Emotional Intelligence

close up modern metal sculpture of a human face at Canary WharfI was working with a client recently and she was telling me about an “emotional meltdown” she had experienced.  She said that she was surprised because she believed herself to be “emotionally intelligent”.  This got me thinking about the concept of Emotional Intelligence and how, as it has entered general language, its meaning has been somewhat diluted.

You’ve probably heard of Emotional Intelligence (also known as EI, Emotional Quotient [EQ] or Emotional Intelligence Quotient [EIQ]).  It is the ability to be aware of, to control and to express your emotions and to handle relationships with other people sensitively.  It does not mean that you won’t feel emotions – rather that you will take a moment to recognise them and then respond thoughtfully rather than simply react.

Real Emotional Intelligence operates across four main areas (domains) and researchers in the field consider that there are twelve competencies or skills that we need to learn to be considered to have a high EIQ.

Self-Awareness

The first domain is self-awareness.  The skill here is simply the ability to notice what you are feeling and to notice how strongly you are feeling it.  It helps to develop a broader emotional vocabulary so that you can tell yourself (and others) exactly how you feel.  Clients will often tell me that they feel “bad” or “good” about something but, when we pick that vague description apart, it turns out that bad might mean guilty or embarrassed or sad or perhaps all three.  These are emotions we can work with.

Self-Management

Having identified your emotion you now need to manage it.

Developing emotional self-control does not mean denying your emotions, it just means that you might pause and choose to state what you are feeling rather than act on it (e.g. saying “I feel angry about that” rather than shouting at someone).

It helps to learn some adaptability too.  If you learn to be realistic about change you will find that you react less when things don’t quite go according to plan.

Being able to focus on what you are trying to achieve (work goals, a personal project, trying to be understood in a relationship) requires you to stay balanced – a “meltdown” is rarely the best way to get what you need.

Maintaining a positive outlook is also going to help with your self-management.

Social Awareness

The development of Emotional Intelligence is not all about you and how you feel, it is also about your awareness of others.  The key skill here is empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to consider how they are feeling.

At work this extends out to organisational awareness, an understanding of the needs and goals of everyone else in the organisation.

Relationship Management

Social awareness distils down into the way in which you manage your relationships with other people.  This involves developing the ability to influence others; to coach or mentor people (to build them up, not knock them down); to manage conflict (by addressing it head on and giving people clear, direct feedback); being a great team-worker and being able to inspire others.

So where does all of that leave my client?

Well, she is a positive, empathetic and generally self-aware person so I can see why she believes that she is Emotionally Intelligent.  But, whilst she is good at noticing how she feels, she is less good at telling other people how she feels, she is less good at giving people feedback when they have upset her, and she is not very skilled at managing conflict so she tends to avoid it.  In this avoidance she allows her emotions to build up resulting in an occasional “meltdown”.  Somewhere in her communication with others there is a lack of honesty.

So, is it a bad thing to have a meltdown from time to time?  No, not really.  We all have days when we feel overwhelmed by life, when demands are high but our resources are low.  None of us are perfect and perfection is not something we should be aiming for – but personal growth is.  So if you find yourself reacting in an overly emotional way the important thing is to avoid the guilt and to simply learn from it.

Emotional Intelligence comes more naturally to some but the really good thing about it is that it can be learned by everyone.  So, if you want to be better able to achieve your goals in life, have better relationships at work and home and to feel that you have more control over your mood (even on a bad day), you might want to consider learning some new skills.

“It’s just a gut feeling” – Learning to Trust your Instincts

it's just a gut feeling learning to trust your instinctsSometimes you just have a “gut feeling” about a person or a situation and you know you have to trust it, to act on it.

