Emotional Intelligence: Self-Awareness & Emotional Signals

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

When we experience an emotion, electric signals shoot through our brains and set off fireworks of sensations.  However, I think sometimes leaders believe that they should not “feel” because they must always be in control, appear strong and keep distanced.  Some leaders lean hard on the belief that they cannot acknowledge emotions for fear of being labeled as “weak” or “soft”.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Have you ever heard a comedy routine by Bill Engvall and his famous tag line “here’s your sign”?  Well, emotions are a sign that we need to pay attention. We need emotions.  Emotions are critical to everything a leader must do: build trust, strengthen relationships, set a vision, get people moving, make tough decisions, and learn from failure. Without genuine emotion, these things always fall flat. We need emotion to inform us of the environment around us, and to motivate and inspire others.  Identifying when we are feeling by recognizing their signals is a great first step in acknowledging our emotions.

How can you do it? 

  1. Lean into your discomfort.  To increase self-awareness, leaders should be willing to see themselves for who they really are.  The human tendency to avoid thinking about things we don’t want to face in ourselves is ever present.  Leaders who strive to get better are willing to move toward their emotion, into the discomfort so they can face it down and move through it.
  2. Feel your emotions physically.  Stomach tightening.  Heart rate increasing.  Sweating.  Facial or neck blotching.  Eye twitching.  Eye tearing.  Nervous laughing.  When you experience intense emotions, what are your typical physical signs?  It is important to become consciously aware of these signs for a couple of reasons: (1) with awareness you can better isolate the emotion that triggered the response and (2) everyone you work with already notice and respond to these physical signs! Ha!  These signs trigger responses from your team so awareness will help you begin the process of self-management (our next EQ skill).
  3. Know who and what “pushes” your buttons.  When you are willing to look critically at yourself, and identify the physical responses to your emotions you can then begin to reflect on the people and situations that were the “triggering events”.  Only our brains can generate our emotions, but tracing back the emotion to possible “root causes” might help us begin the process of challenging the thoughts and beliefs that may have led to that emotion.

In your leadership role, what are some of your emotional “triggers”?  What are your typical physical responses to those triggers?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

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