Understanding Self-Awareness Inside and Out

In a deck of tarot cards, one card shows a collapsing tower. The collapsing tower represents the danger of building something on a false premise. No matter how much work we put into something—a relationship, a company, an idea—it’s inevitably going to come crashing down if the work was built on a flimsy foundation. When you build your emotional intelligence, the essential foundation is self-awareness.

Self-awareness is your ability to recognize and understand your emotions as they happen and to know your general tendencies for responding to different people and situations. People who test highly in self-awareness build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively, work more creatively and productively, are better decision-makers, and are overall more confident.

Perhaps the best thing about self-awareness is that it’s a learnable skill you can improve with practice. To help get you started, let’s take a close look at two sides of self-awareness: Internal and External, followed by two self-awareness strategies from Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Internal Self-Awareness

What it is: The internal side of self-awareness is our ability to recognize and understand the things that make us tick—our values, beliefs, goals, passions, strengths and weaknesses, and personality. These drive how we feel. and why we feel that way.

Internal self-awareness in action: When Alexa von Tobel set out to start her business LearnVest, she was terrified by all the things that could go wrong. To quell her fears, she began to put together a written plan, and the writing deepened and expanded. By the time she was done, the plan was 75 pages. The interesting thing is not so much the business projections or the plan itself, but the core beliefs she had at the time about who she was and what she was seeking, and the way she still uses the plan. Now, whenever she finds herself stuck on a decision, lacking for motivation, or confused, she turns to that section of her plan as her self-guiding light, her foundation.  

Self-Awareness Strategy #11: Visit Your Values. Spend some time reflecting on the things that are deeply important to who you are, your core beliefs, and write them down. Your list doesn’t need to be a seventy-five-page manifesto. A short list of core ideas is often enough. Next time you’re faced with a tough decision or difficult time, pull out your list and use it to guide your next decision the same way von Tobel does. We tend to assume we draw on our core values or beliefs when faced with tough decisions, but in reality, we find ourselves reacting on a whim. By getting something written, you give yourself a place to go look, to slow down and visit your values more often.

External Self-Awareness

What it is: External self-awareness is our ability to see how other people experience us. This can be a tricky element of self-awareness because it means understanding how you actually come across to others (not just how you think you do).

External Self-Awareness in action: In a recent leadership study based on in-depth interviews with 125 leaders, the authors set out to learn how leaders develop over the course of their careers. One leader sticks out as a perfect example of the importance of the external side of self-awareness. David Pottruck began his career at Charles Schwab as the head of marketing. Being new, he convinced himself that he had to work as hard as possible to impress the people around him. He put in countless hours and held high expectations of the people around him. One day, Pottruck’s boss pulled him into his office and explained to him that other employees didn’t like him. They resented how he approached his hard work, didn’t trust him, and felt intimidated. All of this was going on, while in Pottruck’s mind he was winning them over through hard work. The feedback from his boss was that critical insight he needed to mold the way he balanced his work intensity with his approach with people. He went on to become the CEO.  

Self-Awareness Strategy #14: Seek feedback. Asking for feedback directly is one of the best ways to get honest opinions about your work and the way you come across to the people around you. Prepare yourself with specific questions for areas you can improve. When it stings, try your best not to be defensive or to deny any of the feedback offered. Pottruck could have easily turned on his boss and blamed his team saying they just weren’t willing to work as hard as he was, but instead he actually took the time to understand their experience, what his boss was saying, and to grow from it.

From Insights to Action. The challenge with self-awareness is that most everyone feels like they already are self-aware, but we all have major blind spots like Pottruck’s, or we forget to look deep inside, as Alexa Von Tobel does. Denial and frustration can be enemies to growing self-awareness, which requires admitting your shortcomings and living your values, both big and small. As you set out to learn about yourself, inside and out, make sure you do so openly and with self-compassion.

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

The Power of Feedback, Especially Now

Few things are as costly as employees feeling disconnected from where they work, and with the sudden shift to remote work during COVID-19 this is a more pressing concern than ever. While remote work can be and often is a smooth and flexible process, it does present some legitimate concerns, especially when rolled out quickly with minimal training or preparation.

Research shows that remote employees often struggle to get information they need, they’re more likely to feel isolated, and they often feel that their remote managers are unaware of their needs. All of these issues become even more troubling when we consider that fifty percent of all employees say that they “rarely” or “never” meet with their managers one-on-one.

