How Emotional Intelligence Drives Innovation

When we think about innovation, we usually picture someone quirky and isolated, like Yoshiro Nakamatsu the inventor of the floppy disc. When Nakamatsu had a specific mental challenge, he would head down to the pool, dive in, and hold his breath until he was completely deprived of oxygen. When he surfaced, gasping for breath, he would madly scribble down whatever thoughts he had on a waterproof notepad.

Stories like this of the “lone wolf” innovator are popular, but they overlook one of the biggest factors when it comes to innovation: people.

“Innovation is all about people. Innovation thrives when the population is diverse, accepting, and willing to cooperate.” ~ Vivek Wadhwa, Tech Entrepreneur

Even the smallest innovations (like a tweak to an existing process) often require a vast range of interpersonal skills. One idea typically entails an interruption of an existing way of doing something, winning people over to your idea through clear and persuasive communication, and a collaborative rollout of additional changes and tweaks as the idea comes into fruition. That’s why people high in emotional intelligence (EQ) are better equipped to innovate. They’ve already developed many of the necessary skills to effectively disrupt the people and systems around them.

High EQ people can clear their minds and get objective. Good mood, or bad mood, when emotions run high, they ultimately get in the way of our most creative and productive self. High EQ people experience emotions just as intensely as anyone else, but they are more effective at understanding and managing their emotions. This means when they’re faced with a critical decision or crippling problem, they can step back from feeling overwhelmed and gain that much-needed big picture perspective. This ability to get the bird’s eye view even when emotions run high opens up space for innovation and problem-solving. After all, it’s often when we are faced with problems that our temporary solution becomes a lasting innovation—like the Post-It Note which originated as a failed glue that 3M researcher Arthur Fry began to use at home as temporary adhesive for his sheet music.

High EQ people lean into their discomfort. It’s hard to imagine how many good ideas have been left percolating in people’s minds because they were afraid to share them in the first place. To innovate you have to disrupt, and to disrupt, you have to get uncomfortable. People push back and even resent you when you change the status quo. Anyone who has heard the phrase, “this is just the way we’ve always done it,” has been on the receiving end of innovation pushback. One of the core tenants of emotional intelligence is to recognize that our habits and comforts can hold us back. On the other hand, when you get in the habit of leaning into your discomfort, a couple things happen: 1) Some discomforts become comfortable 2) You fail, and then you learn and grow. It’s a win-win.

High EQ people craft emotionally-charged pitches. A dramatic example of the power of a good pitch is when Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) sought to keep his funding in a 1969 senate hearing before John Pastore, a congressman known for attacking television:

Fred Rogers had prepared to read a 10-minute testimony to Pastore, and just before his turn, Congressman Pastore announced he was tired of hearing people read testimonies. There would be no more reading out loud. Mr. Rogers pivoted and spoke directly to Pastore and the listeners. In less than 4 minutes, and with the lyrics of a children’s song, he addressed trust, expressions of care, and the ability to talk about and manage anger. He also landed 20 million dollars in funding. There’s a lesson to be learned when you watch Fred in action. He didn’t speak fast, he didn’t take the offer to read his 10 minute statement, he wasn’t flashy, and he didn’t use pictures. What he did was take us all back to the child within us and made the case for his innovative approach with children developing a world of future adults able to recognize emotions and manage them productively. Before you set out to win people over to your idea, ask yourself “Who will my idea help and how?” Answering these simple questions will make your effort at disruption more exciting, applicable, and real to your audience, whether it’s a board of investors a congressional hearing, or a five-person team.

High EQ people make the most of their feedback. Ideas and innovations, while often arrived at in a split-second, change and evolve greatly with time. As time passes, outside perspectives come in and unforeseen problems arise. People high in EQ don’t get flustered or discouraged by these nagging problems. Instead, they leverage problems and feedback to grow their idea. They don’t take feedback personally. They sift through it, identifying the helpful comments and the not-so-helpful ones. When high EQ people receive confusing feedback, they question and push to understand it more deeply. The result is that their innovations become more finely tuned more quickly, and they win over allies in the process as they involve other people instead of lashing out at them for differing opinions or pulling away.

