Brad is the Chief Executive Officer of PerformancePoint, an author, a speaker, and a consultant with more than 25 years of experience.
Emotions propel people. People propel performance. Everything we accomplish centers around people. Whether we are delivering packages, opening a restaurant, providing rooms for travelers, healing people or manufacturing a product, people’s ability to work together and make productive decisions determines whether or not we are successful. In today’s highly unpredictable and hyper-competitive environment, those people’s capabilities are being tested.
Research shows that stress levels are at an all-time high and are increasing, not dissipating. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of Americans have stress levels that impact their health. Prescriptions of anti-anxiety drugs spiked 34% in the last year and prescriptions for sleep medications are up 14.8%.
We are seeing a rise in unruly customer behavior in restaurants, hotels and airplanes. According to a new labor union survey from the Association of Flight Attendants, 84% of flight attendants have dealt with unruly passengers (many of those being physical incidents), and more than 3,600 complaints have been filed with the FAA regarding unruly passengers so far this year — almost double last year’s complaints.
These are signs of a population struggling to keep up with and cope with the stressors of today’s environment. Our individual and collective emotional quotients are being tested and we are not passing the test.
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Emotional intelligence is not a “touchy-feely” subject. EI is the ability to blend thinking and feeling to make optimal decisions. Despite our best efforts, we can’t leave our feelings at the door. They follow us wherever we go. We have the choice of succumbing to our feelings, ignoring them or understanding them and viewing them as data along with other more traditional forms of data.
In my experience, people with low EI:
• Struggle at reading people. Some people find it challenging to know how others feel. That may mean a person doesn’t recognize when their significant other is upset, or they may actually see emotions in a person’s response that are not present.
• Find it difficult to identify how they feel. There are people that have such difficulty reading themselves they believe they do not have emotions. Others can only recognize that they were mad, upset or happy later, once the moment has passed.
• Can’t manage their emotional responses. It is OK to feel emotions, such as anger or fear. However, we need to learn to manage our current emotional state. Our ability to respond appropriately to how we are feeling can calm us down, prevent a fight or lead to inappropriate behavior.
• Have difficulty working through problems. People with low EI can make rash decisions, become paralyzed by ambiguous situations or procrastinate.
• Strain connecting with others. They can come across as distant, cold, awkward or overbearing because they lack the ability to alter their behavior accordingly. Connecting with others means behaving in a manner that the other person can relate to and digest.
• Stall at displaying empathy. They are not easily able to see things from another’s point of view. They have an inability to emotionally relate to others especially in important moments.
• Offend others and not understand why. Certain people will actually blame others for being offended by their behavior and be unable to take accountability even when they acted impolitely.
• Lack sustainable relationships. Some people shift from one relationship to another or one job to another to compensate for their failure to grow long-lasting relationships.
• Have experience, but lack learning. Our behavior is a reflection of our attitudes, feelings and beliefs, more so than a skill set. Those with low EI will often chase comfort but not reflect on the emotions and attitudes causing them to lack growth and development over time.
To improve, we can think of EI as a set of three main competency clusters.
1. Reading Yourself And Others
What makes you, you? Recognizing your feelings and identifying your patterns provide insight into who you are. Picking up on subtle cues others may provide along the way allows you to recognize other people’s patterns and feelings more easily. Here are ways to better recognize emotions and patterns:
• Keep a journal to track your feelings and the reactions of others.
• Ask someone you trust what patterns/triggers they have noticed about you.
• Take a self-assessment to become more self-aware.
• Look at art or listen to music and pay attention to the feelings they evoke.
• Practice mindfulness or meditation.
2. Choosing Your Voice
Recognizing your own feelings and patterns only gets you so far. Navigating through your feelings and focusing on self-management is the second skill cluster. We have to learn how to intentionally direct our thoughts, feelings and actions to avoid just reacting. Here are tips on navigating emotions and improving your consequential thinking:
• Recognize emotions are neither good nor bad; just another form of data.
• Try recognizing why you are feeling what you are feeling.
• Remember you have choices in how you decide to feel and in how you react.
• Pause, evaluate and then respond recognizing how your choices may impact others as well as yourself.
3. Gifting Yourself
Part of EI is sustaining a sense of fulfillment, having to do with alignment and purpose. We must learn to develop a clear and energizing purpose, intentionally aligning our actions with that purpose and providing empathy to others along the way. Here’s how to better gift yourself:
• Turn your pain into other’s healing by sharing your experiences and empathizing.
• Identify what you are passionate about or what you were passionate about years ago.
• Read about how others have found their purpose.
• Explore new experiences such as a new place of worship or new foods at an ethnic restaurant.
• Travel to places you have never been.
• Ask people what they appreciate about you and think of things that you appreciate about others.
Each of these clusters are made up of skills that can be measured and developed. By growing these skills we can increase our effectiveness and ability to achieve results, establish stronger, more fulfilling relationships, improve our quality of life and general satisfaction and demonstrate more agility and resilience needed for change. Emotions drive people. Give them directions.