I recently attended a conference and, during a break, was chatting to a few people when a man approached the group.  I had seen him earlier, chatting to other people, his personality dominating the room, but had never spoken to him myself.  As he came closer I experienced a very strange sensation indeed, it wasn’t just a gut feeling but every part of my brain and body was telling me to get away from this man.  To this day I have no idea what that was about but his politely accepted business card was dropped in a bin within minutes and I have never responded to his invitation to “catch up”.  Now, that in itself is strange, because I never miss an opportunity to network (and he could be a useful contact) but avoidance just feels like a better strategy.

Our gut feelings aren’t always quite so strong (or so negative) but learning to trust them is part and parcel of being a fully functioning person.  I have bought a house because it “felt right” even though it didn’t tick many of the boxes on the “must have” list and, on another occasion, ignored my instincts and now have a sofa which I dislike intensely.  The house was absolutely the right choice and we were very happy there – the sofa I can live with but it is a constant reminder to trust my gut.

So, how do we explain this phenomenon?  At its simplest, your unconscious mind is always reading your environment even when your conscious mind is busy elsewhere.  You may have been driving home from work, planning what to have for dinner and found yourself braking before you even became aware of the football rolling into the road or the child following it.  This is the same mechanism.

Another theory suggests that the physical sensations we experience are due to a flood of dopamine – this neurotransmitter helps us keep track of reality and “dopamine jitters” happen when the unconscious wants us to pay attention to something.

But should we always trust our gut feelings?

Your unconscious mind is always acting in your best interests based on previous experience.  If you were once ill after eating cheese it will alert you to the risk next time you consider putting some cheddar in your mouth (you may feel nauseous just thinking about it) but that doesn’t mean cheese is inherently risky and you may be missing out on some great food experiences.  This is hardly critical but if you don’t temper your instincts with a bit of conscious brain activity the consequences can be much worse.

We all hold a set of beliefs based, not only on our own experiences, but also on the social conditioning we have experienced.  If we don’t challenge that conditioning our gut will warn us erroneously against all kinds of situations.  Racism, sexism and other kinds of prejudice flourish because social conditioning primes some people to have a negative gut response to people who are “other”, who are different to them.  Without the application of some rational thinking the unconscious mind will never have better experiences to base its response on.

So, did I apply rational thinking to my experience at the conference?  Yes I did.  I considered whether the man in question reminded me of anyone else – perhaps someone I had met in difficult circumstances – I couldn’t think of anyone.  I made a few (very discrete) enquiries with other women I knew and they had all had negative (albeit less strong) reactions to him.  I still don’t know if my gut reaction was right but I have chosen to trust it on this occasion.  I hope you are able to trust yours when it really matters.

This is the last post in the series about the Fully Functioning Person – I hope you have enjoyed them.  If you feel that you are perhaps not functioning at your best at the moment, get in touch.  I may be able to help.

 

Creativity

I’ve just had a weekend full of creativity.

If you remember, creativity is just one of the facets of a fully functioning person – so I hope you’ll forgive my excitement.

What do you imagine I was doing? When we think of creativity we often think of painting, drawing, writing, crafts etc., and they are all creative activities, but this weekend I was mostly problem solving.

Mr. Yellow Dot and I are in the process of converting a camper van, we’d just had it insulated and the next task was lining the walls and ceiling. We had a plan but the creativity comes into play every time the plan doesn’t quite go according to… well, plan. How do you get the cut out for the window in exactly the right place? How do you get the cut-outs for the sky lights in the right place? (It sounds like the same problem but needed 2 completely different solutions) What do you do when the ply-wood is too flexible to sit between the saw horses? The list goes on.

My point is that creativity is not something that should just be saved for your hobbies but could be applied to every aspect of your life.

Creativity is often defined as the production of novel and useful ideas. With that definition it is easy to see that you are being creative if you start doing things in a new and useful way. At the moment, lots of people are applying creativity to reducing plastic in their lives – some people are inventing new products (bamboo toothbrushes and stainless steel straws for example) others are just changing the way they do things (refusing straws, shopping at re-fill stores, using paper bags for fruit and veg etc.) – an equally valid and creative response to the problem of plastic in our oceans.