The good news for organizations and leaders of people is, by simply making one-on-ones the norm, performance increases and relationships improve. Regular feedback improves leader-follower relationships in three key ways:

Regular feedback reduces the power of emotions that get in the way. One of the most common and understandable uncomfortable feelings when it comes to feedback is that bosses fear speaking candidly. No one wants to tell their employee that if they don’t get their sales numbers up, they’re gone. By looking at the week-to-week numbers or performance together, you make the conversation around month-to-month or year-to-year more approachable and expected. Another fear is fear of emotions on the receiving end. Meeting consistently with someone who takes feedback too hard (i.e., they push back, get defensive, or seem completely crushed) will help reframe for them how to understand what the feedback means, what they can do, and guides them through their self-consciousness, fear of failure, and toward a place of receptivity and a willingness to try things differently.

Regular feedback is necessary to break through to people and influence performance. It’s nearly impossible to receive feedback once and immediately change for the better. Even talented employees need progress check-ins to see when and how they falter. It helps to think of frequent feedback as a best fit line. The line will naturally consist of dips in performance (i.e., as efforts slip or approaches are adjusted and tested), but the long-term trend should be positive. When feedback is inconsistent or nonexistent, the dips in improvement can lengthen or become the new normal.

Regular feedback builds and deepens relationships. While meeting one on one regularly may not always spark a beautiful friendship or mentor-mentee relationship, at bare minimum supervisors will get to know their staff personally. One-on-ones are an opportunity to discuss employee interests, motivations, style of communication, and long-term goals and desires. As rapport is built, employees feel more comfortable reaching out to managers for help, to share a new idea, to express a need, to speak up about problems they see, and to actively seek more feedback.  

From Insights to Action. “Out of sight” can quickly escalate into “out of mind” when it comes to remote work. By simply making feedback more regular, you can help build trust and dialogue around all of the uncertainty, change, and challenges swirling through the workplace right now.

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

How to Self-Motivate Through Distraction and Change

Motivation tends to feel like something you either have or don’t you have, you feel or you don’t feel, but research shows that most issues of motivation are really issues of negative emotions.

As we’re faced with a task, negative emotions like anxiety, boredom, fear, self-doubt, frustration, and insecurity inevitably surface. Procrastination from work, whether by watching a funny cat video or by doing dishes, temporarily relieves you from those negative emotions. The problem is that the temporary relief feels good and it becomes a habit where you prioritize distracting yourself from your negative emotions over the work causing them in the first place.

Besides wasting time and stressing you out, procrastination has been connected to depression, anxiety, a decrease in life satisfaction, and cardiovascular health issues.

Astronauts and athletes have tackled procrastination. Here are two profiles of their creative approaches to stay motivated so you also can manage your negative emotions and stay on track, especially during times of heightened negative emotions.

A Time-traveling Astronaut

In Psychologist Adam Grant’s recent article, Grant interviewed the astronaut Scott Kelly to learn how he dealt with 340-day periods isolated in space. Kelly’s number one mental trick for self-motivation was he intentionally played with time. Notice how mental time travel helped him gain perspective on pesky negative emotions that would otherwise get in his way.

~Kelly turned to the future to envision positive outcomes. We can turn to the future for a long-term goal (like a promotion) or a short-term goal (like how we want the end of the day to feel). The future motivates us in the present by connecting our desired outcome to our current actions.

~Kelly turned to the past to look at good times and bad times. Reliving good times reminds us what we have to be grateful for, and reliving the bad times reminds us of our past perseverance.

~Kelly also turned to what he called an alternate present. By imagining our current life as a more difficult alternative, we can alleviate our current pain and lighten up for the task at hand. For example, if you’re down about working from home, you might imagine being in true isolation in space for 340 days trying to deal with issues like a broken toilet.

The Pain-Planning of Endurance Athletes

When it comes to pushing through indefinite, uncomfortable, and ever-changing situations, who better to learn from than endurance athletes who devote their lives to this highly specific type of pain?

~Set Realistic Expectations: Endurance athletes can’t envision a long race as simple. They have to put together a realistic expectation around the pain to come in order to set a doable pace and plan. Realistic expectations are essential when it comes to dealing with the natural highs and lows. A realistic expectation can help you work your way through days that feel like walking through wet cement, and they can help slow you down when you’re tempted to ride a productivity high and burn yourself out.   

