If you are frustrated with yourself or the person you are communicating with, just notice the effects that being in that state has on your ability to listen effectively; to analyse critically what is being said and to think clearly about the most impactful way you could respond. Your emotions – positive or negative – have a massive impact on your ability to communicate effectively. This post examines a business-case for leaders to work on continuously improving communication skills and provides you with tools to manage your state and as a result, hugely improve your inter-person skill set.
In his seminal work about a leader’s ability to move from being good to being outstanding Daniel Goleman (2004) identified that other than the skill of, “seeing the big picture” the key differentiators to success were all elements of something he labelled Emotional Intelligence. These are the abilities and skills to interact with others in a way where you can maximize the impacts of your emotions in a positive way, rather than allow them to become a hindrance. They are the ‘people skills’ that result in you being effective at communication with others.
Goleman and colleagues went further to describe the fact that your performance in this area is determined largely by your ability to assess your own emotions at any given point and then provide some management of them. Do you know you are feeling stressed at this moment in time and how effectively are you managing the impacts that has on you and your interactions with others? You’re elated about winning that new contract: how mindful and empathetic are you being of others in your organisation who are struggling right now? To improve your ability to effectively manage and communicate in these scenarios you need a. your heightened awareness b. some control in order to be manage the effects. You need to master the former before you can improve the latter!
This article will give you some tools to help with both of these critical elements.
I think there are several ways to improve your own awareness but I’m going to share the top 2 that clients of mine seem to value most universally.
I. Be in the moment: This is a challenge to do in the heat of a hectic day but being able to step aside from “the stuff” and check-in with yourself and how you are reacting and feeling at any point is a skill and as such, can be practiced and improved. In the early days, perhaps set 3-5 times during the day when you can ask yourself the following questions:
a. How am I doing right now?
b. How do I know how I’m doing?
c. What could I change that will make the biggest improvement?
I would urge you to do this ‘checking-in’ with yourself at regular intervals and importantly, not just at times of heightened emotion. In my experience, the very fact that your levels of self-awareness may not be great, may lead you to miss times when you think all is well, but actually they’re not and some adjustment would be very helpful to you and those you are working with.
Whilst I would not claim to be a regular meditator I have noticed – and certainly read/heard about – the very clear benefits to better awareness of regular meditation. I recommend that you give it a go.
ii. Reflection: Awareness is not always easy or practical to develop in the moment but it is both possible and effective if you can review your own performance following key situations and provide yourself with some honest feedback. If you’ve just given an important presentation to the Board, or a key sales-pitch, here are some useful prompts to help you do your own “post-match report”:
a. What feelings did I experience before and during the presentation/pitch, etc?
b. Which of these helped the presentation/pitch, which got in the way?
c. What were the reasons I felt like I did?
d. How can I make sure I tap into the positive feelings more, the next time?
Of course, if you have someone that you trust and who will provide honest, “gloves-off” feedback about your performance, that can be incredibly helpful to add to your review too.
I would urge you to keep a journal to record these incidents. It is a brilliant way to keep track of your progress and helps you spot any themes that you may want to bring to your work with a friend, mentor or coach.
So, all this awareness is great and improving your ability to assess it accurately is the essential first step in becoming better at getting some control over it.
Since the mid-1980s, when I first worked with a Sports Psychologist, through until very recently when I discovered the work of Dr Alan Watkin, it seems that managing your breathing is pretty critical when looking at controlling your emotional state. We’re not talking just about taking three deep breaths here, this is a systematic approach to using your breathing to manage your state.
As a young international sportsman I was taught to relax fully and use visualization through breathing, even in the midst of competing. Dr Watkin talks about the importance of rhythmic and even-paced breathing in order to affect the very physiology that affects our emotional state.
In summary, here are some key steps to take to use breath-control to get emotional control:
i. Practise using rhythmic breathing to get control of your state. It is important to keep an even pace. It matters less what that pace is, just keep it regular. I tend to use a count of: 10 inhale-3 hold-10 exhale-3 hold and repeat (Don’t forget to repeat!)
ii. When though this breathing pattern you find your ‘ideal state’ create your own key or trigger. Some people squeeze their thumb and first finger, others clench their fists and then relax their hands. Whatever, you do, this trigger can, with practice, become linked to the state you want to achieve. You can create different states with different triggers for different occasions – calm, alert, etc.
iii. Over time you can achieve that state you want with just a couple of breaths and the use of the trigger you have created.
Don’t forget the order is important here: being aware is the first step, controlling emotional state is the second. You can develop both simultaneously, just employ them in the right order.
Goleman, D., (2004) Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence Bloomsbury:London
Dr Alan Watkin: TEDx Portsmouth
Guest Post by Glenn Wallis
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