6 Strategies for Mastering Healthy Conflict

When you think about conflict at work, you might remember an antagonizing boss, petty office politics, and the know-it-all who talks over people. But, if you’re the kind of person who avoids stirring things up and shies away from conflict, we have some bad news for you. You may actually be just as harmful because your avoidance also prevents healthy conflict.

Healthy conflicts, according to a Myers-Briggs Company survey, improve working relationships, increase motivation, and can even trigger major innovations. Though they are uncomfortable, healthy conflicts are the lifeblood of keeping the workplace authentic and human.

In the process of dodging conflict, “nice people” often bottle up their emotions and develop grudges. Ironically, it’s often these same “nice people” who then resort to passive aggressive tactics or lash out when their negative emotions boil over. In the grand scheme of things, it’s sharing your perspective, asserting yourself, and offering constructive feedback that make you nice. Healthy conflict is a form of self-care, and on the group level, it promotes harmony, solutions, and new ideas. Here are six strategies to help you hone your approach to healthy conflict.

Use “and” to make your points, not “but.” One way to engage in a healthy conflict is to make your response an addition instead of a detraction. For example, you might say, “That’s an interesting idea to offer this content in a webinar, and I wonder how we can prevent people from using the rich information we provide in the webinar to avoid subscribing to our membership program.” By using the word “and,” you encourage problem-solving and support the idea offered. By using the word “but” in the same situation, you may come off sounding like you’re trying to poke holes or derail the original idea.

Ask for an explanation. One common instigator of unhealthy conflict is when someone states a new idea as a command without explaining their decision. When this happens, it’s easy to move into hypotheticals and brew on hidden agendas or grudges that don’t actually exist. Instead of brewing, get your clarity by asking questions. Ask what the goal is and why they’re approaching it that way. The added bonus to this approach is that if the stated idea wasn’t well thought out, your questioning may expose holes in their idea and give them an opportunity to pull back and adjust.  

Show some vulnerability. When something doesn’t sound quite right to you, admit that you don’t understand. This encourages an explanation without coming across as an attack. It can also be a good way to find common ground you didn’t realize you had. You may find, for example, that the argument is over the execution, not the desired outcome.

Ask for a potential solution. When you present an idea of your own and someone pushes back, ask for an example. For instance, you might say, “I hear what you’re saying about a November 1st launch date being a potential problem—it is just around the corner. How might we work through that?” This directs the person’s challenge to a more constructive, collaborative place.

Question the impact. “If we try launching pilot versions sooner, then how might that impact our back-and-forths with the content writers and designers?” This is a way of taking something hypothetical and trying to make it more real and more concrete.

Reach an agreement to collaborate. If you find yourself in a detailed conflict with someone, set up a meeting to work through the problem or project one-on-one. Get as specific as possible. Agree to an actual process for how you want to find facts and work through them. Decide together how you want to gather information, analyze it, and reach a decision.

From Insights to Action. Overcoming the discomfort of conflict is a matter of habit. Each time you choose not to engage in a conflict, you get a bit more used to avoiding that discomfort. Having this set of strategies in your back pocket will help you break that habit and assert yourself in a constructive way.  You’ll soon` discover a little discomfort is just part of mastering healthy conflict.

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at https://www.talentsmart.com/contact-us/.

Why You Need Emotional Agility to Succeed

How does a salesperson successfully close on the biggest opportunity of her career? What makes an executive leader resilient in the face of massive organizational change? And what makes an insecure new leader rise to the occasion? More often than not, the answer boils down to the way that person navigates and manages their emotions. The salesperson doesn’t let her anxiety take over, but she does lean into her adrenaline to move past barriers and ensure she tries to close. The resilient executive leader devotes extra time to stress management and reminds herself of all the preparation she’s done for these types of moments. The new leader defeats his insecurities by breaking down his job into smaller, achievable pieces.

Each of these people demonstrates a high degree of emotional agility. Emotional agility is the ability to manage your emotions and thoughts in a way that makes you more effective at what you’re doing. In studies across organizations and industries, emotional agility has been shown to reduce stress, increase confidence and resilience, and help people build relationships. According to researcher and author of the 2016 book Emotional Agility, Dr. Susan David, the key to developing emotional agilityis to follow four practices in your thoughts and emotions: 1) recognize your patterns, 2) label your thoughts and emotions, 3) accept your emotions, and 4) act on your values.

To bring each of these practices to life, we’ll follow Shelly who just landed her dream job as a Director of Marketing for an animal shelter. She’s on her first big project, trying to put together a rollout plan across platforms for the entirety of their social media. She knows she should be more focused and motivated than ever, but for some reason, she can’t stop falling into internet holes. What can she do to turn this behavior around?  