But why do I say we “should” be creative? Because there is a wealth of research which demonstrates the link between creativity and well-being. (For example, Tamlin, Conner, DeYoung & Paul, (2016) show links between creative tasks and positivity, Perach and Wisman (2016) demonstrate ways in which engaging in creative tasks can buffer anxiety.) Conversely, a lack of creativity can lead to real problems.

Last week I had a conversation with a graphic designer who works as part of an in-house design team for a large organisation. You would imagine that creativity would not only be desirable, but absolutely essential for a graphic designer (the clue is in the job title) and yet, in this instance, a change of manager has led to a situation where the whole design team are micro managed, told what to produce and are not really allowed to design.

In response to that situation team members are feeling undervalued, de-motivated and, in some cases, are suffering the ill effects of excess stress and anxiety. Denying employees the ability to exercise some creative autonomy creates the ultimate lose-lose situation and the impact will no doubt soon be felt by the organisation as a whole.

So, what’s going on with the manager? I haven’t met him but I suspect he is not open to new experiences, he is pre-judging the possible outcomes (believing his way to be the best), he is allowing fear to dominate his decision making and he is not demonstrating or allowing any creativity in his role. In summary he is far from a fully functioning person.
If his team cannot influence him to change (and they should, of course, try) they need to find new outlets for their creativity and, potentially, somewhere new to work.

So this week (and every week), I urge you to inject some creativity into your life. Try to find one thing every day that you can do in a novel and useful way. Paint if you like, make up a bedtime story for the kids, find 100 uses for a paperclip (ok that’s novel but not particularly useful unless you are trying to sell more paperclips), encourage people at work to contribute new ideas, save time by combining tasks (try doing squats whilst loading the dishwasher) but most of all, have fun. Remember, the fully functioning person is not looking to add to the “to do” list, just to approach it in a new way.

Have a great week and please let me know how you get on.

Don’t Judge it Until you have Tried It

In recent blogs I have been talking about how to be a fully functioning person. One of the factors needed is the ability to engage with new experiences and new ways of thinking without prejudging them. To prejudge is to judge a situation before you have experienced it, before you have adequate evidence to draw any kind of conclusion, to be, in effect, closed-minded about the possible outcomes.

Nobody likes to think that they prejudge situations. I often hear people describe themselves as open-minded so, presumably, people see this as a desirable quality. Conversely, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone describe themselves as closed-minded – although it is a description often applied to others. Hmmm.

So, who are these closed-minded people?

Quite frankly, it’s all of us – some of the time. Have you ever heard yourself say “I won’t like it” or “I don’t want to do that because it will be boring / scary / upsetting etc.” If so, you are prejudging a situation and potentially missing out on an enjoyable or enriching experience.

I regularly work with people who suffer from social anxiety and they are very likely to prejudge situations as an avoidance strategy. Just thinking about a room full of people can make them feel anxious – logic dictates that going to such an event will be even worse, so they don’t go. And yet, the only way to be a fully functioning person, is to go to the event, accept the anxiety, use some coping strategies and learn – reflect on the fact that they were in a room full of people and nothing bad happened.

I have known people condemn themselves to continued loneliness because they have prejudged on-line dating services as being ‘not for them’, I have met adults who, despite poor health, eat from a very limited range of foods because they are convinced they ‘won’t’ like foods they have never tried. I have, myself, refused to watch a film because I believed (without watching it) that it contained excessive violence and yet, when I finally gave in to encouragement, found that the film was rather wonderful.

Prejudging situations can have an extremely limiting effect on an individual’s life or might simply mean they miss an opportunity to add a little colour or texture to an evening.

However, being closed to new ways of thinking can, potentially, have a catastrophic outcome when combined with power.

Politicians who systematically dismiss any view which did not come from their own party (this often comes with the tag “Loony Left”, “Libtard” or “Fascist”) risk the future of the country’s economy, security, health and education.