From Insights to Action. It’s not just individuals who benefit from high EQ when it comes to innovation. On the organizational level, a high EQ workplace means trust, openness, and inclusivity. As a result, ideas, perspectives, and opinions intersect more frequently, and people, regardless of their level or background, feel unafraid to share, receive criticism, or fail. This degree of openness and trust drives innovation across all levels of the organization.

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at

How EQ Powers Patient Care

“What is remarkable is not merely the consequences of a doctor’s negative emotions. Despite research showing that most patients pick up on the physician’s negativity, few of them understand its effect on their medical care.”
-Jerome E. Groopman, M.D. Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School

When it comes to patient care, there’s really no such thing as a simple interaction. With health and money top of mind, patients and their families’ emotions inevitably run high and health care professionals rely on an arsenal of interpersonal skills to navigate these tough interactions.

A TalentSmart certified trainer from a major medical center in California shared one example of patients coming into an imaging center for CT scans. Before they even come in, many patients are already frustrated, angry, and scared. And on top of that, it’s not uncommon for imaging departments to fall behind schedule or experience a mechanical issue. For staff, this means trying to keep patients calm and comfortable throughout their wait and appointment, which often entails long periods of time in a claustrophobic environment. Doing so requires empathy, active listening, immediate connection, a high degree of professionalism, and the ability to adjust their approach to meet each patient’s feelings and needs.

The good news is that all of these necessary “soft skills” can be improved simultaneously by practicing one skillset: emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions, and your skill at using this awareness to manage yourself and your relationships with others.

HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems), the standard patient care survey administered across hospitals, includes 16 questions (of 25 total) about behaviors that can be connected directly to EQ skills. And research over the last decade shows that this overlap of HCAHPS behaviors and EQ skills is more than just a coincidence. EQ drives successful patient care across a variety of positions and experience levels in the hospital environment:

  1. Nurses: Nurses high in social competence are better able to attend to their patients’ comfort. They’re also better equipped to work with a patient’s family or advocate by showing understanding and addressing concerns and questions.
  2. Nursing teams: So much of the work done in the hospital is done by teams, and patients feel the dynamic of the whole team during their stay. It’s incredibly important, for example, for a patient to feel comfortable through the transition from one nurse’s shift to the next. And, it’s important that the patient feels like the team is communicating behind the scenes so that the patient doesn’t have to ask the same questions or repeat the same responses. Teams of nurses high in EQ, especially in the skill of emotion management, are rated by patients as having better overall quality of care and as being more cohesive as a group.
  3. Physicians: Physicians high in EQ have been found to deliver an overall higher level of patient care than other physicians. Physicians who are self-aware and can self-manage are better able to do things like listen actively, choose their words wisely as they share difficult news or complicated information, and deliver thoughtful care.
  4. Surgeons: High EQ has a very positive effect on patient-surgeon relationships. Specifically, this study found that surgeons high in EQ built greater rapport more quickly because they were better able to empathize with patients and express empathy in a way that resonated with the patient.
  5. Medical students, residency, and beyond: Beginning with medical students, studies have found that students with higher EQ ratings scored more highly in patient care surveys. The trend persisted through residency and up into the level of doctor. For medical students, EQ skills can help them establish trust and professional respect from patients. It can also help them learn by developing strong relationships with doctors and other staff.
  6. All hospital staff: One of the most interesting findings with emotional intelligence in healthcare comes from a study in Greece where they found that different staff relied on different aspects of EQ to succeed on the job. Physicians relied heavily on self-management to deal with stress and workload, nurses on self-awareness and social awareness to manage their constant stream of human interactions, and administrative staff on relationship management skills to navigate the variety of conversations from patients and other staff.

From Insights to Action. Perhaps the most important finding in emotional intelligence research is that it is a highly flexible skill. With practice, people who measure low in EQ can work to improve a specific EQ skill within six months to a year.

