” in your music app of choice.
Daniel Goleman popularized the notion of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in the 90s, and you may be familiar with it. Our EQ represents our ability to recognize and regulate our emotions and our ability to identify and influence the emotions of others.
In their research, The Leadership Circle found a high correlation between overall leadership effectiveness and possessing a good balance between task and relationship competencies. Growing EQ helps leaders strengthen their relationship competencies.
The concept is easy to understand – but you may not know where to begin. Before we talk about strategies, it is helpful to understand the distinction between emotions and moods.
Emotions are short-term and triggered by an event. They are typically visible to those around us. Examples include anger, sadness, and excitement.
Moods are longer-term and are not tied to an event. Moods are often hidden from those around us; in many cases, they can even be hidden from us. Examples include resentment, depression, and resignation.
Our moods and emotions can have a profound impact on the actions we choose. If someone is in a mood of resignation, they may not take any action at all because they don’t feel like taking action will make a difference. When I’m in this mood, I put on my “Ambition” playlist, filled with high-energy songs that help me shift into a mood of ambition and get moving.
How aware are you of your moods and emotions? When I invite clients to explore their emotional state, they are often surprised at their lack of awareness. Take a moment and consider the mood or emotion you are experiencing.
Did you identify one? Perhaps more than one? Was it easy or hard? At first, I had a very short list of emotions in my vocabulary. I spent much time happy, sad, angry, or frustrated. If you look at the research, emotions are often grouped into some basic emotions:
This list is a good starting point if you want to build self-awareness. However, you will need to get more granular to develop your EQ.
Broadening Your Emotional Vocabulary
In a recent update from Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab, I learned about a fantastic app to help broaden your emotional vocabulary and strengthen your self-awareness of your emotional state. It’s the How We Feel app (only available on iPhone now), and I highly recommend it. The app allows you to check in on your emotional state (they recommend twice a day). First, it asks you to identify your high-level state:
From there, it presents 36 emotions within each category. You can explore each one to learn how it is defined. As you complete check-ins, you unlock short videos teaching you more about identifying your emotional state and techniques to help you regulate each emotion.
If you prefer a low-tech option, consider keeping an emotion journal. Once or twice a day, take a moment to examine your emotional state and note it in your journal.
Building Emotional Awareness
Broadening our emotional vocabulary and increasing awareness is an excellent first step to strengthening our relationship capabilities. The next step is to identify strategies to regulate your moods and emotions when they are not serving you. The abovementioned resources can give you several methods to regulate specific emotions. I’ll share one of my own that I have found incredibly powerful.
When experiencing an emotion you want to regulate, such as anxiety or anger, pause and reflect on where you feel this emotion in your body.
- Is there a tightness in your chest?
- Do you feel a knot in your gut?
- Do your hands start to feel clammy?
Become a scientist and collect as much data as possible about how this emotion shows up in your body. Research shows that our body reacts to an emotional state before our brain can identify and label it.
The better you understand how you physically react to the emotion, the easier it becomes to sense it at the moment and give yourself a chance to pause and breathe before responding. My telltale sign is in the example at the top of this post – my face flushes. As soon as I notice this, I give myself a moment to breathe and recover.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl.
Take the time to learn your body’s cues to help you avoid an emotional reaction.
Putting It Into Practice
- Build a habit of examining your emotional state at least once a day
- Use the How We Feel app or a journal to track your emotions and broaden your emotional vocabulary
- Learn the cues from your body that tell you an emotional reaction is coming.
- As you identify patterns and themes, look for strategies to help you regulate your emotions. How We Feel and The Field Guide to Emotions, can assist you.
Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.