Triggered? What You Should Do Instead of Reacting — Lionesses of Africa

by Anja van Beek

 It is often said that culture is the competitive edge for any organisation. Culture is also referred to as the personality or character of the business. So it leaves us with the question: “Where does emotional intelligence (EQ) fit in?” 

When working with people in a workplace or any setting, for example, people respond differently. The “how” they respond to that specific situation or matter, is what sets the tone for what can be seen as the acceptable behaviour. This will then drive the culture of the business – which are the unwritten rules driving behaviours. The organisation, the culture, and ultimately the bottom-line will suffer when executives and team members act and respond in a less-than-emotionally-mature manner in the workplace.

EQ – a critical skill in the knowledge economy

The term emotional intelligence was coined in the 1990’s and popularised by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ”.  

EQ, in short, is to better recognise and manage emotions. It can provide insight into triggers and most importantly, it is the ability to not only recognize, name and understand the emotion but also to manage the impact of emotions on the behaviour in your life. It is also the ability to use this awareness to manage your behaviour, relationships and your interactions with others.

TalentSmart tested emotional intelligence alongside 33 other important workplace skills, and found that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs.

Therefore, emotional intelligence has an impact on all interactions among groups, friends, and family. When these encounters are founded on emotionally mature behaviours, better outcomes, improved performance, or greater team traditions can emerge, all of which contribute to the development of a stronger culture.

The 4 S’s of EQ

Daniel Goleman divides EQ into:

  • Self-awareness – the competency to understand the impact of your emotions

  • Self-regulation – the ability to manage your emotions in a healthy way

  • Social awareness – to have empathy and awareness of others

  • Social skills – to build strong relationships, inspire and motivate people

In the technology-driven world that we live in, workplaces must have the following main ingredients:

  • Having a (strong) sense of belonging,

  • Vulnerability to building a psychologically safe workplace and

  • Having a shared purpose.

Humans are hard-wired for connection. We are also triggered by internal or external sources — some conscious and others subconscious, many times during the day. 

Self-leadership is therefore essential for the workplace of the future. Through our interactions and the development of any company’s culture, we all contribute to the development of these unwritten norms – and we should ensure it is positive. 

Leaders – how are you showing up for your teams?

Since you are the group’s most powerful individual, your teams will pay close attention to everything you say and do.

For team members to excel, be challenged, and feel like they have a purpose in their job, leaders must foster an environment and culture that allows them to bring their best self to the table. Leaders must constantly remember that the way you lead, the things you do and say, affect how others feel on the inside.

As we enter year three of the pandemic and confront global difficulties that force us to live in a state of uncertainty, empathy in the workplace is now taking on a new level of significance and necessity.

EQ becomes crucial. What do you say when a co-worker has missed a deadline three times in a row in the past week? What should you do if the team feels unmotivated because you decided to go back to the office full-time? Or when they are waiting for someone else to act rather than taking responsibility for improving a client’s situation. On the other hand, do you acknowledge the team’s modest gains and not just focus on the big stuff? 

One of my favourite quotes is Viktor Frankl’s words “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” This is sometimes easier said than done.

So, instead of reacting to a certain moment or heated argument, what should you do?

Take a pause. Never underestimate the impact of taking a few deep breaths to slow down your heartbeat and be able to evaluate what is happening and what will be the best way to respond to this situation.

Be aware of the 4 F’s. When you are trigged, you are in fight, flight, freeze or fawn state. A chemical reaction results in our neocortex (thriving, problem-solving part of the brain) to not functioning optimally. Instead of allowing an unconscious habit to drive your reaction, reactivate the neocortex and be mindful in choosing how you want to respond. To reactivate your neocortex, ask yourself a question (such as: What is the real issue for me? What might support a different explanation? What if this was someone else behaving in this way? What is my behaviour communicating? ) to notice what is really going on in the moment? 

Name the emotion. It is helpful to be able to name the emotion you are experiencing and consider what is the emotion trying to tell you. Instead of being angry, perhaps you are disappointed with how your idea wasn’t taken despite you being verbally told that your idea was the best idea?

Reframe your thinking. We often jump to a conclusion and easily take things personally. Reframe your thinking by considering what other possible reasons may be for the person to act the way they are behaving. A level of self-awareness is also hugely beneficial. For example: ‘What is my role in this scenario. How have my behaviour impacted the other person’s view – without being aware of it?’

Tactfully share what you are experiencing. Remember, an experience is made up of four elements – what am I observing, thinking, feeling and wanting.  When sharing your experience, a good start is to start with the “I”. For example, when the project’s team leader did not schedule sufficient time on the agenda: “I noticed that this is the third time that we didn’t have sufficient time allocated to the brainstorming topic. I feel disappointed that my idea wasn’t heard after the request to make the research a priority.  How can we ensure we have sufficient time allocated to this agenda-point moving forward?

Remain curious. Ask questions to truly understand the other person’s perspective.  Help me understand why do you want to achieve XYZ? What is the real issue for you? If you choose X what are you saying no to?   

The sweet spot for raising EQ awareness in teams

It is when…

  • We all choose to respond in an emotionally intelligent way, and we care and connect with colleagues as humans, so that we can grow and contribute to the overall purpose of the business.

When the above is in place, we will create organisational cultures that make team members want to go to work in the mornings and WILLINGLY share their talents to help the business grow. Those are the businesses that reach the balance of profit and purpose and create a space where people can be successful. 

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