1. Recognize Your Patterns. To change a habit, you first need to recognize it. The best starting point is usually the most obvious sign—your behavior. In the case of Shelly, she recognizes that something’s wrong and spots her pattern in behavior quickly: She’s not getting any work done. As soon as she asks herself what’s getting in the way, she immediately knows she is succumbing to distractions.

2. Label Your Thoughts and Emotions. Now that Shelly knows what is getting in the way of her work, the question becomes why. To think about the “why,” she follows a chain of emotions asking herself why along the way. She knows, for example, that she feels anxious, flustered, and guilty as she scans the internet. Why? Because she’s anxious about her new job and this immediate new, big task. But why is she nervous? After all, she ran much of the social media at her previous job. She’s nervous she will fail and lose her dream job. Even more specifically, she realizes that she suffers from a kind of imposter syndrome where she can’t stop imagining her worst-case scenario. Shelly was able to reach this internal kernel of truth by getting as specific as possible with her emotions. When Shelly said she was “anxious” or “nervous,” this got her moving in the right direction, but it was when she arrived at the source of her anxiety that she began to see the bigger pattern. To get yourself moving in a more specific direction with your emotions, check out this comprehensive emotions list, which actually includes words for emotions that only exist in other languages like “toska,” a vague sense of restlessness, “abbiocco,” a sleepy feeling after a big meal, and “umpty,” a feeling of everything being too much and all in the wrong way.  

3. Accept Your Emotions. Once you’re successfully able to label your emotions, it’s important to actually accept them for what they are. Don’t judge them as good or bad. In Shelly’s case, her anxiety won’t magically disappear by recognizing that she’s afraid to fail. However, her acceptance may give her the sense of calm to stop ruminating on hypothetical failure and focus on the task at hand. After all, some degree of failure is inevitable, and she can only control her effort. This might be a good moment to talk with her supervisor about her insight and plan going forward. That supervisor will appreciate Shelly’s growth and may offer her reassurance about making mistakes, which will offer Shelly an additional source of calm.

4. Act on Your Values, Not Your Thoughts. Values give you a sense of distance from your negative emotions by offering a bigger picture perspective. They can also serve as a “rupture point” from cyclic, negative thinking. Shelly, for example, reminded herself that the Marketing Director job for an animal rescue was her dream job because she’d always felt highly connected to animals since at the age of seven when her family adopted a dog. She derived a lot of energy from this value-based thought. Instead of running to the internet, or obsessively thinking about ways she might fail, she focused on making a difference by spreading the word that there were animals who needed homes and seven-year-old girls whose lives would change in the process. She even developed a mantra for when she doubted her own abilities. “You can make a big difference,” she told herself.

From Insights to Action. We have such a constant stream of thoughts in our daily life that we frequently don’t realize the extent to which these thoughts dictate our attitude, actions, and even our outlook. We think of our thoughts as something that “just happens” or are “naturally a part of us.” To be agile with our emotions and thoughts, we have to recognize that our thoughts are under our control. And to get that control, we just need to begin to listen more closely, break them down, and understand them better. For further help with these emotional agility practices, check out these Self-Awareness Strategies in TalentSmart’s Emotional Intelligence 2.0:

  1. Quit Treating Your Feelings as Good or Bad (page 64),
  2. Observe the Ripple Effect of Your Emotions (page 66),
  3. Watch Yourself Like a Hawk (page 75),
  4. Stop and Ask Yourself Why You Do the Things You Do (page 84)
  5. Visit Your Values (page 86)

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at https://www.talentsmart.com/contact-us/.

7 Strategies That High EQ Leaders Use

In early March, Wilma was promoted to a sales management position. Although she was experienced at the organization and knowledgeable of their selling strategy, she was entirely new to leading people.

When the pandemic shut their office down a week later, she was thrust into a tumultuous state of change as a new leader. Her company’s goals changed overnight, and the organization’s expectations of her team seemed to shift weekly. Her team sailed rapidly into uncharted territories, and for the first time in her life, Wilma was the one at the helm. To add to this, she was stressed and anxious in her personal life, trying to balance her changing family life (her kids schooling remotely too) with her new work responsibilities.

You might think Wilma succumbed to all this change and stress, but she managed to succeed as a new leader because she leveraged the emotional intelligence (EQ) skills she’d developed over her years in sales. Following Wilma’s immersion into leadership, we can take away seven key EQ strategies for leaders navigating rapid change.

Prioritize self-care. When faced with a set of challenges as extensive and sudden as Wilma’s, many leaders attempt to play “team superhero” and fix everything at once, alone. What they really do is drive themselves into exhaustion and create a tense atmosphere for their team. Wilma knew the value of long-term perspective during high stress times. When she felt her stress surge, she reminded herself that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and that her team’s success wouldn’t be built in a day either. To succeed long-term, she had to take care of herself day-by-day and hour-by-hour. She got extra vigilant about her sleep, caffeine intake, exercise, and diet. She also practiced a more rigid work-life balance, giving herself ample “unplugged” hours each day to recharge and reset.

