Leadership / Self Improvement

Emotional Intelligence Simplified

Part 3 — Deal with it

Image by Karsten Paulick from Pixabay

Deal with it!

In Part 1, I shared my model of emotional intelligence with its three components. That’s also where I shared my ideas about managing your emotions, about knowing what you’re feeling and how to handle it. One of the key pieces was also knowing your Hot Buttons which I’ve also written about separately. That’s important because managing our own emotions ensures they don’t contribute to making a bad situation worse.

Part 2 was about getting a handle on the emotions of others. We do that by anticipating their thinking, evaluating their body language, and listening closely to their tone of voice. Understanding the emotions of others helps us to better prepare to interact with them. This enables a good response instead of a knee-jerk reaction.

That brings us to the third and final part of my model. With great eloquence, I’ve named Part 3 Deal With It. There are an almost infinite variety of situations when emotions can escalate. Understanding others is critical and we have to get out of our own shoes to try and understand how they may be perceiving the world. We need to anticipate these situations and prepare ourselves to deal with them ahead of time.

This isn’t about performance feedback but dealing with situations. Performance feedback is one of those situations which can escalate. Others include meetings, customer service engagements, and something very current as I write this during the COVID19 crisis — wearing a mask.

Once we’ve gotten to know ourselves and then carefully considered the other people involved, here are the next steps to consider.

Know Your Options

Know and clearly understand your establishment’s policies. Make sure you review them before your shift or when the challenging situations are imminent. Some of the things to keep in mind:

  • What’s the criteria to call the manager?
  • Are there other employees in the area to help you? What can they do or not do?
  • What must happen for you to call 911?

I hope you don’t face that last situation. But we’ve seen in quite a few of those viral mask videos where people became violent. That’s when you need outside professional help.

Ask your manager for these answers in writing, if possible. Why? First, this gives you a reference to review so you can refresh yourself before every shift. Second, when people write things, they think about them a little more in-depth and develop their ideas more fully. It’s a form of leading up, that is, you’re insisting your organizational leadership do their jobs and fulfill their responsibility to give you proper guidance.

You’re going to encounter three different levels of hostility. There’s going to be mild, medium, and serious. Usually these levels lend themselves to most of the situations you’ll encounter when emotions begin to flare. Remember, the objective isn’t to eliminate emotions but to manage and control them.

These techniques work in a wide variety of situations. Are you the person at the front of the grocery store asking people to wear masks? This is for you. You the person getting ready to have the come-to-Jesus meeting with a lackluster employee? This is for you. Ready to address the co-worker who insists on sharing political opinions, constantly, at work? This is for you.

Let me expand on that for just a moment. Performance feedback is vitally important to grow an organization. For leaders, it’s one of the most important things they do. It’s how you make an organization better. Unfortunately, performance feedback can turn into a difficult situation. Few people receive training on how to give (or how to receive!) performance feedback. (Yes, of course, I provide that training!)

In those situations where the conversation becomes heated or seems to be headed that way, applying these ideas and principles will pay great dividends, especially when the prep work is done.

Mild resistance

This level consists of the person being annoyed. They may be a little prickly, snappish, and given to snarky comments. You could do nothing — simply ignore them and keep moving.

When people are unhappy, they generally like to have the fact acknowledged, even if there’s nothing you can do about it. They want to make sure people know they’re unhappy and more often than not, why.

Acknowledging it brings it out in the open and creates the opportunity to release a little bit of that built-up tension. This is not to be underrated! Allowing a low-level tension release ensures the pressure level doesn’t continue to build. So what do you do?

When you acknowledge the tension, you’re demonstrating empathy which is a powerful tool to build a positive relationship. You’re also dealing with the unspoken reality (everyone feels it) which also contributes to building the relationship and establishing trust. Instead of dancing around things, you simply acknowledge it. This allows people to establish a common point of reference.

Humor is always a great option if you plan for it. As my wife likes to tell me, I think I’m the funniest guy I know. What that means is my humor doesn’t always seem that funny to other people. When you come up with a humorous approach, try it out on a couple of other people to see what they think. Some humor just doesn’t translate well to others. As with me, you want to make sure other people think it’s funny or amusing — not just you.

Medium resistance.

They want to make their point and they tend to do so by making someone confront them. These people may try to consciously ignore you or refuse to acknowledge there’s anything amiss.

Stay calm, and keep your voice friendly. Mind your body language. Your body is always talking, whether your mouth is moving or not. Stand up straight, face them squarely — this shows respect and that you’re specifically speaking with them.

Greet them with a calm or upbeat tone of voice. The tone of your voice is especially important as it helps to communicate your mood and intent.

Engage them at an angle. If you approach directly, that is head on, it may communicate a more confrontational intent. It certainly increases the likelihood of the person interpreting that way. Remember, in their mind, they’re expecting someone to challenge them and they kind of want someone to so they can make sure everyone knows just how they feel about whatever the problem may be.

Of course, make sure you smile! Your smile is THE most powerful tool you have to influence the emotions of others. When you smile at someone, it’s hard for them to not smile back. Make it tough on them to be in a bad mood by giving them that authentic up-to-the-eyeballs smile!

Serious resistance

These are the people who will be openly hostile. They may raise their voice, say ugly things, glare at you, or simply ignore you and push past you. They’ve fixated on the issue at hand and they’ve allowed themselves to get really wound tight about it.

Because they’ve focused so strongly on it, they’ve already decided there will be a problem. As a result, they’re leaning towards confrontation and will act subconsciously towards that end.

