By Fareeha Qayoom
es, all the sages tell you to ‘know thyself’ – I am pretty self-aware.
For example, I know all my character flaws. (People are too happy to tell me!:D)– I am straight forward. I am spontaneous. I have a sense of humor. So I frequently say something politically incorrect (or flippant) which causes offense even if (or because) it’s factual, accurate and honest.
I like reading. I can read for hours and have many interests, therefore, come across as a miss know-it-all (to many people who consider it a challenge to prove me wrong.)
I can’t do numbers. (I learn by visualizing things – unfortunately, I gave up on math too soon in school because I couldn’t picture the concepts. This is not a character defect but I am considered dumb by some people because I can’t count, it also means that I can never score higher than 132-140 in various IQ tests).
This has not diminished my sense of self-worth though. I do know there are many kinds of intelligence around – Howard Gardener listed about seven – for example, Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Spatial, Musical, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal.
Daniel Goleman wrote about another kind called Emotional Intelligence. I do know that you can acquire this one if you naturally do not have it because I read all of his three books on the subject ages ago; (Emotional Intelligence, Destructive Emotions and the New Leaders).
I picked up AB Lynn’s book to read now because I clearly needed help. When you are surrounded by thoughtless, unhappy, whiny, inconsiderate, discourteous, negative, insecure, rude, careless, arrogant, superior, condescending, sarcastic, nasty, irresponsible, political, power-mad behavior, you tend to pick up some bad habits in sheer reaction by osmosis.
Moods are indeed contagious. You tell yourself you will not behave equally badly in sheer reaction but sometimes, your intentions or values are hijacked by your emotions and you lose control. As AB Lynn says in her book, “emotional intelligence isn’t about suppressing emotions, but rather finding appropriate ways to express them.”
Her book is full of good advice. For example, change your destructive thoughts she calls them the “dirty dozen” – replace them with positive thoughts.
When dealing with difficult people or situations, “pause” before reacting in any way. She describes a few techniques that can help you do that – “act as if” is one such technique, she says, “Act as if is a tool for you to change and influence yourself, not to manipulate others to be something else.”
“Shifting” is another vehicle she describes to gain control – “Shifting isn’t a preferred technique and should be reserved for those occasions when, in the moment, you recognize that you are at serious risk of being hijacked but are unable to redirect in a constructive way. Shifting is the act of transferring your focus from triggers you can’t redirect to some object unrelated to whatever threatens to hijack you. Shifting is about emotional suppression.” However, there is a downside to this technique, so use with caution. She explains, “Ultimately, if these situations are constant, and suppression becomes a way of life, we develop high risk for undesirable coping behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse.” Hmmm.
She stresses the need for “reflection,” “Reflection is our opportunity to watch the tape of our daily experiences and interactions with others rolling in our minds. This tape contains all the moments of brilliance, as well as our moments of mistakes. What is the purpose of replaying the tapes? Review and reflection of our daily interactions with others is our mental practice at becoming wiser. It is the opportunity to rewire our brains, to mentally practice different endings and to practice being our most inspired selves.” However, be aware that reflection is not an opportunity to justify your behavior. Be honest and truthful to yourself.
“Reflection will help to ensure that you aren’t wasting those thirty years of experience, but rather building on those thirty years of life experience to continually improve. Reflection is a wonderful way to get you closer to understanding your emotional reaction in the moment, which is the true mastery of emotional intelligence,” she continues.
One technique for reflection she defines is “journaling” (Yay, I blog already!:D) “It forces us to confront what bothers us. It forces us to face up to our inconsistencies. It forces us to take a stand. It forces us to know ourselves. Write it down. Yes, it’s that important. The best advice I can possibly give if you are interested in developing greater emotional intelligence is to begin to journal every morning.”
“Without reflection, there is no movement. Without reflection it is surely possible to repeat the same mistakes without even realizing that you are making the mistake. With reflection, we at least have an opportunity to review our mistakes and our successes and to decide, I’d like more or less please.”
Another tool that can help you reflect is to create a “lessons learned log.” She counsels, “One person I know keeps her Lessons Learned Log in the form of quotations. She selects quotations that highlight something of significance, then jots down the incident in her day that caused her to select those quotations. Another person I know just keeps a notepad in his office and jots down a couple of words as a running record of his lessons learned. I’m not proposing anything fancy, just something effective at capturing the reflections. I am a strong advocate of some type of written record or log because it gives you an opportunity to look over your progress.”
If writing is not your thing, you can select a mentor who can help you reflect. “If you have a trusted mentor, you could use this relationship to reflect. The beauty of doing this with another person is that he or she can help you make sense of some of your random thoughts and can point out inconsistencies or patterns. A mentor may also be someone to whom you feel accountable and therefore, for whom you feel an obligation to improve. Mentors inside the same organization can also understand the players and help you interpret what’s going on. Besides, the statistics suggest that seventy percent of people with mentors report faster salary and total compensation growth.”
“Friends” can help as well. “Just like a written journal, long term friends can provide a sense of history for you. True friends will also love you in spite of your repeated errors, so you can feel free to indulge those same lessons. I’d encourage you to advise your friends to ask you the tough questions, such as “What role are you playing in this recurring problem?” Friends are also great for helping us clarify our voices. Voices come through with other people, so they can serve as a means to identify the voices in your inner choir. If you choose to reflect with friends, however, you’ll have to determine if their assumptions and worldview are so close to yours that they won’t be able to challenge your thinking.”
You can create your own “dream team” or appoint a “coach” who can help you reflect. Then, there is “volunteering”. She explains, “Volunteering with those less fortunate than you allows your gratitude voice to surface. It also can serve as a powerful way to test your assumptions. For example, if you often come from the point of view that you’re the unlucky one and don’t get a fair share of life’s breaks, volunteer and then go home and reflect on your good fortune.”