Foster a positive environment. When a leader takes control of their own stress and negative emotions the way Wilma did, they positively impact their whole team. Studies show that the emotions of a leader are especially contagious to their teams, for better and worse. Leaders like Wilma who show up to work upbeat and optimistic cause their entire team to see things in a more optimistic light. This increased positivity leads to increased creativity, better decision-making, and even boosts sales. Without realizing it, Wilma was looking after the well-being and performance of her entire team just by practicing self-care and bringing her best possible self to work each day.

Navigate tough conversations. One of the first things Wilma learned about leading people was that it entailed a constant stream of difficult, high-impact conversations. In March alone, she had to check in on a team member struggling with the shift to remote work, make pay cuts to salaries across the team, and even place one team member on furlough. Each of these difficult conversations required a high degree of empathy, active listening skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. For instance, when she checked in on her struggling teammate, she noticed the changes in his behavior, approached the conversation carefully and at the right time, and was willing to be vulnerable by sharing her own struggles to make him more comfortable.

Exercise humility. When the team needed help strategizing for a healthcare specific client pitch, Wilma knew she lacked experience in healthcare. Instead of insisting she take the lead as manager, she acknowledged the gap in her knowledge and pulled up the most healthcare experienced salesperson, Marcus, to take the lead. She also asked Marcus to coach both herself and their teammate to encourage spread of knowledge.

Be approachable. Wilma kept a virtual open-door policy, holding office hours on her Zoom account once a week where team members could drop in and ask her questions or chat. During team meetings, she encouraged anyone who constructively criticized, offered a differing opinion, challenged someone’s idea, or asked questions of any kind. Her approachability also equated to increased comfort, flow of ideas, and overall fun. People interacted loosely and lightly on her team.

Practice accountability. On the one hand, Wilma held herself accountable for her team and shielded them from higher-ups when mistakes were inevitably made. On the other hand, she also held team members accountable for their own work, trusting them to make decisions for theirself. This made her team quicker and more nimble.

Respond, don’t react. The ability to monitor your emotional reactions in the moment and avoid regrettable or impulsive behaviors is one of the core tenants of EQ. When Wilma’s team members let her down or said something that triggered her, she was careful to avoid reacting in the moment out of frustration, anxiety, or fear. Instead, she took her time in her responses. She slept on big decisions and ran important emails by other managers at her organization.

From Insights to Action. The great thing about the above strategies is that anyone can apply them to grow their emotional intelligence and positively impact the people around them—not just leaders.

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit https://www.talentsmart.com/contact-us/.

The Secret to Team Performance (And 5 Strategies to Achieve it Virtually)

When Google HR hired a group of psychologists and sociologists to look for patterns in their highest performing teams, they thought team success had something to do with the mixture of personalities, backgrounds, and motivations within the team. After almost 200 team interviews, they still hadn’t found any discernable patterns to confirm their theory. Instead, they found that successful teams all shared one thing in common: a high degree of psychological safety.

Psychological safety is a sense of trust teams establish where people do not feel insecure or embarrassed by the possibility of failure. Studies show that on teams where people feel psychologically safe, people are more willing to share their perspective, take calculated risks, ask questions, admit mistakes, make jokes, challenge each other, and learn from one another.

Of course, developing this degree of trust within a team takes effort. With teams switching to virtual work, the effort to establish trust narrows to time spent on video calls, which can feel more convoluted and distant. To help get your virtual team moving in the right direction, we’ve compiled five concrete ways to build psychological safety in virtual meetings.

Recreate team chatter. Chatting around the table or in the hallway before a meeting doesn’t just pass the time as the group files in. Chatter actually quiets stress in the brain, relaxes people, and builds their courage to share later on during the meeting. To recapture your team’s lost chatter, manufacture it. Kick off meetings by having each person share something unrelated to work. Host a virtual happy hour or online game night. Close meetings by sharing weekend plans. The idea is to build group comfort and get people talking freely and just for fun. Then, when the discussion turns from light to consequential, people are already feeling more comfortable and therefore poised to contribute.

Break out in small groups. Who is quick to speak out among the 32 faces across two screens? No one, usually.People feel safer in small groups, and when people feel safe, they are more likely to open up. And this opening up in small groups actually translates back to the big group. When people report out to the big group, they tend to stand firmer with what they discussed in their breakout. That’s partially because the representative wants to stay true to their discussion group, and it’s also because they feel more supported by the group than they would feel speaking on their own behalf. Breakouts also prevent social loafing in bigger team meetings where many people feel that their individual contributions “aren’t worth the group’s time.”

Map the check-in process. Research shows that rules around communication reduce uncertainty and help build trust. Don’t just assign work vaguely with an arbitrary deadline. Agree to check-in points, check-in subgroups, and a process for completion. This helps hold people accountable as the task moves from hand to hand.