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at

3 Lessons in Team EQ from a Plan Gone Wrong

Whether it’s in the office, on Zoom, on a mountain, or in a boat, the performance of a team lies in that team’s ability to effectively recognize, understand, and manage its emotions. A climbing team in Yosemite found this out as they ventured out to climb Cathedral Peak.  First described in Laurence Gonzales’ book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, here is a close look at their climb with attention to the role emotions played in their team’s performance.

Their Plan

David, his brother Rob, and their friend Steven were all set to climb Cathedral Peak in Yosemite. They each came into the climb with varying degrees of climbing experience. The route required six rope lengths and Rob had never climbed more than one. That said, the 10,940-foot peak is considered relatively easy, well within his capabilities. As an experienced rock climber, David approached new climbs with his existing mental model of how climbing worked for him. He knew, for example, what types of ropes, anchors, harnesses, carabiners, and quickdraws to use in different situations. The experienced one, David devised the plan for the group. There was another significant element at play though: David approached the climb with a set of positive memories and emotions from past successful climbs. These memories and emotions motivated him to climb again, to try this new challenge with his brother and his friend. Feeling good, he anticipated favorable conditions and success in reaching Cathedral Peak. Due largely to their trust in David, Rob and Steven also felt confident and excited.

Their Climb

Of course, things did not go exactly as planned. The climbers woke up at 4am to find that someone had stolen their food. The plan had been to hike to the base of the peak by 8am, but it took two hours to buy food and this pressured them to catch up to their original schedule. They estimated they could still make it to the summit by 3pm, but to do so, they would have to cut everything a bit closer than originally planned.

They checked the weather board at the rangers’ station and noticed it hadn’t been updated. The day before, the board had forecasted good weather, and a cloudless sky seemed to confirm that. Caught up in their excitement and urge to catch up to their schedule, they ignored an important possibility: Mountainous terrain lends itself to rapid, unpredictable changes in weather. They started their ascent two hours late at 10am and felt good, moving up the face relatively quickly. Once they’d made it two lengths up, a thick layer of storm clouds filled in across the valley. They’d been awake eight hours at this point, and each foot of altitude meant less oxygen to their brains. Feeling the stress growing, friction surfaced between them about the plan. The climb was only getting more complicated, but they ultimately agreed to stick to the plan.

Rain filled in across the valley, and they paused again to discuss whether they should continue. They agreed to press for the top. With emotions and adrenaline running high, they felt driven by an overwhelming impulse for forward-moving action. They agreed to stick to their goal, to press for the top, but now in a nervous race against the weather. The weather caught up to them at the sixth and final length. The rock wall slickened, and hail obscured their vision and chilled their hands. David made it to the summit, but Rob and Steven had one last stretch. Suddenly, Rob and Steven felt all their hair stand on end. A thunderhead had locked onto their bodies, and there was nothing they could do. “Everything around us started to buzz,” they described later. “It was the most terrifying sound I ever heard.” Acting entirely on instinct, Rob and Steven scrambled up the wet face to an overhanging rock in case they were struck. Lightening slammed Rob into the wall in front of him. He heard Steven moan and saw David up at the summit, unconscious. Rob scrambled recklessly up the rest of the face to the summit to help his brother. It was getting late, and they had no way to start a fire, no way to treat David, and no waterproof clothing. What saved their lives in the end, was another climber at the base, planning to climb the next day. He heard them above yelling and radioed for help. They did all survive.

The emotional dynamic in this team nearly killed them. Here are three important team EQ lessons in their near-death experience:

Team EQ Lesson #1: Emotions, good and bad, can get in the way of a team’s performance. David, Rob, and Steven were so caught up in their excitement about the climb that they overlooked multiple signs of potential trouble: the missing forecast at the ranger station, the clouds filling in, and even the rain across the valley. If they had stepped back from their excitement, they may have waited to ensure a safe weather forecast. At organizations, this might include releasing a new product not fully tested for safety, or announcing a deal that isn’t yet signed.  

