In 2015 I was part of a massive layoff at my former company and if you’ve ever been through a layoff you know how emotional it can be. This layoff was my first and it devastated me. The layoffs were part of a ‘restructuring’ that the company was going through and even though I wasn’t laid off because of my performance, I felt like I was worthless. To give you some context, here is an entry from my journal on 7/15/2015, the day that I found out I was laid off.
“Just got fired. What the […].”
…and then the day after:
“I don’t feel like doing […]. I don’t even feel like making this journal entry. What do […] and […] expect my reaction to be? I don’t want to walk around and be in meetings with a pissed off face but I can’t stop myself. I was definitely giving […] and […] the demon eyes in an unrelated meeting this morning. I mean, what the […], how am I supposed to act. I can’t be […] and just be excited about losing my job. Every single thing pisses me off right now. I’m so […] mad that I am afraid that I might lash out. I don’t want that brand. […] What a […] […]. I feel just […] on. […] horrible. I can’t curse enough to make it better.”
As I read this back to myself it’s clear that I had little control over how my emotions impacted my behavior. In my own words I was walking around with a “pissed off face” and even giving my managers “demon eyes” during a meeting. My emotions were so strong that I wasn’t even sure that I could control my own behavior. It’s a little scary actually and definitely shows my lack of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your emotions, understand how they are affecting your behavior, and prevent them from influencing you.
In my last post, Delayed Gratification, I talked briefly about Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test. In his book he describes a concept called executive function. Executive function is the cognitive skill that lets us “exert deliberate, conscious control of thoughts, impulses, actions, and emotions.” In other words, emotional intelligence.
In order to increase your emotional intelligence you need to recognized your emotions. Really strong emotions give me a physical sensation that’s like a pit in my stomach and fire through my muscles. You might have a similar sensation or something completely different. My guess is if you pay attention you know what that feeling is when you’re about to experience strong emotions.
You’ve probably heard me talk about awareness before and how important it is in personal development. You have no chance of increasing your emotional intelligence without first recognizing, or being aware of, your emotions.
I know that when I’m overwhelmed by strong emotions it’s time for me to think about step two and how my emotions could affect my behavior.
Second: Affect on Behavior
You’ve probably heard the phrase “blinded by your emotions” before. Emotions have the ability to blind you to your actions.
Now that you’ve recognized your emotions in step one, you can work to identify how they affect your behavior. In my example, my emotions caused me to walk around with a “pissed off face” and give “demon eyes” to my managers. They took over my facial expressions and I feared that they may impact more than that. It was possible that they could have caused me to disparage those around me or worse. Thankfully none of that happened but it was a possibility based on how much control I allowed my emotions to have.
Third: Behavior Modification
The third and final step to emotional intelligence is the most important. This is the step where you change your behavior by demonstrating self-control.
This step is easiest to do in hindsight by reflecting on a situation, like the one I shared above. You can think back on a time and recognize what your emotions where then and how they affected your behavior. Then make a plan for how you would change your behavior should a situation like that come up again.
Thankfully in my example I don’t have to rely on my memory, I can just read my entry from that time period and get a fairly clear picture of what I was feeling at the time. When I get in a situation like that again I know that it’s prime territory for me to let my emotions influence my behavior in a negative, even embarrassing way. The next time this happens I’ll be prepared for it.
True emotional intelligence though is the ability to recognize your emotions, how they impact your behavior, and modify your behavior in the moment. It’s the most difficult because, as we discussed, emotions can blind you.
Why is it important?
Emotionally intelligent people maintain control over their actions regardless of their emotions. It’s unlikely you will find happy, successful people that don’t exude liberal amounts of emotional intelligence.
I think it’s important to point out that emotional intelligence is NOT controlling your emotions. I don’t recommend that you try to inhibit what you feel. What I am saying it that you should be in control of your behavior regardless of what you feel.
A couple weeks ago my current employer laid off about 5% of the staff. This time it’s a bit different because I’m not one of the employees laid off. However, some of those same negative feelings still came to the surface. My previous experience helps me understand how those negative feelings could affect my behavior and reminds me that I have control over my behavior.
Is there a time when your emotions got the best of you? How did you learn from that?