Reward people for risk-taking, candor, and feedback. Be sure to reinforce teammates who show vulnerability and risk-taking, even if you might not agree. Some teams even designate someone to “tell it like it is.” This person may call out things left unsaid, play “devil’s advocate,” and point out when other team members hog the stage, stay too quiet, or criticize unconstructively.

Break the meeting routine. Regularly scheduled meetings and check-ins can easily become routine, possibly becoming monotonous. To avoid people zoning out and counting the minutes, break the cycle: Cancel a meeting occasionally, hold an impromptu team meeting to celebrate a goal reached, call together a small group to devise a plan for a difficult problem, or even try scheduling monthly one-on-ones between randomly assigned team members to build internal relationships.

From Insights to Action. These strategies for creating team trust and safety may seem easy, but the challenge lies in upholding them over time. Commit to these strategies and give them time to grow into a natural part of how your team works together. Each one can make a big difference in your team dynamic and performance.

To learn more about increasing your team’s emotional intelligence, and TalentSmart’s products and programs to facilitate team development, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit https://www.talentsmart.com/contact-us/.

The Case for Team Emotional Intelligence (Team EQ)

As organizations increasingly invest in emotional intelligence (EQ) skills training, what should they do about this important fact? The bulk of work at organizations is done by teams, and teams are made up of people with varying levels of emotional intelligence. The answer is clear: Offer your teams the opportunity to develop emotional intelligence skills at the team level.

EQ at the team level means members of the group are able to interact well with each other, and cross-functionally with people in other departments, on other teams, and even outside the organization. Teams whose members recognize unproductive emotions when they surface and manage them constructively will overcome interpersonal and inter-team challenges to achieve peak performance. High EQ teams make better decisions, foster a positive working environment, and adapt better to unplanned surprises (i.e., work moves to virtual, people come and go, priorities change, or competition grows).

The 4 Core Team EQ Skills

The team that handles their emotions well and builds healthy relationships is tapping into four core team EQ skills: emotion awareness, emotion management, internal relationship management, and external relationship management.

On a high EQ team, better awareness of emotions (emotion awareness) opens doors for team members to respond better (emotion management). By fostering positive working relationships within the team (internal relationship management), team members are better equipped to influence others and build relationships outside the team (external relationship management).

Research shows that teams that continually hone these skills can increase their ability to achieve goals, collaborate cross-functionally, build trust, establish group cohesion, complete tasks quickly, and manage stress during emotionally charged situations.

Team EQ Skills in Action

On nursing teams, for example, a high degree of emotion awareness and management is necessary to navigate notoriously fast-paced, high-stress tasks and decisions without butting heads with one another (internal relationship management) or coming across as callous or uncaring to patients and their families (external relationship management). Nursing teams high in team EQ will be better equipped to support each other through an extended shift or an overflowing unit, and to effectively manage handoffs with other teams to work quickly and collaboratively toward positive results. A recent study found that teams of nurses higher in group emotion management were not only more cohesive, but also that their bottom line patient care ratings were higher.

Team EQ is the Foundation of Critical Skills
The reason team emotional intelligence is so crucial to a team’s success is that it supports the skills that are critical for success. For example, a team’s ability to recognize and understand what a teammate is feeling increases that team’s ability to listen, empathize, communicate, and influence that teammate. Similarly, building awareness of their emotional reactions to pressure will make it easier for a team to manage change flexibly and speedily while still showing respect and trust along the way.

From Insights to Action. Perhaps the most important finding in EQ research is that team EQ skills can be developed. With practice, teams who measure low in team EQ can work to improve their team EQ behaviors within six months to a year. These findings hold true for teams in various professions and across industries, all over the world.

To learn more about increasing your team’s emotional intelligence, and TalentSmart’s products and programs to facilitate team development, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit https://www.talentsmart.com/contact-us/

3 Reasons Emotional Intelligence is More Critical Now than Ever

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is more in-demand than ever. In 2020 alone, EQ made the top 10 job skills on the World Economic Forum’s report, the top five on the LinkedIn skills report, and the top four training priorities on Udemy’s Workplace Learning Trends.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. One of the main reasons EQ is growing so quickly is that it’s foundational to developing a whole set of other critical skills. Here are three relevant skills fueled by emotional intelligence that are particularly helpful during challenging and uncertain times.

1. Change Management

The effects of big change at work are so extreme that experts frequently compare it to the five stages of grief. Change is uncomfortable, emotionally draining, stressful, and can cause burnout. Worst of all, change begins a wicked cycle where exhaustion from change makes people more resistant to change. People skilled in EQ are better prepared to break this cycle and manage change by recognizing and understanding how change affects them and then managing their feelings and reactions.