~Break down your outcome: Runners break their training down day by day, their marathon down mile by mile, or their mile step by step.  Work can also be broken down into simpler parts. These smaller, more achievable goals allow for small victories. With each small victory, you replace negative emotions with positive ones. This alone can break the habit of procrastination which relies on you conceding to your negative thoughts or emotions.

From Insights to Action.

“I can’t blame modern technology for my predilection for distraction, not after all the hours I’ve spent watching lost balloons disappear into the clouds. I did it before the Internet, and I’ll do it after the apocalypse, assuming we still have helium and weak-gripped children.”
-Colson Whitehead, Author

Distraction is inevitable and human, but motivation is ultimately about the long game, and about establishing the best day-to-day habits. Mental time-traveling and pain-planning will help reshape your mindset and get your self-motivating habits trending in the right direction.

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

Leading Through a Crisis with Emotional Intelligence

The way a leader shows up to work emotionally sets the tone for everyone around them. So much so, that your boss’s mood can not only make or break the rest of your day, but it can also affect your and your whole team’s performance.

A UC Riverside study found that employees don’t just notice the emotions of their boss, they absorb the emotions until they feel them. A flustered, stressed-out boss can derail a team’s ability to stay calm and work through a challenge. On the other hand, an optimistic and tuned-in boss can establish a positive environment, even during a crisis, where people collaborate freely and perform highly.

That’s why leading is such a tough job. Leaders are responsible for their own emotions as well as those of the people below them. They have to constantly monitor their emotions and manage their reactions knowing how serious the impact can be, for better or worse. To do so effectively, leaders need a great degree of emotional intelligence (EQ).  

We did some digging at TalentSmart to unearth the key behaviors emotionally intelligent leaders prioritize to guide their teams through a crisis. Here are three of the best:

High EQ leaders aren’t afraid to show vulnerability. We’ve all had that boss who operates under a sort of robotic professionalism with a painted-on smile. These bosses don’t actually do anything to make employees feel good, because people see right through their inauthenticity. What these bosses really do is create a stiff, cold atmosphere where people are afraid to share, connect, or even trust each other. Emotionally intelligent leaders, on the other hand, share honest emotions with their teams. This shows people where they’re coming from as they make difficult decisions. Sharing openly also helps eliminate an “employee vs. boss” mentality and sets a precedent for the team to feel comfortable sharing, asking for help, and holding healthy check-ins and dialogues.  Research shows that organizations that embrace vulnerability establish a culture of psychological safety where forgiveness for failure, openness, and empathy are the norm.

High EQ leaders deliver news transparently and empathetically. During the 2008 layoffs on Wall Street, some organizations literally had a line of laid-off people wait with boxes to pack up their desks. The message sent, whether intentional or not, was “we don’t value people.” The employees who were laid off were understandably bitter, but so were the remaining employees whose friends had been treated apathetically. Those still employed felt survivor’s guilt and didn’t understand how or why things had transpired the way they did. Panicked in the middle of a crisis, the leaders lost track of the importance of transparency and empathy as they laid people off. They worked frantically to make sure their organizations stayed afloat, but they forgot to see what kind of impact their actions and emotions had on the people who would still be coming to work every day.  

On the opposite end of this spectrum, is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity, a company that  processes payments for small businesses. He found his company in dire straits these last two months as Gravity’s small business customers suffered. In response, Price held an all-company meeting in which he openly shared company finances and the kind of cuts necessary to survive without layoffs. Then, he met with employees one at a time for a week straight to discuss potential solutions. As a company, they developed a private form where each employee wrote down what they would feasibly be able to sacrifice in terms of a pay cut to help save the company. The system worked. Gravity didn’t lay anyone off, and they made cuts on each employee’s terms. Empathetic transparency means taking the time to fill employees in on major changes in a way that addresses and values their feelings.

High EQ leaders update frequently. During a crisis, ongoing change quickly becomes the new normal. As a result, updates don’t always match that rate of change, and this gap causes people to feel anxious and insecure. By erring on the side of over-communication, emotionally intelligent leaders help alleviate that fear by giving people space and time to listen, ask questions, and share their reactions. Sometimes it takes multiple updates for the questions and insights to finally surface.

From Insights To Action. At the heart of EQ and leadership lies a whole set of delicate balancing acts: Sharing without oversharing, emotional honesty without emotional dumping or lashing out, the needs of the company with empathy for individuals, and information in the right amounts while the right timing. Add these three behaviors to your leadership repertoire, and you’ll be surprised how far they go to carry your team through these changing times.

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