Closed-minded business leaders can have a huge impact on society as evidenced by the recently released Hampton Alexander Review into low numbers of women on the boards of FTSE 350 companies. One (male) exec stated that “Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”, another that “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up.” These comments suggest that prejudging women’s needs, wants, rights and abilities accounts for much of the disparity. Being closed minded in this way has a possible impact on the earnings potential of more than 50% of the population and limits the future success of the country’s top businesses (and, therefore, the economy.)

So, regardless of how much power you personally wield, it is time to stop pre-judging situations and to allow yourself to learn from every new experience. Take yourself on an experiential journey and discover the joys of the unknown.

Maybe one day we will also be governed and lead by some fully functioning women and men who are open to new ways of thinking.

Unlock the Door and Let Yourself Out

Last Monday I posted a blog on “How to be a Fully Functioning Person.” One aspect of that was the recommendation to be open to new experiences. But what does that actually mean?

Art Markman, the Psychologist, defines openness to experience as the degree to which a person is willing to consider new ideas and opportunities.

For some people this will conjure up images of great adventures and, if that’s your thing, that is absolutely fine but it also includes being open to the small things. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone on a daily basis.

The comfort zone was not named by accident. It is the psychological space where we feel safe and warm and, well, comfortable. It is a place where we are not threatened or fearful. Everybody needs a comfortable place to retreat to sometimes but, if you are in your comfort zone, you are not learning. Growth happens when the boundaries of the comfort zone are stretched into the learning zone.

Personality plays a part in this. For some people the comfort zone represents safety, for others it represents boredom. The latter are likely to be life’s risk takers, people who are highly motivated by newness and challenge. The former may struggle more with the concept of new experiences. For them, fear of the unknown is often worse than fear of something they know to be bad.

Beyond the learning zone is the anxiety zone. The anxiety zone is a scary, uncomfortable place and a visit there will send many people scurrying back to their place of safety with their tails between their legs, never to leave again.

The key to personal growth is to understand your own boundaries and to keep pushing at them. Children do this all the time but as adults we sometimes behave as if we are in some way already the finished article. Fear often manifests itself in questions beginning “what if?” What if I don’t like it? What if I’m useless at it? What if nobody likes me? The good news is that adventure starts with the same words. What if it is wonderful? What if I really enjoy myself? What if this is something I am really good at?

Why not use today to try something new, to push at your own boundaries? Maybe you could eat something you haven’t tried before, visit a new place or try a new activity. Try reading a different newspaper – consider an alternative perspective to the one you already hold. Open your eyes a little wider and look for opportunities to try something new.

Go on, I dare you, scare yourself a little bit – you might just enjoy it.

What does it mean to be a fully functioning person?

Fully Functioning Person
image by rawpixel courtesy of Unsplash

If I get up in the morning and do stuff then surely I am functioning?  If I do all the stuff on the list then surely I am fully functioning?

Well, to be frank, it depends entirely on what you have on your list.

A few weeks ago, in this blog, I explained where the name Yellow Dot came from and I talked about the organismic self (cue giggles) and the humanist idea that we are all, at heart, self-actualising beings who want to achieve our full potential.  For Carl Rogers, it is this drive, this growth which makes us fully functioning.

Last week was designated mental health awareness week and I spent a lot of time reading interesting and positive articles about how to tackle the dire state of the nation’s mental health.  Many of them posited the idea that we are too focussed on “having” things to be happy, suggesting that materialism is the root of our poor mental health.  Whilst this is probably true for some people I suspect that, for many more, the problem is a focus on “doing” things in order to be happy.

I talk to clients who are too busy to look after themselves properly, I talk to potential clients who know they need help but are too busy to come to an appointment, I talk to friends who see “self-care” as something else to be added to the to do list – they feel that they are failing if they haven’t squeezed in two trips to the gym, a night out with friends and a soak in the bath.  Whilst these things may be important they don’t, in themselves, add up to a fully functioning person.