EQ Skills Help You Navigate Change: In-person marketing meetings on Guy’s team were always full of energized brainstorming and chatter. But, in the shift to remote meetings, they’ve lost their energy, and their usual surplus of ideas is running dry. Aside from going remote, Guy hasn’t changed anything. Each subgroup’s leader summarizes the work they’re doing (i.e., articles, videos, and podcasts), but people tune out instead of engaging with questions, challenges, thoughts, or ideas. Guy is worried about his team but feels paralyzed. He needs to get people engaged, or the whole team is going to suffer. After talking with his wife at dinner, he begins to recognize two key things: 1) this change to remote work isn’t going away anytime soon, and 2) he’s paralyzed because he’s afraid of making a big change to something they’ve done successfully for years. Once he recognizes this, he’s quick to change their format. He leverages the breakout room feature, mixing the breakouts intentionally for interaction. When they regroup from breakouts, each group shares highlights. Energy and engagement spikes right away. Now more information is synthesized than ever. Guy succeeded because he recognized his team’s disengagement (social awareness) and his own fear of change (self-awareness), and then he was able to move forward with a plan (self-management) and introduce a format encouraging interaction (relationship management).  

2. Stress Management

Dr. Moira Mikolajczak found that people with high EQ report better moods, less anxiety, and less worry during times of tension and stress than those who can’t identify and manage their emotions. This is because high EQ people have improved their ability to simultaneously engage their emotional and rational thinking. When confronted with stress, high EQ people can control what they do next. Instead of catastrophizing, casting blame or worrying, high EQ people find the silver lining, practice positive self-talk, and recall good memories. Once they get control of their reaction, they devise a plan of action.

EQ Skills Help You Tackle Your Stress: Right after the transition to remote work, Nitya couldn’t slip back into “family mode” the way she used to when she got home from the office. With her work computer just in the other room, she found herself thinking constantly about that next meeting, email, or client while her kids tried to tell her about their day. Only after she caught herself missing what her kids were saying and making mistakes on multiple late evening emails did she realize her stress was a problem. To get herself back on track, she first reminded herself that she balanced her work and family for years without a problem. Then, she put together a plan. Each day when she stopped working, she would slip out the side door to her espresso machine on the patio. She would make a latte, sit, and drink it. She wouldn’t check her phone or read. She would just sit and unwind. If something work-related came to mind, she would write it on a notepad as a to-do for tomorrow. The routine was simple, but it acted as the perfect mental transition between work and family. Post-latte, Nitya found she was able to turn off her work brain and turn on her family brain.

3. Effective Communication

The working world, and our lives, are made up of important conversations. At work, we give and receive feedback, deliver bad news, manage conflicts, and check-in with struggling coworkers…The list goes on. As different as each example seems, important conversations usually share three things in common: 1. opposing opinions, 2. strong emotions, and 3. pressure. Because developing EQ builds the connection between the emotional and rational parts of the brain, it equips people to manage their emotions under pressure and come up with an effective response in real time.

EQ Skills Help You Communicate Effectively: Dianne’s in her first week of work at the front desk of a hospital’s imaging department. Their appointments frequently run late, and she finds herself overwhelmed as she informs patients. When a patient begins to get upset, she boils over and snaps at him. He then complains, and her manager, who is displeased, has a long conversation with her at the end of the day. That night Dianne commits to adjusting her approach to these moments. The first thing she will do is take a deep breath and count to five before responding. Then, she will ask a question to learn why the patient is upset. Some people, she now finds, are quite nervous about the imaging procedure and their results (and she is able to talk them down). Others are anxious because they have somewhere to be (and she offers apologetically to reschedule). These small adjustments make a big difference in Dianne’s ability to uncover slight differences in patients’ needs and then address each accordingly.

From Insights to Action. The best thing about EQ skills is they can be developed with practice. Practicing any of above behaviors will build new habits for you too. The result is that when you’re faced with a similar situation in the future, you will respond with emotional intelligence.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

How to Increase Your Confidence, Connections, & Energy in Virtual Meetings

When we’re in a virtual meeting with someone who is fully engaged and using an array of expressions, we can easily forget we are sitting at a computer at all. Instead of getting bored, tired, or self-conscious, we connect and engage in the conversation the same way we might in an office or at a café. These kinds of calls don’t just feel better; they’re also more effective in accomplishing their purpose, whether that’s collaboration, productivity, or connection.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the virtual meetings that run less smoothly. In these meetings, we feel distracted, self-conscious, and antsy, and by the time we exit the virtual room, exhausted. This virtual fatigue is as real as it feels. A Microsoft study on the effects of virtual meetings found that the same brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork spike during virtual meetings. And on top of this stress and exhaustion, the study also found that sixty percent of surveyed people feel they are less connected to their colleagues now.

So what can we do to combat distraction and disconnection as we head into our new “normal” that includes more remote work and virtual meetings? Two of the biggest problems faced in virtual work right now are self-consciousness and a lack of human connection. Here are three body language strategies to help you improve your virtual approach.