Team EQ Lesson #2: Norms set the tone, especially in times of confusion. Their plan, though carefully devised, didn’t include a bailout. As a result, they put their lives at risk for a climb they could have done the next day. At organizations, neglecting an “escape plan” can result in work being rushed to a bad finish because the group refused to reevaluate their work. It can also lead to unnecessary or rigid rule-following and enforcement.

Team EQ Lesson #3: Leaders, exercise humility; followers, disagree openly. David was the leader, and as such, he should have been the first person to raise doubt when he realized they were facing real danger. He carries the responsibility to know that his enthusiasm would be contagious to Rob and Steven who relied on him as the experienced leader. Although Rob and Steven were less experienced, two voiced concerns might have sparked more prudence in David, and earlier. This same dynamic happens in organizations. When a leader ignores changing conditions or fails to consider potential risks in a plan, and the team doesn’t feel comfortable voicing their critique, avoidable mistakes will occur.

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at

How to Keep Your Cool

“Anger doesn’t have the same way of goading minds as the other vices do; it drags them away, deprives them of self-control, drives them into longing for a harm that will afflict all, provokes rage against not only its target but whatever comes in its way.” –Seneca, On Anger

Seneca’s quote, though 2000 years old, is timeless because it describes something everyone has felt at some point in their life: a total loss of control under the spell of anger. The reason we’ve all experienced anger this way is that anger is hardwired into our brains as a survival mechanism. Anger triggers fight or flight reactions by activating a region of the brain called the amygdala and releasing a surge of hormones. Of course, in the working world and our day-to-day lives, fight or flight survival instincts are much more likely to get in our way than to help us. Left unchecked, anger will cause us to do things like yell in a meeting, pound our fist on a conference table, or walk out of the room in frustration.

Psychologist Dr. Jennifer Lerner found in her recent research on anger and decision-making that anger makes us temporarily more confident, more likely to blame specific individuals, and more prone to dangerous risk-taking. To try to stop our angry impulses, we need to learn to rely on the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and decisions. It’s through the prefrontal cortex that we can slow down and contextualize our anger before we act. To help you practice staying calm under the influence of anger, we can look to this ancient philosopher’s work On Anger for six still incredibly relevant strategies.  

1. Take your time. “Sometimes false things give the appearance of truth. One must take one’s time; a day reveals the truth.” Time gives us the mental space we need to avoid acting impulsively on our anger. Sleeping on it, leaving an email in draft form for a few hours or for a trusted friend to read first, or even just counting to ten all present opportunities to use anger more intentionally. You can never take back something you’ve already said, but you can always say it later.

2. “Being deceived is better than being mistrustful.” It’s too easy to assume the worst about someone and then slowly fill in a story proving your mistrust.The problem is that this takes energy. It consumes your thoughts and soon you will find yourself angry over random actions as you mistakenly assume each one is pitted against you. Save your energy, and trust until trust is broken, rather than sapping your energy and patience by making everyone earn your trust.

3. Let the petty things go. “Nothing nurtures anger so much as luxury that lacks restraint and can’t stand setbacks.” The road to an unbearable life is paved with “all the small things.” Instead of wasting time and energy sweating the little stuff, learn to expect that life is imperfect, changing, and downright weird sometimes.

4. “None of us is without guilt.” When you find yourself getting angry or frustrated with someone, remember your own wrongdoings. Then, forgive people the way you would want to be forgiven.

5. Befriend your enemies. “How often has someone thrown theirself at the feet of the person they earlier spurned? What is more glorious than to change one’s wrath into friendship?” A more contemporary take on this is Abraham Lincoln’s “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” What better way to move past anger than to try to fully reverse it and befriend the person you’re angry with.

6. Know your vulnerabilities. “This one wants consideration for high rank; that one, for good looks. One longs to be thought highly refined; another, deeply learned. One can’t abide arrogance; another, stubbornness…One thinks it an injury to be asked for something; another, an insult not to be asked.” We all have different vulnerabilities that trigger our anger. Becoming aware of these triggers can help us pause or slow down to avoid reacting badly in the heat of the moment.

