Last week, I discussed the “What I see” skills of emotional intelligence: empathy and self-awareness. In addition to everything discussed in that post, these skills also form the foundation for the remaining aspects of emotional intelligence, the “What I do” skills: self and relationship management. Self-management is using your emotional awareness to control your emotions so they don’t control you; so that you positively direct your behavior. Relationship-management is using awareness of your and others’ emotions to manage interactions. Relationship-management builds on self-management. Both are aspects that highly sensitive people like myself really struggle with, but they are also something everyone can work on and benefit from.
I’d like to start with one of my own experiences:
I’d done a lot of reading on emotional intelligence in the past, but this concept of self-management didn’t really click until I had an “Aha!” moment while having lunch with my coworkers. At the time, I was an emotional wreck; I was battling depression and had just returned to full time employment after working part-time for three months. I was adjusting to my medication and my therapist was seeing improvement. Then, a conversation on something I don’t even remember triggered something inside me: blind anger fueled by cynicism and negativity. I lashed out and insulted my coworkers. I said hurtful things, then left them wondering what happened. The scary part was that I wanted to hurt them. I wanted to be mean and angry and negative. And that realization threw me, for that is not the person I want to be. That is not who I am.
I’ve worked a lot on myself since then, and in my journey, I’ve become a much stabler and more emotionally-in-control person. I also discovered why I did what I did during that lunch break: I was hurting so much that I wanted others to hurt so they would know how I felt.
What is Emotional Hijacking?
The situation I went through is what Daniel Goleman calls “emotional hijacking”, or from a biological standpoint: amygdala highjacking. It’s when an emotional trigger causes you to respond irrationally and without taking the time to understand what you are doing. Fortunately, this reaction is temporary and you can learn to control it. My lunchtime incident happened in January, less than three months ago. I apologized to my coworkers and worked on myself and now I am not that person anymore. Now I recognize when my anger is triggered, when old hurts are brought up. Now I am prepared. I am better because I realized what I was doing and I created a plan to prevent myself from doing it again.
You must have an action plan to manage your emotions and those of the people around you. This post will help.
Self-Management: How to cope with and prevent negative emotions
Self-management can be broken down into two actions: preventing and coping. Preventing involves avoiding or circumventing situations and triggers that give you undesirable feelings. Coping involves strategies to positively handle negative feelings when they are brought on .
Please note: I am not saying that negative emotions are bad or that you should always avoid them. Emotional intelligence is about working with your emotions, not running from them. And sometimes the best course of action really is to confront negativity head on. Emotional intelligence gives you the ability to know when this is the case, and what to do when it’s not. This post, however, only focuses on the latter.
Coping with negative emotions is something you can apply right away. If you find yourself in a situation like I did in the break room, or if you’re about to do something harmful (drinking, eating junk food, calling your ex, physically hurting yourself), or if you simply feel anxious and are losing control, try doing one of the following:
- Take deep breaths
- Label your emotion. Say it to yourself or even out loud: “I feel angry”
- Walk away. Excuse yourself and leave. You can return when you’re calm again
- Do a body scan to physically remove tension. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Visualize a safe place
- Smile in front of a mirror and also at other people
- Express your feelings productively: write them in journals or talk to someone who can acknowledge them without egging you on
- Other ways:
- Experiment with your senses and discover what relaxes you
- Listen to music or to calming nature sounds (I use calm.com)
- Exercise: go for a walk, go to the gym, play a sport, or simply run and jump around
- Drink chamomile tea (it works, even the US National Institute of Health says so)
- Distract yourself: change the conversation, read something you enjoy, play a game, and so on
- For more workplace-specific examples, click here
- And finally (I saved the best for last): play with a cat or dog
Remember: taking preventative measures is better in the long run. Once you’ve returned from your reactive emotional state, you can look back and assess what happened. This can be broken into four steps:
1. Take responsibility for your actions. After my lunchtime incident, I knew I couldn’t continue acting and feeling the way I was. After being depressed and feeling like a victim, I had to take control. This meant understanding that I can’t control other people, I can only control myself and my reactions to them. Realizing this made me feel more powerful, not weaker .
2. Recognize that you are having an emotional reaction and identify the emotion. I’ve created actual scripts I can repeat when I feel a hijacking coming on: “Oh no! I feel myself getting worked up. I’m angry. Does this really matter? I guess not. I should go walk it off/meditate for a few minutes/work on something else.” Sometimes, however, whatever is making you angry really does matter; in these situations ask yourself: can I put this aside until I’ve calmed down and am better equipped to handle it? If you can, you should.
3. Determine the event/action that triggered your reaction. What happened? What is the underlying cause? What emotional need were you denied? Below is a list of needs that are common emotional triggers. Mine include: being understood, autonomy, acceptance, and control.
4. Find an action to break the cycle. How do you want to feel? Can you let it go? How can you prevent or prepare for situations that run counter to these?
- Avoid circumstances that bring out negative emotions. For example: giving yourself extra time to do something or avoiding certain subjects/people
- Modify the situation to your benefit. Next time you’re in a situation you know will be an emotional trigger, think ahead about how you can redirect things and keep yourself calm
- Focus on yourself and your actions. You can only change your thoughts and actions, not someone else’s
- Change your thoughts and perspective (remember self-talk?)
How did I find my most frequent triggers and create those scripts in my head? I kept track of my emotions, my reactions, and what I did to calm myself and control them. And now, I’ve created a worksheet so you can do the same! By completing this worksheet, you’ll be able to monitor your emotional reactions, discover patterns, and also discover your most common triggers. You can download the worksheet here.
Relationship Management: Improving your Communication
Relationship-management involves combining the self-management skills above with your own interpersonal and communication skills. This combination is shown in the chart below, and the results (according to David Goleman) are listed below the chart. Both the chart and the results are from this website.
- Influence – your ability to build a consensus and win people’s support by focusing on what is important to others
- Leadership – be the person that others choose to follow
- Developing Others – recognize others’ strengths and offer challenges to develop them
- Communication – plan your communications to ensure the right emotional tone
- Change Catalyst – recognize when change is needed, be willing to question established ideals and initiate new ideas
- Conflict Management – realize when a situation is heading towards conflict and take quick and decisive action to resolve it
- Building Bonds – cultivate a network of colleagues, acquaintances, and friends that benefits everyone mutually
- Teamwork and Collaboration – define your success criteria so that everyone can make their own unique and valued contribution
This article describes methods and actions to improve the above skills.
Relationship-management is a deep and complex subject and has prompted the study of a new discipline: Social Intelligence. Don’t have time to read the book? Watch Goleman’s 10-minute video below.
To conclude, I will say that I’ve tried and applied most of the advice in this post. For me some helped, some didn’t. I am still a work in progress. I’ve found it best to take each action one step at a time and at my own pace. Emotional Intelligence is a lifelong learning process and you’re bound to stumble and make mistakes. It’s important to keep going, to not be discouraged, and to apologize to the people you have (or may) hurt. This includes yourself.
This post contains affiliate links to books I recommend. This means that when you click through to buy the product, a portion of the sale goes to me to help cover the cost of running this blog.