Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Secret of Successful Communicating: Emotional Awareness.

I keep noticing that the success of my daily interactions depends on my own clarity and inner honesty. If I'm upset or scared, this will come through in my nonverbals, no matter how hard I try to avoid this.

Here are two recent examples. A new roommate moved into my office space. Some of her coworkers started to visit and talk loudly in our tiny shared office as I tried to work. What to do? At home, I rehearsed carefully worded “I” statements. It was my problem; I was the one who found it difficult to work with nearby conversations. Still, I worried that my coworkers would be angry if I made any requests regarding sound.

As I sat with the issue, I realized that the context of this interaction was also key. I had barely given my roommate a chance to settle in and I was ready to ask for more quiet. As I explored my feelings, I realized that my intuition (that the conversation could be unproductive) was warning me.

No matter how perfectly I communicated with my coworkers, I doubt it would have gone well because of the fear and anger hidden in my own psyche. After examining my feelings, I began to see that it was my inner-pessimist that was afraid and upset (“My quiet workplace-ruined forever!”). Once I admitted these deeper feelings, I recognized that my desire to jump in quickly with “assertive” communication was really an unconscious desire to control the new situation. If I tried to talk with my coworkers without understanding these feelings, they would come through. My colleagues would probably sense my fears and anger.

Emotional awareness is vital in these everyday dilemmas. If I am conscious enough of my feelings, I can admit them (“I'm feeling afraid that my quiet workplace…”). This “I” statement is more likely to work, since I'm “owning” my feelings and not unconsciously “throwing” them at my colleagues. Without emotional awareness, I'd be unable to do this. My coworkers would be right to be offended: I would have acted on my feelings without even knowing if they were justified.

After discovering my deeper reactions, I immediately felt better. I also knew that any conversation would now be much more successful. My willingness to handle the uncertainty of the situation took the pressure off myself (and my co-workers).

Postscript: within a short time, I adjusted to my terrific, new officemate. If my work required extra quiet, I used a pair of earplugs.

Another example:
My husband and I enjoy traveling and spending time with my parents. But when they recently talked about joining us on a cruise together, I felt strangely uncomfortable. Why? As I quizzed myself, I realized I was worried about my father's fragile health. Was he really able to handle a cruise? What if something happened to him while in my care? I was worried about my Dad but also forced to admit my more selfish concerns. Would our dream vacation become mired in taking care of a sick parent?

I didn't like seeing my own selfishness, but it was important to acknowledge. I could then make a choice. I wanted a carefree vacation but I also love my parents. I knew I'd be happy to support their choice in joining us on a cruise.

Unlike my earlier example, in this case I concluded that I needed to share my concerns with my mother. Was this really a good trip for Dad? My new clarity meant that our conversation wouldn't be confused by my own inner contradictions. Before my awareness, my concerns may have merged with my more selfish fears. Now I knew my own inner truth: I was concerned and also ready to support their voyage, if they chose to go.

The only way for me to act with integrity is if I know the deepest dimensions of my reactions. Armed with this knowledge, I have the best chance of not sending a mixed message to others. Mixed messages cause stress for the receiving party. This is why a mixed message (I am trying hard not to be angry with you but am actually very angry with you) often results in conflict.

I first must communicate with myself before I can communicate with another.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Monday, June 29, 2009

EI and the Inspiring Leader

"Executives who fail to develop self-awareness risk falling into
An emotionally deadening routine that threatens their true selves.
Indeed a reluctance to explore your inner landscape not only
weakens your own motivation but can also corrode your ability
to inspire others.“

The Harvard Business Review

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Testing College Students for Personality

Here's another sign that business and education are recognizing the vital role of EQ.

Because nearly half of all students who start doctorate programs don't finish,
educators have long wondered how best to judge applicants to graduate schools
and reduce that attrition rate.Now, the Educational Testing Service says it has
just the thing. The ETS, which runs the Graduate Record Examinations, will soon
offer a supplemental assessment of graduate-school applicants on those personal
characteristics that could help students tackle advanced studies.

The main GRE, a widely used, four-hour exam of multiple-choice questions and essays, tests academic skills and is a valuable admissions tool, but it is not enough,
said Patrick Kyllonen, an ETS research official who helped develop the new
personality rating tool, called the Personal Potential Index."Every faculty
member can tell you about students with very high GRE scores who never finish
their degree and some who get barely admitted based on their scores and go on to
become academic stars," he said from ETS headquarters in Princeton, N.J. "We are
hoping this will go a long way to capture some of those qualities."

Entire article is here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Maintaining Forward Motion in a Challenging Project

If you’ve read any biographies of writers, you know that most talk of their commitment to writing everyday. This is their most vital creative discipline. I’ve recently discovered (the hard way) why professional writers’ everywhere commit to this challenge.

I had been moving forward on a few ambitious writing projects. Then, as I became busier with training events, seminar preparation claimed my writing time. I wasn’t worried. I would begin again when my schedule allowed.

Big mistake. As I’ve tried to re-enter the creative stream, I find that my thoughts (and some papers) are hidden from me. I sense that it will take some time to re-discover the unique path I was exploring.

How does this relate to the workplace?

