Emotional Intelligence — Self Awareness


Emotional intelligence starts with emotional self-awareness. Self-awareness requires accepting emotional experiences as real, valid, legitimate aspects of human experience and instead of condemning emotional responses or reactions to situations, using the emotional information to make better decisions and take actions. Emotional self-awareness allows an individual to feel better or to do things better depending on the actions he or she takes in response to emotions, as opposed to reacting merely to soothe or stifle unpleasant and intense emotional feelings.

Consider your own experience of converting fear into competence. Every child is told to avoid a hot stove, and on occasion an overly-curious child burns his fingers on the stove-only to learn a very painful lesson. However, most of us do not cower in fear whenever we walk into a kitchen. We recognize that the fear of being burned turns into a well-informed precaution and a respect for the power of flame. As a result of our own experience, and recognizing our emotional response, we process fear and turn it into the ability to perform a task: we respond with caution to an open flame rather than react out of fear to the possibility that we might get burned .

While emotions are subtle and combine in complex ways, it is useful to model emotions on a simple "palate" from which more complex emotions are construed. The spectrum of emotions follows the pattern:

Anger — Sadness — Fear — Happiness

That is, this model suggests that anger is closer in modality to sadness than fear; fear is closer to sadness than anger; and happiness is closer to fear than sadness.

To understand your emotional response to an event, think of a goal you highly prize. It could be seeking a promotion; it could be recognition for a job well done; it could have the success of your firm. Make sure it's an important goal to you.

Now imagine someone outside threats your goal, using an impartial tactic. A coworker misrepresents a situation and costs you a promotion. A competitor sends in senior managers to steal one of your key accounts. In this situation, you most likely feel anger directed toward the other person because they intentionally and somewhat maliciously did something to block your goal. In general, anger is directed toward an agent , another person or group, who actively blocks our goal.

Compare this to the feeling you would have when that same goal is not available, but there is no one to blame. Maybe the promotion vanished because of a downturn in the economy. Maybe your key account simply has no need for your services anymore. Since there is no agent that actively blocked your goal, your goal is now simply lost. Most likely you feel sadness at the loss, since your goal is not attainable but it is not anyone's fault (not even your own).

Suppose now your goal is in an unknown state. Maybe it's exceeded by another person, or maybe you're waiting for news as to the customer will continue to use your services. In that uncertain situation in which you are waiting for resolution you most likely experience fear of your goal being lost, which will later set into sadness or anger when you become certain of the outcome. Fear involves having your goal in an uncertain, possibly positive and potentially negative, state.

Finally, assume you get surprise news that your goal has been met. Your promotion has been agreed upon by your managing partners and will be granted three months early. Or your key account has decided to double their projected work with you because of an upturn in the economy. With your goal unexpectedly facilitated and achieved, you most likely feel happy given the unexpected result. Happiness occurs when a goal we have worked toward is achieved, and the sudden or surprising nature of the news can create excitement; just as sudden news can create anxiety that leads to sadness in the negative case.

This exercise provides insight into how your emotions inform you about your circumstances and can guide your response. If you are angry, for example, the questions you ask yourself include: Who are you angry with? What goal did he or she block? To resolve the situation, can the offender modify its or her behavior? Do you reorient your goals?

This level of self-awareness will make emotions more valuable, even integral to your decision making. Emotions are not to be avoided, but rather embroidered as essential tools to allow managers to make better decisions.

James A Bergstrom