5 Steps To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence and STOP Wasting Precious Mental Energy
Emotions in leadership - let’s talk about them!
Have you ever thought that as a leader, you can’t be emotional?
Maybe you’ve heard phrases like “leaders don’t cry” or “leaders stay strong.”
Or perhaps you’ve been afraid of being perceived as weak by your team or that showing emotion may lessen your authority.
Personally, before I started working on developing my emotional intelligence as a leader, I’d always seen emotions at work as a bad thing.
I felt like I wasn’t allowed to show emotions or even have them, for that matter!
But here’s the cold hard truth of the matter: pretending you don’t have emotions as a leader doesn’t make them go away.
All it does is increase the likelihood that they’ll show up in unhealthy ways - whether that’s harboring resentment for a team member, shutting down after you’ve been given negative feedback, or even blowing up at yourself or your team for making a mistake.
Simply put, emotional intelligence is a skill ALL leaders must learn to develop.
A lot of the time, when we talk about leadership, we’re talking about modeling behavior.
The reality is - it’s going to be difficult for you to INSPIRE and LEAD if you’re not able to work through your own emotions.
Every single one of us is a work in progress. What’s important is not that you “get it right” 100% of the time, but that you begin to practice paying attention to how you feel, how you’re showing up, and how your emotions are affecting your ability to lead.
We Can’t Escape Our Emotions
Before kicking off my 5-step process to deal with your emotions, I want to share a quote from one of my favorite books No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work.
In it, authors Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy share the following reality check:
“You will always have feelings. So it’s time to learn how to deal with them.”
As a leader, it is YOUR responsibility to model how to deal with your emotions in a healthy way.
We are all human beings. None of us are 100% rational, 100% of the time.
You also won’t be happy 100% of the time, either. Business is a game of ups and downs. The key to success is being able to regulate our emotions during the lows so we can keep climbing to our next success.
So if we can recognize that emotions are a NORMAL part of the human experience, and they WILL show up at work, how can we learn to make the most of them?
Let’s get into my 5-step process for leaders and executives to deal with those more “messy” emotions that may come up at work and in business 👇🏼
Step 1: Label Your Emotions
The very first step to becoming a more emotionally intelligent leader is to get better at labeling your emotions.
There is a whole spectrum of emotions we may be feeling at any given time - and they’re so much more than simply feeling “angry” or “sad.”
When we start to become more nuanced with the type of emotions we’re feeling, it becomes a lot easier to actually work through them.
Before you can work through something, you need first to label it and become AWARE of what you are actually feeling.
You’d be surprised at how many people don’t actually know what they’re feeling, especially those new to emotional intelligence work.
You might think you’re angry when you’re in fact, hurt. You might think you’re annoyed when you’re in fact, just stressed.
When you get clarity on your OWN emotional range, you can also more easily recognize those emotions in other people.
If you want to work with an emotionally intelligent team, you must first become an emotionally intelligent leader.
Step 2: Communicate Your Emotions
Once you’ve labeled your emotions, it’s time to communicate them. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to share them to someone else.
Sometimes all it takes is communicating your emotions to yourself.
Even just saying something to yourself, such as, “You know what? I’m feeling angry right now,” can help you diffuse your challenging emotions.
In some cases, you might actually want to open up and communicate your feelings with someone else. If you feel anger, for example, coming up during an important work convo, you might want to take 5 and say to the other person, “Hey, can we step back from this? I’m starting to feel a bit heated and think I need some space.”
There is NOTHING wrong with admitting this. It’s far better to admit what you’re feeling, communicate it, and ask to revisit the conversation another time.
In conversations with your team, in negotiations, and meetings - you’re trying to create a win-win atmosphere. And if you’re feeling angry or hostile, that is absolutely going to hinder creating that kind of work environment.
Another reason why admitting and communicating our emotions is SO important is because of how much time and mental space they can take up.
Be honest - how many times have you lost an entire afternoon, or even a whole day, ruminating on something?
I know I have!
As leaders and entrepreneurs, we’re constantly on the lookout for ways to maximize our time.
And I know just how painful it can be when a triggering or frustrating situation ends up eating the majority of your day.
By setting aside a chunk of time to process our emotions, we can work through them - and then get on with our day so we can do our best work.
Step 3: Remember - None of Us Are Robots
A line I hear so many leaders say is something along the lines of, “my personal life and professional life are completely separate” or, “I never bring personal stuff into my business,” etc.
And to that, I say - are you sure?
Personally, I don’t believe that, as humans we’re truly able to do that. I don’t think it’s that simple.
We don’t have a “work switch” and a “personal switch” we can turn on and off at any moment.
The reality is, your personal life WILL affect your work life. And vice versa.
