Emotional agility is how we manage, interact with, and navigate our inner feelings, thoughts, and experiences. It’s the ability to take a step back from your current situation or experience and determine the desired outcome. This is all done without riding the passion of emotion, although you do still take the emotion into consideration.
How do you do this?
How you show up is everything—inspiring or depressing, happy or sad, tense or terse. Managing emotions and applying them to the right situation is critical to expression, communication, and success.
To navigate the chaos of communication and relationships requires emotional agility, or the ability to apply the right emotion to the right person in the right situation at the right time. Here’s how:
1. Understand the situation.
To be situationally aware is to interpret the emotions within a group and to integrate your understanding of both with any previously held schemas so as to anticipate the situation’s outcome. Four questions to consider in developing your situational awareness are:
- Who is involved? Why?
- What is the activity or situation? Why?
- When does the activity take place? Why?
- Where will the activity occur? Why?
The key to the above four questions is to follow-up each one with a “why?” This way, you force your brain to search for an answer to the context, thus forcing yourself to interpret and anticipate situational dynamics.
2. Empathize with others.
Nobody likes working with people who don’t understand him or her. To be empathetic is to understand the other person’s issue from his or her perspective; it does not mean just being “nice” and is not synonymous with “sympathy.” Being nice is just that—a state of solitary being—as derived from one’s own individual state, and has nothing to do with understanding the other person. Sympathy puts the other person’s feelings first but can come across ambiguously at times.
Here’s an easy way to tell the difference between empathy and sympathy: Empathy begins with “you” statements and reflect the other person’s viewpoint, whereas sympathy begins with “I” or “my” statements and project one’s own perspective. If you want to maximize your emotional agility, let the other person know you understand by focusing on them.
3. Interpret your emotions.
The difference between memorable leaders and forgettable leaders is self-awareness. Self-awareness is what allows you to take your own emotional temperature and see what is too much or not enough and make adjustments. Without self-awareness, there is no emotional control and the propensity for poor behavior or misconduct increases. To test the waters and see how hot or cold you’re running, try this:
- Every day for the next week, write down the strongest emotion you felt for that day along with how your physiology changed (i.e. increased heart rate, shallow breathing, sweaty palms?). Include any follow-on thoughts that transpired afterward. Next, identify the source that caused that feeling and ask yourself why? Why did [the stimulus] cause you to feel the way you did? Keep asking yourself why over and over until the feeling has subsided. Playing the “why game” of emotion forces your brain to search for reason and subdue the peril of emotionally based decisions.
4. Connect the dots between all three.
The above three elements—situation, others, and you—are at the crux of emotional agility. They allow you to scale up or scale back the right emotion for the moment based on the context of the situation. Assess the situation before you. Climb into the other person’s shoes and then, notice and name your emotions, without judgment.
Some people need a pat while others need a poke, and your emotional agility to navigate different situations and know when to turn the heat up (or down) is essential to being an effective leader.