Virtual Challenge #1: Self-consciousness. Dr Tara Well, a psychologist at Barnard College, draws the comparison between your box on a virtual call and a mirror, and points out that virtual calls can feel like going through an important meeting with a mirror sitting in front of you. The mirror shows your quirks, emotions, and reactions in real time and this is of course stressful, distracting, and unsettling. In fact, a survey found that 72% of employees reported feeling distracted by their own appearance during video calls, and 59% felt more self-conscious on screen than in-person.

Body language strategy #1: Get your set-up right. In an HBR interview, communication consultant Rachel Cossar breaks down the ideal computer set-up for virtual calls. She encourages people not to just open their laptops on a table or desk with the camera facing up at them, but to actually set up their computers so the camera is eye level and about three feet away. This set-up is ideal for communication because it exposes your whole upper torso. With your torso exposed people can really see your movements more clearly, and this frees you up to communicate more effectively while speaking the way you always have in the past.

Body language strategy #2: Direct your focus away from yourself. As Well said, your box is mirror-like and makes you self-conscious. The set-up in strategy #1 is a good first step because it distances your vision from your computer and from your own box. Also, when you’re speaking, focus on the camera lens in front of you. This looks the best to people listening because your attention will be directed toward them on the receiving end. When you’re not speaking, actively observe the person who is and the way other people react.

Virtual Challenge #2: Lack of human connection. An in-person meeting usually consists of a lot of shared context. People greet each other, shake hands and pat shoulders, they smell the same coffee, and are all situated around the same table. But online, we each exist in our own world and are trying to connect on common ground that’s entirely virtual and two-dimensional. Not to mention, we’re doing this from our own rooms with our own environment and potential distractions. All of this makes it more difficult to feel connected to another person, let alone an entire group.

Body language strategy #1: Compensate for absent emotions. Use body language to make up for emotions you might otherwise communicate verbally in a meeting. Twenty people can’t say “agreed” on Zoom, but they can all nod. You can’t all greet each other verbally or with handshakes, but you can smile, wave, or nod as new people join. When someone else speaks, try not to fidget, scowl, or roll your eyes (the kinds of things you avoid in-person too). Instead, show engaged posture and physically lean in a bit when you find something interesting. Getting your set-up right, like recommended above, will help you do all of these things more naturally.

From Insights to Action. The bottom line is that virtual meetings are affecting our self-confidence, our ability to connect, and our energy levels. If we want to maintain our connection and collaboration, we have to adapt our approach to meet the new environment. Remember that in the virtual environment where we are often muted, our body language frequently paints the full picture that is received on the other end.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

Developing Emotional Awareness: What We Can Learn from Children’s Instincts

When Kenneth Hill’s study on wilderness survival rates first came out, his discovery shocked people: Children aged six and under consistently survived more effectively than even trained demographics like experienced hunters, fit hikers, former members of the military, and skilled sailors.

How is this possible? Laurence Gonzales breaks down what children do differently from adults in survival situations in his book Deep Survival

“Small children do not create the same sort of mental maps that adults do. They don’t understand traveling to a particular place, so they don’t run to get somewhere beyond their field of vision. They also follow their instincts. If it gets cold, they crawl into a hollow tree to get warm. If they’re tired, they rest, so they don’t get fatigued. If they’re thirsty, they drink. They try to make themselves comfortable, and staying comfortable helps keep them alive. They do not yet have the sophisticated mental mapping ability that adults have, and so do not try to bend the map. They adapt to the world they’re in.”

In other words, the secret to children’s survival skill is that they act on their instincts. We have these same instincts, but we have learned not to act on them. Most of the time this is a necessary and good thing. When we feel tired during a work meeting, for example, we don’t wander into the corner, curl up, and fall asleep. However, in our effort to act according to a working world that doesn’t operate on a life-and-death, moment-to-moment basis, we’ve unlearned more than just acting on our emotions. We’ve actually unlearned how to pay attention to our emotions at all. The result is that when we feel stretched, frustrated, exhausted, stressed or mad, and we don’t stop to understand why we feel that way, these emotions can build or take over and compromise our work and our relationships. We may accidentally lash out at a colleague, lose our ability to focus on our work, or make a glaring mistake during a presentation.  

The good news is that we all have access to that same degree of emotional awareness children show in survival situations. We are simply out of practice. We just need to get practicing again. This means noticing what, when, why, and how emotions affect our well-being, and what to do to manage these emotions successfully. This may sound simple, but only a well-practiced person can do this proactively and in the moment when emotions grab ahold of them. Here are three strategies to help you practice getting back in touch with the self-awareness your brain is already wired to tap into:

Adapt to the world you’re in. At the end of each workday for a week, answer the following questions: What emotions affected my well-being today? They can be good or bad. When did they happen? Why did they happen? How did they affect my well-being? Did I attend to them in the way I needed to? What can I do next time? For example: After I finally ate lunch at 1:45pm I felt reenergized, less worn down, and more able to concentrate. I should be more disciplined about finishing lunch by 1:30.

