If you've ever lost your composure at work ( and we all have), you know how unsettling it can be! It can be embarrassing and sometimes feels hard to bounce back after.
Can't I just shut my emotions off?
What you may want, and I know this, because I hear it from the majority of my students and clients, is to be able to shut your emotions off at work, or at least keep them under wraps. I, too, so deeply wanted that.
But try as I might to shut it off, tune it out or compartmentalize my emotions; more often than not, they came bubbling up to the surface at the most inopportune times or high jacked me out of nowhere.
Shutting off emotions is impossible
Trying to shut off or tune out our emotions doesn't work. What we need instead is to become emotionally intelligent. You've probably heard about emotional intelligence. But what you may wonder is, what is it? And how do you get it/do it/be it?
We will dive into that in the coming weeks. To start, I want to cover the definitions of some of the terms used when talking about emotional intelligence and why they matter to you and your leadership.
Let's dive in.
The 8 most overlooked definitions in leadership and why they matter
Composed and Composure
When we talk about shutting our emotions off, most of us mean that we want to be composed when engaging in conversations, meetings and our day-to-day work.
You are composed when you are calm and free from agitation.
COMPOSED is an adjective, so you simply are composed.
Vocabulary.com says composure, on the other hand, is a noun, so you can lose, keep, regain, or maintain your composure — your ability to stay calm. If you lose your composure, you're freaking out.
When you stay calm under pressure, you keep your composure.
Staying calm under pressure is almost a daily requirement of leadership.
We are constantly bombarded with expectations, rapid-fire communications from emails to chats, multiple meetings in rapid succession and all of this, short-handed. At the same time, underfunded and, well, as you know, in the nonprofit sector, this list goes on.
COMPOSURE is a self-controlled state of mind
Read that last sentence again...
Composure is a self-controlled state of mind.
Meaning....you can think your way to being composed.
Being self-controlled or having self-restraint is described by the character trait of self-regulation.
If you've completed your VIA Character Assessment, you can look back at it and see where the trait of self-regulation lands for you.
Unfortunately, self-regulation is one of the lowest found traits across the world. So don't feel bad if yours shows up lower as well. That doesn't mean you don't have access to it. It just means you need to work a little harder to be self-regulated.
🚦Think of self-regulation as your inner stoplight.
🔴 Red means stop
Can you see why self-regulation of emotions is important?
It's time to look at emotions
Miriam Webster defines emotion as a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as a strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.
Notice the words mental reaction in that definition. Once again, I want to highlight the thinking part of this definition. You can think your way into different emotions.
There are a ton of other definitions for emotions and explanations of how emotions and feelings differ. Science and psychology continue to evolve on these, and I won't get into it here. But if you are curious, this article is a good starting point to understand the difference between emotions, feelings and moods.
The challenge is that rather than experiencing a single emotion, we feel or are labelled emotional.
Being emotional is when we are dominated by or showing or revealing very strong emotions.
When we are emotional, we often feel and are considered by others to be out of control of our emotions. That's not a very fun feeling!
It's also sadly associated with weakness in the eyes of many.
So what's the answer? It's to become emotionally intelligent.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
When we are emotionally intelligent, we tune in rather than shut off our emotions.
And just because we are experiencing a particular emotion doesn't mean we express it freely. Instead, we use self-regulation to consider if and how we express what we are experiencing.
When we are emotionally intelligent, we learn to distinguish emotions and clarify what emotion we are feeling. So instead of the simple three, happy, sad, mad and glad, we use our emotional literacy to go deeper. For example, emotional literacy allows us to identify feeling overwhelmed, jealous, irritated, or rage.
So what is emotional literacy?
Brene Brown describes emotional literacy as recognizing the emotion we are feeling, naming it, and describing what is happening to us emotionally. Brene says we can't effectively move through an emotional experience without emotional literacy.
As a leader, it's helpful to understand the difference between feeling uneasy about a decision our staff made and frightened about the results of that decision.
▶ One may have us bring it up in next week's conversation.
▶ The other might have us picking up the phone immediately.
This ability to clearly label with clarity what we are feeling is called emotional granularity.
Psychologist Lisa Feldman Barret tells us that emotional granularity is the skill of labelling experience with a high degree of specificity.
If you have "finely tuned feelings," writes psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett you're exhibiting "emotional granularity,"
When you can, with a high degree of specificity and precision, get clear on what you are feeling and then put that into words during a tough conversation, meeting or email, you'll be demonstrating emotional granularity.
Examples of a leader with emotional intelligence
Example # 1
This decision leaves me feeling anxious. I worry that the outcome isn't going to be what we expect. I don't want us all to leave the meeting feeling tense. Let's spend a few more minutes talking about options so we can all leave feeling a little more at ease with the next steps.
Example # 2
I've noticed you've gone from feeling peeved to apathetic. It's not helpful when I have no interest or concern about engaging your team anymore. It's been a tough haul these last few months. But your team needs you. So let's see what we can do to help you feel more hopeful and optimistic about the possibilities of what your team can do.
Let's start with seeing if you can feel more curious. How about I ask you some open-ended questions to get you feeling more thoughtful?
Each of these terms works together
To become composed and keep your composure through stressful times, you'll need to self-regulate your emotions.
You'll become emotionally intelligent when you use your expanding emotional vocabulary (emotional literacy) to describe what you are feeling with increasing specificity - emotional granularity.
See how that all works together? 💁🏼♀️
Tune in over the coming weeks as I dive into each of these a bit further to help you become a more emotionally intelligent leader!
p.s. If you are ready to dive into learning how to increase your emotional intelligence by expanding your emotional literacy, check this out.
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Women leaders often hit a point where they find themselves in over their heads and wondering if they have what it takes to lead.