FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

March 25, 2015

Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness

Tough CookieEd. Note-I am on Spring Break this week. The Two Tough Cookies graciously agreed to once again provide a week of guest posts. 

Remember when I said many “leaders” either aren’t aware, or don’t care, to take a few extra precautions to communicate authentically and in a manner that is meaningful, relevant, and targeted for specific results? That’s where emotional intelligence plays a big part in how you communicate. First and foremost, understand the root origin of the word “Emotion” is “to motivate.” So consider the following: When asked, how do you respond to questions like “How are you” or “How’s Things?” If you answer anything other than “fine” or “great” (or any quirky response you might deploy to illicit a chuckle), know that your response will adversely impact your effectiveness and trust in the organization. People really don’t want to know how sick your kids are, or how awful your commute was. They don’t want facts. They want nice. Drawing from what we just wrote about Appreciative Inquiry, people with a high EQ understand the importance of positivity in getting results. You must understand how your emotional state drives your performance in terms of being effective, being “trusted” and being well-received by others. So learn well how to distance yourself a bit from your reaction “in the moment,” and pay attention to what emotion group your reactions tend to fall into: Pleasant (caring, upbeat, happy), Neutral (anticipation, real interest, surprise), or Unpleasant (anger, disgust, fear). Once you master this, you will be demonstrating effective levels of “Professional Intimacy.

The truth is, our emotions provide a wealth of information about our state of mind in any given situation. It’s our “feedback loop” which we can’t, and shouldn’t, ignore. That sinking pit in your stomach when advised of a pending issue is something that is hard-wired into your brain? You can try to hide your reservations about proceeding, but emotions show even in the most seasoned communicator – we each have our little ‘tells.’ Yale University even has developed a mood meter for your iPhone, and I frequently fondle a “Tensometer” that I have at my desk, a token given to me by a former HR colleague as a joke that tells me, much like a mood ring, if I am tense, or chilled out. I take immense satisfaction knowing that I register most often in the blue and green scales (chilled) and only rarely register in the black and red scales (freaked out). The very act of checking my mood would make me testy if it registered otherwise!

Our emotions serve to motivate us, yes indeed they do. Fight or flight responses are served up based on our emotions. Are we afraid (negative emotion) of the outcome? If so, we might go into avoidance mode (flight). If we are interested in something (neutral emotion) we might try to engage others to explore and learn more. If we are happy about something (like being told you just did a great job on a project), we will strive to repeat that performance (fight), because we like to feel good about ourselves (as we just demonstrated, AI focuses on the positive changes the “pleasant” emotions can elicit).

So what happens when we feel emotions? The brain has two minds – the emotional mind and the rational mind – and unfortunately for many of us (myself included, thanks to my “latin” heritage), the emotional mind responds more quickly than the rational mind. Emotional Intelligence is an exercise in impulse control in favor of the thinking/rational mind to ensure that we don’t allow the emotional mind to hijack the rational mind.  So slow down, step back, when you notice a strong impulse taking over. Pause, be mindful of the moment, take your time. Recognize the effects your emotions may have on your effectiveness as a leader and communicator. A common tip people recommend is to count to 10, but darn, that can be awkward in a meeting. Instead, reach for a glass of water, and take a long, slow draught. While you are swallowing, you can reset the pace of your beating heart, collect your thoughts and emotions, and formulate your response. And remember too – you cannot cry and drink at the same time (just try it, and I promise you won’t be disappointed). That trusty glass of water has saved me on many occasions, and I never go to a meeting without something to drink, just in case I have to check my emotions at the door.

EQ as a communication tool helps you develop the emotional and social skills to establish how well we

  • Perceive and express ourselves
  • Perceive others reactions to ourselves
  • Develop and maintain appropriate social relationships
  • Cope with challenges
  • And use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

When deployed successfully, EQ can aid you in self-perception – understanding your emotional triggers and developing coping skills to let the rational mind emerge triumphant. By doing so, you develop adaptive behaviors that aid you in properly expressing your emotions, develop and maintain better personal relationships, and make better decisions as a result. With a strong sense of identity, you begin to develop the tools to accept and respect yourself, which helps you appreciate perceived positives, as well as develop inner strength, self-assuredness, and self-confidence. And it will glow off of you…

Please don’t confuse emotional control with emotional intelligence, however. People with strong emotional control but without EQ often come across as uncaring, cold, unfeeling. Conversely, people with little emotional control come across as too “touchy feely,” or “unstable” or, my personal favorite, a “loose cannon.” Neither extreme make for leaders worth following when trying to effect a positive organizational shift in culture, because neither comes across as trustworthy or authentic. What’s prescribed is a balance of appropriate distance paired with professional intimacy.   People with a high EQ have mastered the art of instilling a sense of caring, while motivating others to act in ways that suit their purpose, never crossing the line of familiarity that breeds contempt.

Another trap to avoid at all costs is passive aggressiveness. I am ashamed to admit I have been guilty of it on many occasions, and didn’t even know it, until someone used the term describing someone else and I had the temerity to finally look it up. To my surprise, I saw myself described, writ large and crystal clear on the pages of Wikipedia. I was decidedly NOT guilty of passive resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected of others. Definitely not me. I am a renowned overachiever, and but for my one run-in at my previous employer, I have always received high performance ratings. What I was guilty of, however, was conflict avoidance, rarely saying what I truly felt whenever I felt a disservice had been done to me, or my colleagues. I had a hard time asking for what I felt was right, and as a result, did not come across as powerfully as I could have or should have, given my role. I have since learned my lesson that you can’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it, and there is a proper way to express your feelings and not alienate the world, but boy, it took me a LONG time to get there.

So how does one get started with EQ? There are gobs of resources on the internet – just search ‘emotional intelligence’ (with quotes to narrow your results), and you are on your way. Take this EQ test to determine your EQ at home. But while you are at it, I suggest you look at “mindfulness” as well, as an EQ companion primer to help you practice impulse control, which will serve you well when you want your rational mind to speak first.

Worksheet in Two Tough Cookies Guest Posts-Spring Break 2015

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the authors. The authors are not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. 

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