From Insights to Action. “What joy is there in proclaiming our grievances and wasting our brief lifespan, as though we were born to live forever? Why not rather hoard this brief space of life and make it peaceful for yourself and for others?” In other words, turn to the big picture things, good and bad—like family, health, friendships, mortality, and nature—to reframe your perspective. The further you zoom out from your problems, the more trivial they seem. Or as Seneca put it: “Draw further back, and laugh.”

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at

Empathy Erosion: 5 Strategies to Rebuild Yours

That bitter, older manager in the office who’s always grumbling about the younger generations being “all selfies and no respect” might actually have a bit more bite to his bark than you think. A Notre Dame study tracked empathy levels in college students beginning in 1979 and found that over the course of 30 years, average empathy levels in college students had dropped nearly 50%.

No one is sure exactly why, and speculation runs the gamut. One theory is that people are spending less and less time interacting with each other and more and more time with electronics. Another theory from Australian philosopher Dr. Roman Krznaric is that “digital culture has created an epidemic of narcissism and exacerbated political polarization that divides rather than unites people.”

Whatever may be contributing to this decline in empathy, the good news for all of us is that we can get ahead of this trend personally and even help turn it around. Empathy is something anyone can improve with effort regardless of their baseline. Below, we’ve compiled five strategies you can apply to help strengthen your empathy muscle.

Be curious. “Remember to look up at the stars, not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.” –Stephen Hawking

Perhaps the best way to grow our empathy is to be genuinely curious about everyone around us. They may not live the way we do or make the same decisions, but each person is their own universe of complexity with unlimited opportunities for learning.

Be aware of “empathy erosion.” You might snap “not now” at your kid as they climb onto your lap during a meeting or shoot off a callous email one evening on your way out the door. These lapses in empathy are examples of what Cambridge psychologist Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen calls “empathy erosion.” Our empathy wanes when we get caught up in an “I” mode of thinking, obsessing over our own thoughts and feelings at the expense of the thoughts and feelings of the people around us. Empathy erosion is the quickest and most common way for even highly empathetic people to act unempathetically. Being more aware of this possibility gives you the choice to remain connected to the thoughts and feelings of the person you are with.

Look deeper in movies and books. “Nearly everyone in the world has appetites and impulses, trigger emotions, islands of selfishness, lusts just beneath the surface.” John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

Beneath every tree is a network of roots equaling the size of the tree. People are like this too—so much of who we are is hidden beneath the surface. As you watch movies or read books, try to see what lies beneath the surface for each character. What problems, successes, emotions, thoughts, values, and beliefs, make them the person they are?

Catch your own confirmation bias. “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.” –Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

We tend to confirm what we already think, and this includes our preconceived notions of others. Whether we realize it or not, we constantly judge people, and then when they speak or act, we organize their actions into preconceived boxes. Instead, we should strive for a “tabula rasa,” treating each person we meet as a blank slate and each of their actions as a fresh mark to interpret.

Try compassionate meditation. In a two-week, daily meditation study at University of Wisconsin-Madison, one group of people practiced “compassionate meditation” while another group practiced “general positive meditation.” In the compassionate meditation group, participants focused on specific individuals they knew (some they liked, some who were acquaintances, and some who they were actively in a conflict with). Regardless of the relationship, they meditated on that person repeating the phrase “may you be free from suffering.” After two weeks passed, they measured participant brain activity and everyone was asked to spend money to help a fictional person in need. Those who engaged in compassionate meditation offered to donate more money to help. And the area of their brain associated with empathy showed an overall increase in activity. In other words, their empathy grew both in action and neurologically! Try repeating “may you be free from suffering” for your friends, acquaintances and those who pose challenges for you.

From Insights to Action. “Empathy is really important. Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our full potential.” –Jane Goodall

Empathy is at the core of who we are, and practicing it will restore you, not deplete you. Try the strategies above, and you might be surprised to find that the more empathy you exercise, the more full your life begins to feel as you inspire others and begin to replenish the empathy decline.

