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Everyone is talking about emotional intelligence, but why do I react the way I do?

As a leader in multiple organizations I've watched emotional intelligence become a bit of a trend. But outside of the five characteristics of EQ that are taught on, I've got one simple question.

Why do I react the way I do? It seems like it would help, if I knew that.

It's one thing to say slow down, think before you respond, but it can be almost impossible if you don't know why you react the way you do. A reaction is typically done almost immediately. So, to slow down, think for a moment, and then respond, may sound easy- but for most folks it's not.

So how do you do it, then? How do you change?

Before I get into that, I want to take you back into a story.

There once was a girl, let's call her Claire. Growing up, in her household, knowledge was greatly valued. There were stacks of National Geographics everywhere, and a room that held two sets of encyclopedias. (Ok, yes- this is before the internet). One day, something happens to her. She comes to the wrong conclusion. The response to her mistake, is laughter by a fellow family member. She inevitably feels silly for not knowing the answer. She's determined to not feel that again.

Fast forward to Claire's adult life. She's now working for a successful company as a leader. The commitment to not feel silly- is still there in her adult life. It's not something she thinks about, but she does see a pattern at work. She seems to stress over preparing for meetings, pre-planning all the potential questions that could be asked. She prepares answers for each. Each meeting is no longer just a meeting- but a project to prepare for. And when she doesn't have the answer in the meeting, she feels shame, she feels silly.

That shame lingers a bit throughout the day. She snaps at a couple co-workers, and she doesn't know why.

Sounds exhausting, right? It is. But it doesn't need to be.

After spending years leading groups work through their stories- and getting to the bottom of "Why do I act the way I do?". I've learned something. Many folks don't realize that the when we're young - we make lots of commitments to not feel something that was negative in our life again. So we try to control our environments so that possibility is minimized. The thing is - we don't have to continue in this pattern.

  1. The first step to undoing this - is to understand why it started in the first place.

  2. Then, try to imagine what you wish it looked like instead.

Maybe for Claire, she wishes she didn't have to have all of the answers and wishes she wouldn't feel shame. So she begins practicing by not preparing in the same way for meetings. She practices saying, "I'll need to get back to you on that". She reaches out to co-workers when she doesn't have the answers, for help. Slowly over time this practice creates a new default reaction, one not based on a prior shame. And Claire becomes a better team member.

Healthy leadership is leadership that leverages emotional intelligence. When a fellow team member snaps- ask, "What happened, and can I help?" As leaders so often we're focused on the KPIs, the goals, that we don't leave a lot of time for compassion- for ourselves or others. If we truly want to change - and gain higher levels of EQ, then emotional work is needed.

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