A fully functioning person is someone who:

  • Is open to experience, who accepts that some life experiences will be positive and some will be negative and that ALL emotions are valid. Sadness, anger and disappointment are not to be denied or pushed away but need to be felt and processed if we are to grow and develop some sense of fulfilment.
  • Engages with new experiences and new ways of thinking without pre-judging them. This existential way of being allows for fear (it’s ok to be afraid) but does not allow for avoidance.  It involves the ability to immerse yourself fully in the moment.
  • Trusts her/his own instincts.
  • Is creative and brings that creativity into all aspects of life – into problem solving, work, parenting and leisure activities.
  • Takes risks and actively seeks new experiences and challenges.

This list is not designed to add more to your list, it is just challenging you to look at your to do list and see how those activities map onto this list and how these principles can be applied to your life.

I’ll be writing in a little more depth about each of these over the coming weeks but, in the meantime, I would love to hear how you have tackled your own challenges with more creativity or with an open mind, how you have accepted and trusted your feelings or what new experiences this fresh new week brought for you.

 

 

Go on, be honest…

Go on be honest
Background image by Gem & Lauris courtesy of Unsplash

How often have you heard someone say “Go on, be honest…” when asking you to comment on how they look or on some aspect of their behaviour?  And how often has your response actually been honest?

Do people really want you to be honest?

The concept of honesty is synonymous with integrity, truthfulness and sincerity, it implies virtuosity and moral strength.  Honesty is clearly a good thing.  So why do we feel the need to avoid being honest?

Because sometimes the truth hurts.  Even when it is delivered with tact and loving kindness, hearing the truth can be a painful experience.  Hearing an unpalatable truth means that we have to make a choice – to change or to stay the same without the safety of delusion.  Few of us would willingly or deliberately hurt our friends and who amongst us would want to be on the receiving end of that pain?

Yet the truth can be incredibly powerful.

One of the core conditions of counselling is congruence – a commitment to being open and honest.  A counsellor works hard to hold a mirror up to a client so that the client can see themselves clearly, as they really are, without distortion.  The rest of the journey involves helping the client to accept themselves fully, flaws and all or to change, to become a better version of themselves – the choice is theirs.

I try to bring this honesty into all of my work, counselling, coaching and facilitating because people come to me hoping to grow.  They have given their consent to my honesty.

In my personal life I try to do the same.  I am honest where there is consent to honesty.  Consent is important.

On my kitchen wall there is a blackboard and on it I have written the following quotation from Gloria Steinem:

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

You can reduce the extent to which you upset someone, or indeed piss them off, by ensuring that you have their consent before you give them difficult feedback.  That classic conversation opener “We need to talk…” strikes fear into most hearts – with good reason.  If you find yourself using it you have probably agonised for days over what you want to say but the person on the receiving end has had no opportunity to prepare.  Don’t expect to get a good response until they have had a chance to reflect.  Give them time to reflect and then pick the conversation up again – brace yourself, there may be some honesty coming back to you.

But let’s go back to the start of that quotation “the truth will set you free”.  That’s a really strong statement but I stand by every word of it.  We are frequently held prisoner by our thoughts, unexpressed emotions leave us feeling powerless and frustrated.

This week I challenge you to think about honesty.

How open are you to hearing the truth about yourself?

Is there something that you really want to say to someone else?  Are you being quiet because you don’t want to hurt someone?  Do your words actually have the potential to help them?

Be kind, but be honest – the two are not incompatible.

 

The Wonderful Importance of Dreaming

The wonderful importance of Dreaming
Image by Matt Sclarandis courtesy of Unsplash

I’m posting a little bit later today as it is a Bank Holiday and you might be having a lie in.  And, because many of you will have a day off today, and the sun might even shine, I want to encourage you to spend a little time dreaming.

It’s really important to dream.

I’m not talking about night dreams, the dreams we have when we are asleep (although they are important too).  Nor am I talking about day dreams, those random wanderings of the mind which tend to occur when we should really be focussing on something else altogether.