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at

6 Strategies for Mastering Healthy Conflict

When you think about conflict at work, you might remember an antagonizing boss, petty office politics, and the know-it-all who talks over people. But, if you’re the kind of person who avoids stirring things up and shies away from conflict, we have some bad news for you. You may actually be just as harmful because your avoidance also prevents healthy conflict.

Healthy conflicts, according to a Myers-Briggs Company survey, improve working relationships, increase motivation, and can even trigger major innovations. Though they are uncomfortable, healthy conflicts are the lifeblood of keeping the workplace authentic and human.

In the process of dodging conflict, “nice people” often bottle up their emotions and develop grudges. Ironically, it’s often these same “nice people” who then resort to passive aggressive tactics or lash out when their negative emotions boil over. In the grand scheme of things, it’s sharing your perspective, asserting yourself, and offering constructive feedback that make you nice. Healthy conflict is a form of self-care, and on the group level, it promotes harmony, solutions, and new ideas. Here are six strategies to help you hone your approach to healthy conflict.

Use “and” to make your points, not “but.” One way to engage in a healthy conflict is to make your response an addition instead of a detraction. For example, you might say, “That’s an interesting idea to offer this content in a webinar, and I wonder how we can prevent people from using the rich information we provide in the webinar to avoid subscribing to our membership program.” By using the word “and,” you encourage problem-solving and support the idea offered. By using the word “but” in the same situation, you may come off sounding like you’re trying to poke holes or derail the original idea.

Ask for an explanation. One common instigator of unhealthy conflict is when someone states a new idea as a command without explaining their decision. When this happens, it’s easy to move into hypotheticals and brew on hidden agendas or grudges that don’t actually exist. Instead of brewing, get your clarity by asking questions. Ask what the goal is and why they’re approaching it that way. The added bonus to this approach is that if the stated idea wasn’t well thought out, your questioning may expose holes in their idea and give them an opportunity to pull back and adjust.  

Show some vulnerability. When something doesn’t sound quite right to you, admit that you don’t understand. This encourages an explanation without coming across as an attack. It can also be a good way to find common ground you didn’t realize you had. You may find, for example, that the argument is over the execution, not the desired outcome.

Ask for a potential solution. When you present an idea of your own and someone pushes back, ask for an example. For instance, you might say, “I hear what you’re saying about a November 1st launch date being a potential problem—it is just around the corner. How might we work through that?” This directs the person’s challenge to a more constructive, collaborative place.

Question the impact. “If we try launching pilot versions sooner, then how might that impact our back-and-forths with the content writers and designers?” This is a way of taking something hypothetical and trying to make it more real and more concrete.

Reach an agreement to collaborate. If you find yourself in a detailed conflict with someone, set up a meeting to work through the problem or project one-on-one. Get as specific as possible. Agree to an actual process for how you want to find facts and work through them. Decide together how you want to gather information, analyze it, and reach a decision.

From Insights to Action. Overcoming the discomfort of conflict is a matter of habit. Each time you choose not to engage in a conflict, you get a bit more used to avoiding that discomfort. Having this set of strategies in your back pocket will help you break that habit and assert yourself in a constructive way.  You’ll soon` discover a little discomfort is just part of mastering healthy conflict.

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at

Why You Need Emotional Agility to Succeed

How does a salesperson successfully close on the biggest opportunity of her career? What makes an executive leader resilient in the face of massive organizational change? And what makes an insecure new leader rise to the occasion? More often than not, the answer boils down to the way that person navigates and manages their emotions. The salesperson doesn’t let her anxiety take over, but she does lean into her adrenaline to move past barriers and ensure she tries to close. The resilient executive leader devotes extra time to stress management and reminds herself of all the preparation she’s done for these types of moments. The new leader defeats his insecurities by breaking down his job into smaller, achievable pieces.

