English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It may be cliché but the saying that “attitude is contagious” is true. How you, your team, or your leader shows up is everything—inspiring or depressing, happy or sad, tense or terse. Managing emotions and applying them to the right situation is critical to expression, communication, and mission success.
Navigating relationships is a necessity everywhere in life as divergent interests and scarce resources are always at play, and it requires strong situational awareness to know when to zig instead of zag depending on the personalities you’re dealing with.
To navigate the chaos of communication and relationships requires emotional agility , or the ability to apply the right emotion to the right person in the right situation at the right time. Here’s how:Understand the situation. Context is everything. To be situationally aware is to interpret the inter- and intra-personal emotions within a group and to integrate your understanding of both with any previously held schemas so as to anticipate the situation’s outcome. Four questions to consider in developing your situational awareness are:
- Who is involved? Why?
- What is the activity or situation? Why?
- When does the activity take place? Why?
- Where will the activity occur? Why?
Empathize with others. You probably never thought you’d be reading an article on emotions written by a former Navy SEAL , but the truth is, mission success often depended on the strength of relationships we had with our governmental and civilian counterparts. More so, nobody likes working with people who don’t understand him or her. To be empathetic is to understand the other person’s issue from his or her perspective; it does not mean just being “nice” and is not synonymous with “sympathy.” Being nice is just that—a state of solitary being—as derived from one’s own individual state, and has nothing to do with understanding the other person. Sympathy puts the other person’s feelings first but can come across ambiguously at times.
Here’s an easy way to tell the difference between empathy and sympathy : Empathy begins with “you” statements and reflect the other person’s viewpoint, whereas sympathy begins with “I” or “my” statements and project one’s own perspective. If you want to maximize your emotional agility agility, let the other person know you understand by focusing on them.
Interpret your emotions. The difference between memorable leaders and forgettable leaders is self-awareness. Self-awareness is what allows you to take your own emotional temperature and see what is too much or not enough and make adjustments. Without self-awareness, there is no emotional throttle control and the propensity for poor behavior or misconduct just increases. Of course, there is a right way and a wrong way to express oneself. Throwing a temper tantrum in public only makes people want to work against you rather than with you. To test the waters and see how hot or cold you’re running, try this:
- Every day for the next next week, write down the strongest emotion you felt for that day along with how your physiology changed (i.e. increased heart rate, shallow breathing, sweaty palms?). Include any follow-on thoughts that transpired afterward. Next, identify the source that caused that feeling and ask yourself why? Why did [the stimulus] cause you to feel the way you did? Keep asking yourself why over and over until the feeling has subsided. Playing the “why game” of emotion forces your brain to search for reason and subdue the peril of emotionally based decisions.
Jeff is a personal coach, CrossLeader at the McChrystal Group, board member of SEAL Future Fund, and author of the forthcoming Navigating Chaos: How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations