Emotions are our Power Tools

Okay, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a drill or a reciprocating saw, because like most of my colleagues, I spend most of my time at a computer. The flipside is that at work, I have been amazed by Microsoft’s Power BI functionality with managing metadata. It’s a power tool for geeks that turn’s information overload into useful insights. This got me to thinking about another power tool that is built into all of us. Our emotions. Before you tune me out, let me explain how emotional intelligence can help us live out our values of resilience, care, integrity, courage and even excellence. I’m not encouraging us to allow our emotions to take center stage, but I do want us to see our emotions as data. When we do this, they can become our power tools for reengagement, creativity, and enjoyment at work.

Emotional intelligence relates to self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal skills, decision making, and stress management. Research has linked these competencies to effective leadership because emotions are what makes us human. However, in business we are generally expected leave our emotions at the door. We see being emotive as bad, but the truth is that we still have feelings whether we acknowledge them or not. When we suppress them, they only become stronger, and we lose the ability to deal with a situation as it really is. When we pay attention to our emotions, they can provide data on what’s important to us and help us to understand ourselves and others. More importantly they can help us define actions connected to our values to respond to what’s creating the emotions.

How do we put our emotions to work? Our thoughts drive our emotions and subsequently our actions. When we sit with our emotions and label them correctly, we can figure out what is making us feel that way. Instead of just saying “I’m stressed,” consider if you’re disappointed, dreading something, or overwhelmed. Doing the analysis to understand the emotion is the first step to decisive action. A critical element of human performance is learning to manage our thoughts. As humans we must rely on both “fast” thinking, which is helpful in everyday decisions to leverage our experience and “slow” thinking, which is more controlled, curious, and strategic to deal with more complex situations. We must resist the natural flight, fight, or freeze response to negative emotions and find the courage to examine our thinking. One of my favorite sayings is change your thinking, change your life (Brian Tracy).

In my own career, there was a time when I was feeling powerless and not able to change a negative relationship with my manager. My first instincts were to flee from the situation as fast as I could. However, I really liked my job and I felt like I was making a positive impact on the organization. When I shifted my thinking from “I need this job, so I have to accept being miserable” to “I have options, but I choose to be here because I like my job,” there was an immediate change in my relationship with my manager. I had the courage to address the behaviors and work challenges that were making us both less effective as leaders. Furthermore, as a leader, I learned to pay more attention to my colleagues and to push through awkward emotional interactions to better understand the situation at hand. I learned to listen more and to notice emotional cues. For example, if I asked, “How are you?” I waited for a response and looked to see if it was consistent with the body language I was seeing.

Emotions are not good or bad. They are tools that can be used by anyone who wants to influence human behavior. Accepting that we are emotional beings is the foundation for resilience. It improves your perception of yourself and your ability to express yourself which enables personal integrity and excellence. Good interpersonal skills are necessary for demonstrating care and concern for the well-being of others. Finally, building these emotional intelligence competencies takes the courage to act with conviction based on data. Emotions make us powerful. If you still have doubts, call me.