“Hobbies” also help you reflect. “Taking walks, woodworking, digging in the dirt and other hobbies allow for reflection time that can produce good results because you are engaging in something that you enjoy. That process changes the chemistry of the brain and allows for thoughts to flow differently from when you just ruminate over things.”
You can also surround yourself with “tangible objects” or symbols of lessons learned, “Since his heart attack, a friend of mind keeps a rock on his desk with the word “HEAVY” written on it. The rock reminds him that carrying around other people’s burdens can take a heavy toll.”
You can also take up reading she says. “Reading isn’t about reading to accumulate facts and information; it’s about accumulating knowledge to reflect on and to decide how one’s own life compares. That translates into the distinction between knowledge and wisdom.”
Lynn also recommends that you celebrate your progress on the path to wisdom, “Of course, you are a work in progress, and you haven’t reached perfection. In fact, don’t let the quest for perfection hold you back from recognizing your accomplishments. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being better than you were. If you have learned to hush your Control Troll or to turn up the volume on your Gratitude Meter, then you’re making progress. Or perhaps you’re gaining skill in mitigating some of the Dirty Dozen such as “catastrophizing” or “negativity.” Or perhaps you are able to recognize your triggers. So if you can honestly say that your awareness is greater today than it was before, then you are on your way to being hijacked less often. And that is cause for celebration.”
“Emotional intelligence requires constant learning,” she asserts. “The focus of that learning is to help us live our intentions. The more you imagine living your intentions, the more you will live them. Don’t focus on being perfect,” she says.
Positive reinforcement is key, she explains, “Have faith, desire, then relax. This step is about helping you recognize that the quest for emotional intelligence is a way of life, not a destination. You’re never going to arrive. And that’s a good thing. Remember what we said earlier: Each new life experience adds to our capacity for greater emotional intelligence. If we’ve arrived, that insinuates that we are having no more life experiences. Instead, our life experiences will teach us new triggers or combinations of triggers that we must master. New persons and relationships will enter our life, and each day we’ll have a new opportunity to begin again.”
She stresses on the importance of self-awareness. “The more accurate our self-awareness, the better we can become in terms of emotional intelligence. Without this accuracy, we can continue to make the same mistakes. I compare it to being married for 30 years and coming home one day to find that your spouse has left you. When you ask why, she says it was because you left the cap off the toothpaste for the last 30 years and she couldn’t tolerate that behavior anymore. If you had known, you may have chosen to put the cap back on, but at least you would not have been blind to the problems caused by your behavior. Awareness gives us choices.”
Self-control is another significant area for learning to be emotionally intelligent. “Self-control requires that we master our emotions. This mastery enables us to channel both positive and negative emotions in a productive way and enables us to learn and gain from our emotions rather than be burdened by them. Self-control requires us to know how to express emotions appropriately —both positive emotions and negative emotions.”
“Hijacking, whether by way of anger, fear, doubt, or other emotions can cause inconsistency and disharmony,” she asserts. “If you allow yourself to be hijacked regularly, you are missing important opportunities to build the emotional climate in your workplace that will help you get work done and advance your goals and your career.”
Empathy is another significant trait that helps you become more emotionally intelligent. “Lack of empathy is also the source of a variety of morale problems within organizations. Leaders who do not understand the perspective of those who work for them have higher incidences of turnover. Morale also suffers. James Waldroop and Timothy Butler report in Harvard Business Review on Finding and Keeping the Best Employees that “An astonishing number of people have difficulty getting outside their own frame of reference and seeing through another person’s; in other words, they lack empathy. In a sense, they never moved beyond the narcissism that is normal in childhood; they never got the instruction from parents and others that helps most people learn to understand the world from other people’s perspectives. Having a well-developed sense of empathy is essential if one is to deal successfully with one’s peers, subordinates, managers, customers, and competitors.”
Emotionally intelligent is to be socially expert. “Social expertness extends your emotional intelligence to develop relationships with others. The definition of social expertness is the ability to build genuine relationships and bonds and to express caring, concern, and conflict in healthy ways. Once you have a firm understanding of yourself (self-awareness), know when and how to control your emotional reaction for the desired outcome (self-control), and can be empathetic about another person’s viewpoint (empathy), then you are perfectly positioned to create social bonds, collaborate with others, and resolve conflicts with others (social
She counsels that you discover your purpose. “Purpose also requires that you use your natural gifts and talents. Sometimes negative emotional responses are a result of the frustration that we feel when we are trying to do things outside our natural gifts. For example, if you are naturally mechanically inclined, it’s easy and fun to fiddle with the broken vacuum cleaner. However, if you have no gift for things mechanical, chances are you would find the task frustrating. Sure, you can learn it, and many of us perform tasks every day that are outside our natural gifts, but if you constantly work to your weaknesses instead of your strengths, you are likely to be less happy and more prone to hijacking… By uncovering purpose, we must assess our natural gifts, talents and skills and work to match these with available challenges. By definition, our potential for emotional hijackings will wane because we will be more satisfied.”
In conclusion, she suggests, “Rich relationships, coupled with the strong inner peace that comes from managing ourselves, is the hallmark of emotional intelligence and, hence, our emotional wealth. Unlike material possessions or health, our emotional wealth is not only immune to the rise and fall of the markets or the ravages of disease and age, but it continues to grow and pay dividends. Others cannot take it away. It is the one thing we can truly possess.”
So is the book useful? Yes. Is the book readable? Yes. Was it worth my time? Yes.