Emotional Agility: How To Master Inner Challenges Without Getting Derailedby Zenger Folkman March 30, 2017
Does being “professional” in the workplace mean employees should check their emotions at the door? There has been a long-held belief that suppressing your emotions is the right thing to do in business — that you shouldn’t bring your personal life into work.
But Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg disagreed when she somewhat famously said, “Bring your whole self to work. I don’t believe we have a professional self Monday through Friday and a real self the rest of the time. It is all professional and it is all personal.” I agree with Sandberg. You should bring all of yourself into business. The key, however, is to develop the emotional agility that will help you to bring your whole self forward in a positive and appropriate way.
How do we find that right balance? I recently interviewed Susan David, a psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and CEO of Evidence Based Psychology. She explained that in organizations, and in everyday life, we have thousands of thoughts, emotions, experiences, and inner-stories. How we deal with these drives everything we do: our relationships, our jobs and projects. It drives how we lead, and how we interact with the world around us.
Emotional agility is fundamentally the ability to be with and be healthy with our thoughts, emotions, and stories — even ones that might be troubling or concerning. If we do that, then we can still take action that is in accordance with how we want to live and lead in the world. The key is to learn from all of our emotions, including the most difficult ones.
Recognizing Your Emotions Through Mindfulness
I believe the path to emotional agility begins with mindfulness. I confess that when I first heard about it, I was skeptical. It sounded squishy. The more I read and practice it, the more it makes sense. A special report from Harvard Health publications describes mindfulness as:
• “The practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment."
The main point is that you pay attention to the present, focus on what’s going on inside of you, observe that as if you were a person off to the side, and not be judgmental about what you’re observing.
Some achieve this through meditation, but as a small step forward you can begin by simply focusing your attention on moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities. You do this by single-tasking—doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. It involves silencing the noise and activity around you to become more aware of what you are doing and experiencing.
Making Sense Of Your Emotions
Emotional agility isn’t a natural or inherent quality within people. However, you can acquire and strengthen this ability through practice. In my interview with Susan, she described how leaders can take charge of their emotions: “Showing up to emotions is the idea of not struggling with them. Instead of saying, ‘I’m stressed,’ recognize that there is a difference between being stressed versus being angry, disappointed, or sad. When we label our emotions, especially our difficult emotions, in a more precise way, we are able to make choices that are intentional and more connected with what we are really feeling.”
In her book Emotional Agility she shares questions that leaders who struggle to make sense of their emotions can ask themselves to assess where they stand.
1. “I might be right, but is my response serving me, the organization, or the team?” Most leaders I know get hooked into the need of being right. It is helpful to remember that if the entire world agreed that you were right, you’d still have a choice as to how you are going to act.
2. “Is what I’m doing workable(Interpret workable to mean enduring or long-lasting.) Leaders often get stuck in situations in which they need to have a difficult conversation. They take action that satisfies the immediate need but fails to address the long-term issue. They get immediate relief. The idea of workability is that there are some actions that feel good in the short-term, but don’t serve us long term. They do not bring us closer to being the leader, employee, or person that we want to become over time. Emotional agility enables us to recognize when we’re taking a short-term out, because it is easier and more comfortable, rather than taking a more difficult long-term step.
3. “I know what my task is, but what is my objective?”By asking this question, we are moving ourselves away from the idea that we need to check things off of our lists. We can then elevate our thinking to determine what we are really trying to achieve. In a meeting, you might be trying to get through a particular task but your more important objective could be to develop the team’s problem solving skills or to ensure that the team stays highly motivated.
In conclusion, all leaders, managers, employees are human beings who at times feel a full range of emotions. When executives don’t have the ability to be open to the full range of emotions that their team or organization is feeling, they undercut and undermine change and diminish motivation, engagement that drive the organization’s success.
In short: slow down, stop multitasking, take time to recognize what you are feeling and consider how those emotions are affecting your own work and the people around you.
Read the article on Forbes.