On my Facebook feed, a friend asked, “Anyone else a cryer? When I get nervous, angry – any strong emotion, really – I just start crying. I hate it, especially at work. What do you do?”
We all experience strong emotions at work. Over the past 25 years, the concept of “emotional intelligence” has changed our perspective on them. Rather than thinking the workplace is an environment where we should check our feelings at the door, many management scholars and business leaders acknowledge the important role emotions play in being an effective employee and leader. Many, myself included, assert that without emotional intelligence, leaders can’t go very far up the ladder.
There are four key steps of emotional intelligence.
- Understand and name our own emotions (like my Facebook friend)
- Manage our emotions
- Recognize and empathize with our other’s emotions – our employees, our colleagues, our family members
- Manage and channel the other’s emotions
Broaden Your Emotional Vocabulary
The first step, understand and name your own emotions, is arguably the most important. Susan David, a Harvard faculty member and founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching, breaks this all-important recognition down into two steps: pinpointing the exact emotion you’re feeling, and understanding the intensity of the emotion.
Davis recommends broadening your vocabulary for emotions. To do so, it’s first helpful to understand how psychologists describe emotions. The framework I like is from Robert Plutchik, which includes eight emotions grouped into polar opposites. The flower-like diagram captures the eight primary emotions developed by Plutchick, and arranges them by intensity with the most intense emotions located at the middle. The second row out, containing the emotions joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation, align with the emotions most often described by psychologists.
Using this wheel of emotions helps you characterize your emotions better. In fact, having a broader sense of language to describe your emotions may actually help us feel the emotion in a more specific way.
Emotional Intelligence Helps at Home, Too
The value of naming your emotions goes beyond the workplace. At home and in our families, our emotional life is just as important, if not more so. We took a free workshop on positive parenting at our daycare when our oldest son was three. The key takeaway for me was that I am my child’s emotional coach. How I respond to and deal with my emotions sets the tone for how my children will respond to and deal with theirs. Giving them the vocabulary for their emotions is another way to help coach them through the raw and messy feelings we all experience. While our children probably won’t be using language like loathing, vigilance, serenity, or awe right now, walking through the basics of scared, sad, angry, and happy is a great place to start.
And if you, like my Facebook friend, are also a “cryer” when you experience any intense emotion, know that emotion is a part of life. Managing your emotions through learning the tenets of emotional intelligence is one way to address what may feel inappropriate. Naming that intense emotion, even if it’s just in your head, may provide a key to learning how to deal with it more effectively. And the more often you start naming it, the easier it becomes. My nightly five-minute wrap up now includes a prompt, “What am I feeling?”
Next week, we’ll walk through the second skill of emotional intelligence, managing your emotions.