Remember when I said you need to know your options? It’s even more important now. Make it a habit to review them before you clock in.

Be at your best!

When we talk about being at your best, we’re talking about creating the conditions for you to manage your emotions. This is exactly why professional athletes put an enormous amount of resources and money towards nutritionists, doctors, and personal trainers. It’s so they put themselves in position to be at their very best.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of hiring experts to take care of normal daily matters to ensure we’re at our personal best. Even so, we’re going to talk about two areas we can definitely impact. These two areas are two basic biological processes which if ignored, cause us to be at higher risk for an amygdala hijack ourselves. At best, they will cause us to suffer lapses in emotional intelligence.

The two processes are sleeping and eating. Surprised? Don’t be. We’ll talk about each one and how they can negatively impact our personal interactions with others.

Be well-rested. Get your sleep! It seems like we’re constantly go-go-go-go. But when you’re tired, you’re less tolerant. It takes more effort to control your emotions. Your brain is using extra effort to stay awake and be alert which means there’s less effort available to control other things.

When you’re well rested, you have more patience and tolerance which you’ll need for these situations. Being tired or sleep-deprived drives an enormous number of poor decisions.

I know when I’m tired, my self-discipline lapses. I’m more likely to choose a bag of chips for a snack instead of an apple. I’m more likely to snap at my children when they interrupt me working or even just watching television.

When I get the sleep I need, which is usually between 7–9 hours for most people, I’m nicer, more patient, and more productive. Many people say they only need 4–5 hours of sleep a night. Research tells us that’s true for a very small percentage of people. Don’t kid yourself, get the sleep you need.

Much like sleeping, eating is a strong biological necessity that will distract you. The amount of effort it takes for you to stay focused on the task at hand goes up substantially when you’re hungry. That means you’re more prone to saying rude things, being insensitive to others, and “tone-deaf” when listening.

Snickers made an entire advertising campaign about being hangry because it’s a real thing. We can all identify with that. Your stomach is down there saying, “Hey, feed me! Feed me!” It distracts you and contributes to a lack of patience. It makes you more irritable. It makes you more likely to respond negatively to any adverse event.

Eating and sleeping are strong biological urges. When they’re not satisfied, they’re constantly tugging at your sleeve, saying, “hey, I’m tired” or “I’m hungry” and they’re distracting your brain from dealing with the immediate situation. That distraction will impair your decision-making and reduce your patience. You want to be at your best for these potentially explosive interactions.

Manage your body language

This is so important. Remember, your body is talking whether your mouth is moving or not. Managing your body language means you’re controlling the message you’re sending. That message is one of calm and self-control.

Mind your hands. Keep them loose and unclenched, relaxed. Alternatively, put them together in front of your groin. This is an easily recognized non-confrontational stance. This is the way little kids sometimes stand when they’re in trouble with Mama because it’s deferential.

Your stance should be stable, even-weighted, feet slightly apart, and don’t fidget! Again, this can be challenging but it’s possible, especially with practice and rehearsal. Square up to the person to make clear to whom you’re speaking. Some people think that’s confrontational and that’s a possible perception, but I think the good outweighs the bad. Standing square means your toes, shoulders, and eyes are all pointed in the same direction. Mind your fidgeting with your hands and shoulders or neck. DON’T brace yourself as if for a fight! That is NOT the message you want to send!

Make eye contact but don’t stare. Avoiding eye contact is often perceived as a sign of fear or weakness and may actually encourage the other person to be more aggressive. Eye contact is one of the most difficult things to explain because it isn’t an easily measurable length of time. The length of time for eye contact differs based on the situation and individuals involved.

In a 2016 study, scientists found that most people preferred just over three seconds (3.3 to be exact). There was clearly variation but generally people were most comfortable in a range of 2–5 seconds. Longer than that and people thought it felt a little creepy. Less than that and you may come across as a little shady or uncomfortable. Generally, normally, usually, this comes naturally but there are some people who struggle with it a little bit.

These are things you’ll need to practice as part of your rehearsal. Have a teammate yell at you and see what your reflexive reaction is and then work at it to get better. Practice your awareness of the way you’re standing, what you’re doing with your hands, your eyes, your arms, feet, and face. By practicing, you’ll not only grow your sense of awareness but also your ability to manage these actions.

Manage your tone of voice

Your tone of voice communicates your emotional state and we want to project a calm, even attitude. Speak loudly enough to be heard clearly without yelling. Realize that masks can muffle your voice so increase volume while maintaining the even tone of voice. Without being silly, try to deepen your voice slightly. This is especially helpful with people who have hearing challenges as they tend to be able to hear deeper voices better.

Dealing with a situation is as much about managing your own emotions, body language, and tone of voice as anything else. In leadership, your personal example is the most powerful tool you have. In personal interactions, it’s the same. When you stay calm and in control, it makes others inclined to do the same. For you to do that, you must understand yourself as we discussed in part 1. Knowing others helps you do that as well by preparing you for what’s to come. This was covered in part 2.

Good luck and remember always, SMILE!

In part 1, we laid out the three-part model I use with my leadership clientele. The first part of the model is about having a deeper understanding and awareness of your emotions. Part 2 was about understanding the emotional state of others. I hope you’ve found something to help you on your emotional journey!

Excerpted from De-Escalation: Respond, Don’t React to a Crisis available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08L4FL4VR/.

Retired Army officer with two tours in Baghdad, taught at West Point, married with four kids. Proud West Virginian and West Point grad. Amazon pubs.

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