I was facilitating a group in a leadership workshop this past week. We explored how we misunderstand emotions and how we fail to either ask for help or offer help to others when we are struggling.
When asked what support participants wanted to get from others, they were clear about the specific efforts they wished to receive. When asked what help they could offer others, without recognizing it, they were offering the same thing they wanted back.
We had a short conversation about this, and what came out was simple: We all offer what we want for ourselves, which means we mostly tend to help others only around what we know about ourselves. Therefore, we cannot see or help people unless we understand our own emotions first.
A straightforward reminder: to be a great leader, we need to develop many skills, but there is one that will help us stand out. One capability that would particularly help everyone with what is happening around us these days.
It’s one that gets tougher the busier you get, and even the best leaders find themselves missing it.
The hardest skill of all is self-awareness.
Self-awareness is one of the core components of emotional intelligence. It is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.
How do you know that you lack self-awareness?
Notice how it might sneak up on you when you least expect it. Here are some examples:
• You show up in a conversation being curt and abrasive
• You are under stress and brush off people you run into
• You get argumentative with a person when you are frustrated about something completely different
• You have one of those “foot in the mouth” moments
• You stay awake at night ruminating about your poor attitude that day
• You don’t understand what others are going through and have a hard time helping them
You get the picture; we’ve all been there.
Fortunately, if you have a growth mindset, know that you can overcome this with time and practice.
Get to know yourself
Imagine going to the gym or deciding to run a marathon. You probably are quite aware of your physical capacity and know whether you’ll be able to run those 26 miles. But when it comes to personal emotional knowledge, we often lack that awareness, we jump into a marathon, run out of breath, and crash hard.
Emotionally intelligent people go to the “emotions awareness gym” and plan to put time aside to build those muscles.
That means slowing down, looking in the mirror, and stop focusing all our attention on the performance of others.
Use observation and backtracking to understand what triggers you, what makes you happy, what stresses you, and what keeps you calm.
When you are aware of these emotions and recognize what prompts them, you are more likely to anticipate a behavior that could be detrimental.
When that happens, say to yourself, “I’m having a hard time right now, probably due to - (name the situation here,)” and take steps to correct it.
Also, don’t be shy about sharing your struggles with others. Honesty and vulnerability are a form of courage and will get you a long way.
Monitor how people respond to you
The people you interact with are an excellent source of information, even if they don’t always share it. Watch their responses to you—their body language, facial expressions, and general demeanor.
For example, do they resist getting you involved when challenges arise? Do they seem fearful when mistakes happen? Or do they rely on you too much? The answer to these questions can tell a lot about how you are showing up in the conversations.
Then, ask for feedback so you can gain more perspective about your behavior. When you hear it, don’t silently hold grudges for what you might learn.
Be aware of your assumptions, biases, and perception.
Perceptions of others: What are your thoughts about a specific person? And how does that affect the way you interact with them?
Perceptions about yourself: What are your first thoughts about your ability to complete a task? If they are positive, how do you think this influenced your ability to complete it? How is your performance when you have negative thoughts about your skills or a person?
Over time, you will build emotional self-control, detach from strong emotions, and won’t be swept away by them, reducing the chances of having counterproductive reactions.
Also, know that self-awareness is not about suppressing these emotions; whether they are of anger, frustration, or disappointment, it is perfectly normal to have them. But what is essential is how frequently they affect you, how you understand and manage them, and how you can prevent them.
Observe your reactions, recognize where they come from, and create an empowering belief that you can use to overcome them. For example: “I am valuable” – “I seek to understand” – “I stay open-minded” – “I am clear in my responses” – “I will challenge my biases.” – “I will channel my anger productively.”
I know, easier said than done. But with time you’ll be much more aware and able to anticipate your reaction or eliminate them.
When you understand yourself, you are more likely to view others from the same lens, and over time you will seize to react in a damaging way; instead, you’ll be able to face challenges constructively and positively.
Our world needs this today!