Learn the subtleties of your emotions. Anxiety, apprehension, hesitation, and resistance can all feel somewhat similar, but by labeling each one, you take a big first step toward knowing their subtleties and how you need to react to take care of yourself, your relationship, or your work. For example, apprehension could mean worry about your preparation or skill level, but resistance might mean you really don’t like that type of work. Your next steps depend on your knowing the difference.

Feel your emotions in your body. Backaches, headaches, sweaty palms, general soreness, your hip tensing up, body odor…the list goes on. We all react to our emotions differently. By starting with your body, paying attention to how you physically feel, you can often catch emotions you didn’t realize you were suppressing or repressing. On challenging days at work, take a moment to close your eyes and ask yourself, “What does my body feel right now and why?” For example, “I’m fidgeting more, opening new tabs, checking my email compulsively, and I’m making lots of typing mistakes.” Jot this down somewhere with a date and time. That evening think back and maybe add a word explaining your feeling. For example, Preoccupied by the deadline. This specificity helps you put together a plan of improvement: Next fidgeting spell I need to catch myself early, get up, and stretch or take a quick walk.

From Insights to Action. Children may have the upper hand in the sense that they haven’t spent years unlearning attention to emotions, but adults have the upper hand once they begin to practice. We have access to a more sophisticated vocabulary of emotions and a more nuanced perspective on where emotions come from, what they feel like, how they manifest, and how we can best manage them. Keen emotional awareness is also the first big step toward recognizing emotions in others, and in turn, managing your relationships. In other words, emotional awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence (EQ).

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

3 Tips to Build Social Awareness

A front-line employee with masterful customer skills can seem like they’re performing an act of magic in mask-to-mask communication. How do they intuit what the customer is thinking in a matter of seconds? How is it that they know exactly what to do or say?

What seems like gut intuition or an innate ability is really a high degree of social awareness. Social awareness is your ability to observe, recognize, and understand the emotions, moods, and tendencies of other people. This awareness is necessary to control your reactions to others and manage relationships to the best of your ability.

Be reassured that social awareness is a skill you can grow to reap important benefits. Below are three recent accounts of people high in social awareness who succeed despite masks and new Covid-19 challenges. For each account, one social awareness strategy from our book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is used to break down how to bring these strategies into your life and to help you implement them in your mask-to-mask interactions.

Kyle: Seeing problems ahead of time, de-escalation, and conflict diffusion.

The Account: “When we [lifeguards in San Diego, CA] assumed responsibility for shutting down beaches at the height of the social distancing, we found our job had quickly changed from something physical (rescues) to something social (law enforcement). Namely, we had to regularly navigate conflicts with people refusing to leave the beach. Kyle stepped naturally into the role of diffuser and compliance officer. He had a way of first striking up conversations, then managing the conflicts efficiently with minimal disagreement. When disagreement was necessary, he stepped up and made sure the person knew who was in charge of the situation.” 

The Strategy: Practice the art of listening. While it may have seemed like Kyle was “just more comfortable and confident with conflict,” he was actually more strategic. By approaching people and learning more before he took the role of enforcer, he bought himself time to get a more accurate read. The non-confrontational start to the conversation was the time period when he listened carefully to the person’s tone, noticed what they said and how they said it, and he even asked questions to get a sense for potential aggression, compliance, or ignorance. Then, he matched his approach accordingly. If he adopted a one-solution-fits-all approach, he would inevitably invite stronger reactions. 

Sohel: Being likeable and increasing customer satisfaction (and tips).

The Account: “When Sohel works the register, our tips are a full 25% higher. He has a knack for engaging people in conversation, for getting orders right the first time, and even asking clarifying questions when he feels the customer might not know what they asked for. When a regular customer recently entered the cafe mask-less, Sohel even managed to convince him to put one on. I couldn’t believe it, but the regular customer actually smiled, laughed with Sohel, put on a mask, and left a large tip.”

The Strategy: Seek the whole picture. What makes Sohel so likeable in a matter of seconds? It’s not the fact that people know much about him. In fact, most people coming through probably don’t even know his name. What he does well is understand how customers enter the room and how he fits into their bigger picture. Some customers may not appreciate small talk, but they will appreciate pleasantness, care, and attention to detail. By focusing on their order and listening carefully, he wins these one-time customers over. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sohel knows that most regulars want to be recognized and forge a deeper relationship. Over months and years, he spends time getting to know regulars and greeting them by name. It was because Sohel took the time to know this regular customer that they talked through a potential conflict quickly.  

Colleen: Creating a good atmosphere and reading people’s needs.

