Self-awareness, the ability to recognize your emotions at the moment you feel them, is beneficial for anyone and is an important aspect of emotional intelligence. But for leaders, the benefits also extend to your entire team.
Among leaders with strong emotional self-awareness, Korn Ferry Hay Group research found that 92 percent had teams with high energy and high performance. At the opposite end of the spectrum, leaders without emotional self-awareness “created negative climates 78 percent of the time.”
If you suspect that your level of self-awareness may be holding you or your team back, you can take an emotional intelligence test as a first step. But it won’t give you the full picture.
[ Are you known as a leader with high or low EQ? See our related story, 10 things leaders with emotional intelligence never do. ]
“Emotional self-awareness isn’t something that you achieve once and then you’re done with it,” writes author Daniel Goleman for Korn Ferry Institute. “Rather, every moment is an opportunity to either be self-aware or not. It is a continual endeavor, a conscious choice to be self-aware.”
So what’s step two? Consider the five questions below – and use them regularly. Quizzing yourself against these prompts can illuminate the aspects of your emotional self-awareness that need work.
1. What am I feeling right now? A test is a moment in time. For instance, if you take an emotional intelligence test while you feel relatively calm and clear-headed, your responses might reflect that, versus taking the test while stressed or anxious.
“Someone who is emotionally intelligent knows what they are feeling real-time,” says Leah Weiss, author of the book "How We Work" and a Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer. That’s why she says it’s important to “ask yourself throughout the day if you are aware of what you are feeling.”
Add a recurring calendar reminder. Leave a Post-It note in various parts of your office and home. Whatever it takes – make sure you are taking the time to check into your emotions, and doing so often.
2. What is my perception of the people and situations around me? If you are honestly assessing what you are feeling in real time, there are bound to be moments when negative emotions arise. Weiss says this is a good time to practice “mental flexibility.”
Focus on what you’re thinking and how you are interpreting the situation you are in or the person you are dealing with – then challenge yourself to throw those ideas out the window.
“Try catching yourself emotionally and considering alternate viewpoints,” she suggests. “What are the automatic interpretations I can make of the other person or situation? Are these perceptions accurate? Or are there alternate perspectives that might also be true?”
3. What are my emotional triggers? Part of self-awareness is understanding your emotional triggers. If you know what situations will likely lead to stress or anxiety, you can better plan to deal with those emotions before they become problems.
“Being emotionally triggered means reacting quickly to something someone said or did – usually in a negative way,” explains Weiss. “If you tend to lash out quickly and without much thought, you might be easily emotionally triggered. A good way to combat this is to take a breath before replying to something someone has said. Pause, think, and then reply – are you thinking rationally, or are you being triggered emotionally?”
4. What feelings am I holding onto? Even if you become skilled at recognizing and dealing with emotions as they happen, it takes work and practice to master the next necessary step – letting go.
“If you’re spending a lot of time caught up in emotions sparked by others, you might need to work on increasing your EQ,” says Weiss. Failure to do so may ultimately have an impact on your productivity, she explains.
Her tip: “One good way is to take note of how much time you are spending thinking about something someone said or did. Are you constantly ruminating, or are you able to quickly make a decision and then move past a conversation or incident?”
5. What do my team, friends, and family think of my EQ? Finally, you can – and should – get an outsider’s opinion. True self-awareness is always grounded in reality, so if you are scoring yourself high in EQ, but your colleagues disagree – that’s a problem.
“A test won’t give you the full picture, but speaking with friends, colleagues, and family members (in addition to checking in with yourself) will. Ask these people how you tend to respond to situations to get a better overall idea of your EQ,” says Weiss.
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