I talk in my Time Management seminars about “flow” and the need to allow ourselves time to get deeply into a project, without being constantly interrupted. I’m pretty good at blocking out distractions in a single day but I’m reminded that maintaining creative flow may require staying connected to a project. Even if I only have brief segments of time to spare, I can ensure higher levels of productivity and creativity, if I revisit my writing endeavor daily.

Do you have highly challenging projects that would benefit from daily review? © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Emotional Literacy

"Our aim is to create an Emotionally Literate Culture, where the facility to
handle the complexities of emotional life is as widespread as the capacity to
read, write and do arithmetic."

Susie Orbach

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Basic Goodness Wins Out

An unhappy worker, Becky, comes late, leaves early, takes long lunches and disappears throughout the day. She says projects are completed but the paperwork cannot be found. The rest of the team is enraged but their supervisor is terrified of the union and does nothing. Becky is making more money than many of her colleagues but she is now calling in sick with mind-boggling excuses day after day. Week after week, co-workers gossip and fume. How long can this outrageous situation continue?

Then suddenly, Becky gives notice. Why?

Becky’s story is a great illustration of employee motivators illustrated through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (3 top levels). Becky wasn’t getting her social/belonging needs met at work since she had become the office pariah. Dodging work couldn’t have helped her self-esteem or her need for self-actualization.

It was amazing to witness Becky give up the Golden Goose. Although she was getting away with not doing any work while making good money at a stable institution, Becky’s basic goodness prevented her from staying in a job she hated.

Have you seen similar events at your workplace?
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Helpful vs. Less Helpful Employee Motivators

At a recent networking event, I was sharing information on my training events and some research on employee motivation hurt by certain reward structures. I didn’t realize that a women in our circle was in charge of employee perks in the workplace—picnics, company store, etc.. She began to worry out loud about the effect of her programs on her employees.

I reassured her. From what I’ve learned, it is great for employers to offer rewards, perks, incentives etc., to show appreciation. When rewards are directly tied to performance (i.e.bonuses), this is where productivity can (ironically) suffer (read “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn for more). My colleague’s work offered the best kind of recognition--that which honors the worker themselves. Recognizing an employee’s worth to an organization is always a good thing. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Research on Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

This is a bit technical but even reading the abstract is reassuring--the empirical evidence is showing that EI training can make a big difference in workplace skills.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Listen to Your Thoughts

Our enjoyment of daily life, our ability to handle setbacks, even our physical health is profoundly impacted by our thoughts. Have you listened to your own internal self-talk lately? Does your internal voice speak in absolutes or doomsday warnings? Changing our thoughts can change our enjoyment of life and our productivity on the job.

Watch out for and alter extreme statements.
Instead of "I can't control my worry" remind yourself that "I am learning skills to conquer my worry."
"Why do I always mess up my presentations at work?" becomes "I sometimes make mistakes, but not all of the time."
The statement: "I shouldn't feel angry at Bob" becomes "It’s uncomfortable to be angry at Bob, but it's not the end of the world.”

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Two Parts Optimism+One Part Pessimism=A Hard Working Worrier

Have you heard the old maxim: The best way to learn material is to teach it? One great benefit of teaching is that I constantly improve my own “soft” skills as I share basic principals and proven techniques with my classes. Recently, I had a small epiphany as I reviewed my materials for an optimism workshop.

Research by Dr. Martin Seligman has identified 3 types of thought patterns of optimists and pessimists. Optimists see failures as:
1. temporary,
2. isolated events,
3. that they can change through effort.

A pessimist sees the opposite: successes are viewed as temporary, isolated, and lucky (i.e. not related to their effort).

A pessimist sees failures or setbacks as:
1. Permanent (will never end)
2. Pervasive (always happening)
3. Unrelated to any effort exerted.

I’ve always seen myself as exceedingly optimistic. But this morning, as I practiced some of the exercises I would give my participants, I was surprised to find that only some of my thinking is optimistic.

When I lost a job several years ago, I plunged into a job search with zeal and excitement. I have always had an extremely high “locus of control,” i.e. I see my efforts as directly impacting my success. I work hard and expect good things to happen. That’s the “utilizes effort” element of optimistic thought patterns ( #3). But sometimes when things go wrong (as happened several weeks ago when someone hacked into my website), I can plunge myself into doomsday feelings of “this will never get fixed,” a negative thought pattern favored by pessimists (#1 above).

I’m happy to see that I have an optimistic viewpoint for 2 of the 3 elements Seligman describes. But while my belief in my own efforts keeps me moving forward, my fear-based thoughts (of never-ending catastrophes) often cause me harmful anxiety.

What is your unique blend of pessimism vs. optimism?
Do you see setbacks as temporary or permanent?
Do you see obstacles as isolated events or as the standard, (pervasive) state of your life?
Do you see success as a lucky break or as the result of effort?

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Building Empathy through Signage?

Very interesting slide show on "Emotionally Intelligent Signage." The discussion begins at 2:18 minutes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

To Avoid Embarrassment--Take Plato's Advice--Know Thyself

This cringe-inducing episode of the X Factor features a "holistic vocal coach" who needs some emotional intelligence training. When we understand our emotions we are more likely to know our blindspots and to understand others too.