The Account: “Colleen made me realize how much a waiter can really make the whole feel of a restaurant. Despite masks and distancing requirements, she manages to still sense people’s needs in real time and adjust accordingly. She shortens her social approach to match an absorbed couple that wants to be left alone, and she expands her social approach, telling jokes or stories to chattier groups of friends or family members. She successfully creates an ideal environment while still following restaurant safety protocol.”

The Strategy: Catch the mood of the room. While much of emotional intelligence consists of managing our instincts (i.e., learning to slow down when feeling anxious or angry), it’s sometimes useful to let instinct take the driver’s seat. In this case, Colleen catches people’s moods, sociability levels, and comfort around distancing by trusting her instincts. Even though she can’t make out facial expressions, her instincts pick up on all kinds of other clues. From years of working as a waiter, her brain is used to pairing things like tone, posture, and gestures with facial expressions. As a result, when she trusts her initial reaction, it tends to be right.

From Insights to Action. Facemasks may feel like an insurmountable challenge to our social awareness because they’re so different from what we’re used to, but our mouths are one social awareness data point of many. If you think about it, there are a significant number of people high in social awareness who regularly don’t observe cues from the mouth—i.e., the population of people who wear veils, people who are blind, and surgical staff in operating rooms. These people succeed because they learn to compensate for facial expressions with other EQ strategies like practicing the art of listening, seeking the whole social picture, and trusting their emotional instincts to catch the mood in the room.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

Mask-to-Mask Communication: Know What You’re Missing

TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that the group of highest performers is filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90% of top performers, to be exact). Because these people know how much our facial expressions influence our ability to communicate, they pay close attention to the facial expressions of others and they match their own facial expressions to the messages they want to communicate.

With masks, even the most emotionally intelligent people face a big challenge: our facial expressions are blocked. And we rely on facial expressions to understand emotions when words are mismatched with tone even more than you might think. According to a UCLA study, facial expressions account for 55% of successful communication when words and tone sound inconsistent.

Perhaps the people most affected by masks are those working front-line jobs. In the world of physicians and nurses for example, studies show that nonverbal cues are linked to better patient care. In the past, healthcare professionals have relied on facial expressions to show their patients empathy, sincerity, competence, and focus. That’s why doctors treating Covid-19 patients in full protective gear have resorted to taping photos of themselves to their scrubs to help put a human face on a scary situation. Or, as another example, in the service industry, waiting staff, baristas, or people working registers rely on facial expressions to make customers feel welcome, to smoothly navigate problems or complaints, and to create a positive atmosphere.

Even people not working front-line jobs still interact with the front line. When we go to the grocery or the doctor, we rely on facial expressions for greetings, to show gratitude, and to connect.

To help you get through these expression-less times, here’s what you can do to communicate with high emotional intelligence skills from the nose up and from the neck down.

Catch what you can. According to Dr. David Matsumoto, a psychologist specializing in emotions and body language, it’s possible to identify each of the following facial signals from above a mask that covers everything below the nose:

  • Wrinkles of disgust in the nose, forehead, and eyes.
  • Lifting of eyelids and eyebrows in fear or surprise.
  • Movement of corners of eyebrows in sadness or distress.
  • What we call “twinkling of the eyes,” a happy smile that crinkles the corners of your eyes.

Know what you’re missing. There are facial expressions that happen only or primarily in the mouth region. For these facial expressions, the best we can do is know what we may not see. Pursed lips, neutrality of expression, and a small frown or smile can easily stay contained in a mask. Maybe the most missed expression during the mask era is the “social smile” which is when we smile in place of a greeting or verbal acknowledgement. Because the social smile is manufactured to show appreciation or recognition, it doesn’t activate the whole face. The microexpression in your eyes is not enough to reach the twinkle level of happiness. The result is that your usual social smile when a barista hands you a latte appears blank-faced and possibly ungrateful with a mask.

Catch yourself and compensate. To reveal your hidden facial expressions without unmasking, you first must catch yourself making them. Then, you can compensate with small changes in your expression. For example, to compensate for a social smile, you might fully nod your head, wave, or even say “Hi” or “thank you” out loud with the positive, grateful, or excited tone that you mean to get across. Here are a few other ways to compensate:

  • Face the person you’re speaking to.
  • Use hand gestures.
  • Use your body and head more.
  • Exaggerate a reaction so that it crosses the whole face.
  • Speak louder and slower. Enunciate.
  • Match your tone to your emotion.
  • Keep your posture upright to show you’re engaged.
  • Make sure you have their attention in the first place.

From Insights to Action. The bottom line is that communicating with masks will never quite reach our normal, nuanced levels of communication and may lower our EQ. However, we can do a lot to avoid communication breakdown and to still get our emotions and ideas successfully across. Here’s a hopeful solution to leave you with: Check out transparent masks. They’re designed for families and friends of hard-of-hearing people who need to read lips, but if more widely adopted, or at least used in more front-line positions, many more facial expressions would be noticeable.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.