In all my years leading teams, I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve seen employees come into the office angry, upset or annoyed - all because of different things going on in their personal lives.
Saying “keep the personal and the professional separate” is one of those things that’s great in theory but doesn’t work quite as well in practice.
Knowing this, we can instead learn to diffuse our emotions and work through things that are affecting us personally so we can continue to do our best work.
Step 4: Accept Your Anxieties
What are some different ways we can learn to diffuse our emotions?
The first helpful reminder is to recognize our brains are wired to worry. In the past, our anxiety kept us safe. So we’re quite literally biologically wired to stay in our comfort zone, and to avoid anything that might be perceived as a threat to our brains.
We spend SO much of our time worrying about things that may never come to fruition.
Sometimes, even just recognizing that stress and anxiety is normal can help us feel a little bit better about the situation.
Step 5: Figure Out The Tools That Work For YOU
For the final step, I want to get into some specific, practical tools you can use to better harness your own emotions.
Set Up Routines and Rituals
I always refer to myself as an eat-first, sleep-first, workout-first leader. This means that I put those three things - eating, sleeping, and working out as my highest priority BEFORE showing up to work.
I know that if I neglect those three needs, I will be cranky, sleep-deprived, stressed - the list goes on. And there’s no way I can possibly lead or run a business from that space.
Often, our emotions can simply be a result of not getting our basic needs met.
If you find yourself snapping - ask yourself, have you eaten recently?
If you feel a lot of pent-up frustration and energy - have you taken a walk or gone on a run to blow off steam?
Feeling foggy, unable to focus? Make sure you’re getting a full eight hours of sleep.
It may seem basic, but you’d be surprised how many people neglect themselves in favor of prioritizing work.
Block off time in your schedule/calendar for self-care routines and rituals - whether it’s on a daily basis, weekly or monthly basis.
Journaling allows us to slow down, get clarity, and process our emotions in a whole new way. Often, when I find myself ruminating, I like to pull out pen and paper. I ask myself questions like, “What triggered this? Where is this coming from? Was it a specific action? Did my feelings lead to certain reactions?”. After just 5-10 minutes of writing, I usually always leave with a calmer, clearer mind.
Ask For Space
This one is going to be very personal and unique to your situation. It will depend on the workplace culture you’re trying to build and what you feel comfortable with. But learning how to ask for space when you need it can be an effective way to diffuse your emotions at work.
This might look like setting boundaries with certain people, taking a breather on a project, or putting a pause on an intense conversation. Whatever YOU need to emotionally regulate in any given moment.
Practice Meditation & Visualization
I’m sure you’ve heard non-stop about the benefits of meditation for leaders - increased focus and productivity, better mood, sleep, higher emotional intelligence….the list goes on.
But I also know that for many, it can be overwhelming to sit in silence with your thoughts swirling around.
For me, I prefer to use visualization to work through my emotions. This is especially important for leaders who are sensitive to other people’s energies.
As leaders, we’re the ones who call the shots. And a lot of the time, people will not always be 100% happy with the decisions you make.
And while sometimes, you can take people’s negative feedback into consideration, other times, you will have to diffuse that energy.
My tool of choice for doing so is visualization. These exercises help to get you out of your head, remove yourself, and cut the ‘energetic cord’ so to speak.
While we often talk about the importance of forgiving others (and you can find a million meditations and guides to do so) it's equally important to practice forgiving yourself.
As ambitious leaders, we often get SO tied to hitting a goal or milestone. And when we don’t hit it, we can hold a major grudge against ourselves. Whether you need to scream into your pillow to let go of your anger or write a note to yourself to say you forgive yourself, find strategies to practice self-compassion when things don’t go your way.
Use Frequencies & Music
If you’re open to solutions that are a bit more alternative in nature, you might want to try using frequencies to shift your emotions. There are a variety of apps out there that can help you to work through some of those negative emotions and intercept some of those negative frequencies that may be bringing you down. You can use this playlist on Insight Timer to access different frequencies.
Music can also be an immediate mood booster. But before you try too hard to get out of your bad mood, make sure that you’ve given yourself time to understand it and process it.
Try Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
EFT is a method that hits on pressure points in your body in order to release certain emotions and tensions. It allows you to let go of pent-up emotions and energies in your body so you can move into a higher vibrational state.
Use Quotes, Affirmations, and Prayer
Finally, using quotes, affirmations and prayer is a fantastic way to work through your emotions, center yourself, and return back to the present moment so you can get back to work.
Remember: if you want to show up as your best self, you need to take care of yourself and learn about yourself. By using these tips to regulate your emotions, you’ll be able to bring your best self to work every day - and inspire your team members to do the same.
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