The kind of dreams I am talking about might better be described as creative imagining.

The ability to imagine a potential future or to dream up a possible outcome is the first step towards change.  Before we can set goals, before we can put together a plan, long before we take action, we need to dream.

We quite often start the process of change in a negative way, we are motivated to move away from something (or someone) that we don’t like.  We don’t want to be under-valued or unfit or unhappy or unable to pay the bills so we start to make changes to our behaviour without asking ourselves what life will be like when we have made those changes.

Dreaming allows us to consider what we are moving towards, what life could be like if we made the best changes possible.  It takes us away from fire-fighting, from solving every problem as it occurs and into a place where we can consider the bigger picture and the possibility of a more fulfilling future.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech was a rallying cry which brought life to the smaller, everyday changes people were fighting for.

I’m reading a book at the moment called The Feminist Utopia Project.  It contains a series of essays by a truly eclectic selection of women in which they share their thoughts and ideas about what the world might look like if there was true equality, if the world was free of the fear of violence, if the world was indeed Utopian.

These women have been allowed to dream about making the world a better place for women and this gives us all something bigger, more cohesive to aim towards, rather than just away from.  Fighting for equal pay or challenging everyday inequalities are important but the dream of a better future provides the motivation for the inevitable challenges women will face along the way.

You can do the same thing with your own life.

Dreaming is the “What If” of change.  It doesn’t matter how big the change is.  You might not want to change the world but “What If” has the power to transform your life.  What if I could do a job that is truly rewarding?  What if I was in a relationship that felt like a genuine partnership?  What if I lived somewhere where the sun shines every day?

To make real change dreaming is not enough, you will still need to set goals, to work out the small, individual steps and the great leaps into the unknown but that all comes later.

For today, simply allow yourself to dream.

How not to be Perfect

How not to be perfectLast week I wrote about Drivers and most specifically about the “Be Strong” driver.  This week I want to focus on “Be Perfect” because the two often go hand in hand, an inability to ask for help may stem from the fact that to show weakness is to be imperfect.

People with a strong “Be Perfect” driver tend to be driven and critical.  They don’t delegate because no one else will do things as well they do.  They may be competitive, over worked and high achieving yet still dissatisfied with everything they do.  That’s quite a bleak place to be.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my own desire for perfection.  Aspects of it work well for me, I work hard, focus and generally get good results but, these days, I try to stop short of obsessing.

There was a time when I would have been mortified if someone had pointed out a typo or an error in my work.  Now, if I make a mistake, I just rectify it.  The world doesn’t end.

So what changed?  How can we learn to simply be “enough”?

First of all, define “enough” for yourself.  For me it means to do the best I can with the resources I have.  I can accept that my efforts are not and can not be perfect so long as I know I did my best within the constraints of time/energy/cost etc.  Quality is always a negotiation.

Secondly, get some feedback.  Understand that other people don’t always need or appreciate perfection.  They value and engage with “human”.  Your drive to “Be Perfect” might actually get in the way if what they want is speed or economy or spontaneity.  Give yourself some feedback too.  Stop criticising yourself when you don’t achieve perfection, praise yourself for being enough and having energy left for something (or someone) else.

Finally, learn to laugh at yourself.  Stop taking yourself so seriously.  When I was studying for a degree in Psychology, getting high marks, aiming for a First, I was eternally grateful for the one friend who always said “Why?  More than a pass is a waste!”  When he laughed at me I also laughed at myself and, within that laughter, I was able to see myself more clearly.  I still worked hard, still got the grades but didn’t invest all my self-esteem in those results.

Next time you find yourself being overly critical of your own efforts remember the imperfect stitch.  Persian rug makers would always put a deliberate mistake into their rugs as a reminder that they are human and only God is perfect.

If you remain unconvinced consider these words from TH White:

“If people reach perfection they vanish, you know.” (The Once and Future King)

What does being “enough” mean to you?