By Terry Galler
Free photo 4899448 © Yanik Chauvin – Dreamstime.com
Emotional skills are more important than ever for 21st century business yet they are not something we are taught in our education or training. Good leadership can be quickly undermined by our inability to manage our emotions in an effective way. Without these skills, leaders can act impulsively based on what they are feeling vs assessing the situation around them. Harsh words can burn long built bridges of connection in seconds, leaving damaged working relationships in its wake. And what is ultimately damaged is trust. Good people often leave their jobs not because of the work, but because they feel invalidated, disrespected or belittled. If your team doesn’t feel safe, they will not be able to give you their best, most creative selves.
So, what can you do?
First, leaders need to be self-aware of the things that cause them to become upset, angry or frustrated. Our first instinct is to look for the cause of our upset and who is to blame. This strategy may seem logical; however, it is really coming from a more impulsive and emotional part of our brain. If we want to change this pattern, we must be willing to take a minute to explore what is happening inside ourselves first.
Our body is the first clue. By scanning for sensations that signal distress, you can start to objectively evaluate what’s happening. Sensations like a tight throat, a pounding heart, judgmental thoughts, sweaty palms, and a knot in the stomach are signals that shouldn’t be ignored. Our body gives us clues to our state of mind constantly, yet we have trained ourselves to ignore that information. Understanding how your body speaks to you is worth investigating with curiosity. When our body is in this type of distress, the executive part of our brain actually goes to sleep, no different than after a few glasses of alcohol, and is no longer available to us. Would you try to solve problems in your workplace while intoxicated? Of course not! It should be the same when we are emotionally in distress.
Once you know what is happening in your body, give yourself permission to step away, to take a breath, and allow time to calm down. Use your five senses: focus on something right in front of you in as much detail as possible, listen to your favorite music (I believe AC/DC can cure what ails you!) , smell something calming, put a strong mint in your mouth. By focusing on these sensations, the brain has to shift. As you calm down, you can gain perspective and choose how to respond to a situation, rather than reacting impulsively with your teams or associates. It is better to step off the bridge to regroup than to blow it up and have to rebuild from scratch.
For your teams to feel respected and valued, they need to feel heard. Listening to those around you is an important skill many leaders struggle with; however, it is critical for everyone’s success. When teams feel heard, they will not only give you their best, they will give you their loyalty and trust your leadership.
An easy way to remember this skill is G.I.V.E. (adapted from the work of Marsha Linehan, PhD)
- (be) GENTLE: approach the conversation in a non-threatening, open, receptive and available way. Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language. Use “I” statements vs “You” statements. Starting a conversation with “When YOU did….” will immediately create defensiveness in others because they will feel blamed or criticized. That type of conversation never leads to real understanding of the situation and problem solving.
- (be) INTERESTED: John Gottman, PhD, a leading relationship expert, says “it is more important to be interested than interesting!” This means you are attentive, curious, and focused on listening, not to just to formulate how you will respond, but to understand what is being said to you. You are allowing the time to really pay attention while setting aside your own preconceived ideas of what might be happening. This takes real practice and patience.
- VALIDATE: Validation is about understanding. It says, “I not only understand your point but how you feel about it as well.” VALIDATION MUST ALWAYS PROCEED PROBLEM SOLVIING. If you team does not feel heard or understand by you, you create a barrier between you and them. Validation is saying “I get it” without looking for rebuttals. Validation never says, “yeah I get it BUT…” This step is vital in building trust and understanding within your business. It says to your teams, “I value what you have to offer, and I hear you.” You will be amazed how this one step can change things!
- EASY MANNER: Being approachable and creating a safe space where people can come to you with concerns is an important skill. It allows you to be professional without being intimidating. Safety increases trust and communication.
Remember, learning new skills is a practice, but one that is well worth it! It is not enough to work from the top down. To be truly successful in 21 century business, we must work from the inside out! And that always starts with us!
Terry Galler, MA, LPC is a psychotherapist working in the field of mental health and mindfulness for the past 25 years. She is currently in private practice in Goodyear, AZ. She is the founder of Innovative Mindful Solutions and has a passion for helping entrepreneurs learn to work from the inside out, creating more authenticity in their work and more peace for themselves. If you would like to learn more about what Innovative Mindful Solutions can do for your business, contact Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org.