One danger of not understanding our own feelings is attributing them to others. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common form of projection occurs when an individual, threatened by his own angry feelings, accuses another of harboring hostile thoughts.”
I saw this definition play out at work, yesterday.
My boss, Jan, asked Kathy about a recent sales call. I watched as my colleague’s face turned red. Kathy sputtered, “What do you mean? I just said that…..” Kathy outlined the basic features of our product and ended with “I don’t know! What do you want me to say?”
“No, that sounded good,” Jan replied coolly. Kathy’s eyes narrowed. Did she realize she was scowling? “I don’t know what you expect me to say,” she repeated. Her gestures were sharp, pointed. I had never seen Kathy so angry in a meeting. Jan ignored the episode and continued with her agenda.
Afterwards, Kathy came into my office. “Did you see how angry, Jan was?” I gave a vague, noncommittal answer. Jan had looked annoyed but it was Kathy who had seemed enraged.
In this case, Kathy was “projecting” her own anger onto Jan. Now, instead of understanding her own experience, Kathy has the added difficulty of fighting with her manager.
Emotional Intelligence begins with understanding (and accepting) our own emotions. If we can look honestly at ourselves, we can learn much about our desires, our fears, and our wounds. We may not always like what we see but such self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, and internal peace.