Each of these people demonstrates a high degree of emotional agility. Emotional agility is the ability to manage your emotions and thoughts in a way that makes you more effective at what you’re doing. In studies across organizations and industries, emotional agility has been shown to reduce stress, increase confidence and resilience, and help people build relationships. According to researcher and author of the 2016 book Emotional Agility, Dr. Susan David, the key to developing emotional agilityis to follow four practices in your thoughts and emotions: 1) recognize your patterns, 2) label your thoughts and emotions, 3) accept your emotions, and 4) act on your values.

To bring each of these practices to life, we’ll follow Shelly who just landed her dream job as a Director of Marketing for an animal shelter. She’s on her first big project, trying to put together a rollout plan across platforms for the entirety of their social media. She knows she should be more focused and motivated than ever, but for some reason, she can’t stop falling into internet holes. What can she do to turn this behavior around?  

1. Recognize Your Patterns. To change a habit, you first need to recognize it. The best starting point is usually the most obvious sign—your behavior. In the case of Shelly, she recognizes that something’s wrong and spots her pattern in behavior quickly: She’s not getting any work done. As soon as she asks herself what’s getting in the way, she immediately knows she is succumbing to distractions.

2. Label Your Thoughts and Emotions. Now that Shelly knows what is getting in the way of her work, the question becomes why. To think about the “why,” she follows a chain of emotions asking herself why along the way. She knows, for example, that she feels anxious, flustered, and guilty as she scans the internet. Why? Because she’s anxious about her new job and this immediate new, big task. But why is she nervous? After all, she ran much of the social media at her previous job. She’s nervous she will fail and lose her dream job. Even more specifically, she realizes that she suffers from a kind of imposter syndrome where she can’t stop imagining her worst-case scenario. Shelly was able to reach this internal kernel of truth by getting as specific as possible with her emotions. When Shelly said she was “anxious” or “nervous,” this got her moving in the right direction, but it was when she arrived at the source of her anxiety that she began to see the bigger pattern. To get yourself moving in a more specific direction with your emotions, check out this comprehensive emotions list, which actually includes words for emotions that only exist in other languages like “toska,” a vague sense of restlessness, “abbiocco,” a sleepy feeling after a big meal, and “umpty,” a feeling of everything being too much and all in the wrong way.  

3. Accept Your Emotions. Once you’re successfully able to label your emotions, it’s important to actually accept them for what they are. Don’t judge them as good or bad. In Shelly’s case, her anxiety won’t magically disappear by recognizing that she’s afraid to fail. However, her acceptance may give her the sense of calm to stop ruminating on hypothetical failure and focus on the task at hand. After all, some degree of failure is inevitable, and she can only control her effort. This might be a good moment to talk with her supervisor about her insight and plan going forward. That supervisor will appreciate Shelly’s growth and may offer her reassurance about making mistakes, which will offer Shelly an additional source of calm.

4. Act on Your Values, Not Your Thoughts. Values give you a sense of distance from your negative emotions by offering a bigger picture perspective. They can also serve as a “rupture point” from cyclic, negative thinking. Shelly, for example, reminded herself that the Marketing Director job for an animal rescue was her dream job because she’d always felt highly connected to animals since at the age of seven when her family adopted a dog. She derived a lot of energy from this value-based thought. Instead of running to the internet, or obsessively thinking about ways she might fail, she focused on making a difference by spreading the word that there were animals who needed homes and seven-year-old girls whose lives would change in the process. She even developed a mantra for when she doubted her own abilities. “You can make a big difference,” she told herself.

From Insights to Action. We have such a constant stream of thoughts in our daily life that we frequently don’t realize the extent to which these thoughts dictate our attitude, actions, and even our outlook. We think of our thoughts as something that “just happens” or are “naturally a part of us.” To be agile with our emotions and thoughts, we have to recognize that our thoughts are under our control. And to get that control, we just need to begin to listen more closely, break them down, and understand them better. For further help with these emotional agility practices, check out these Self-Awareness Strategies in TalentSmart’s Emotional Intelligence 2.0:

  1. Quit Treating Your Feelings as Good or Bad (page 64),
  2. Observe the Ripple Effect of Your Emotions (page 66),
  3. Watch Yourself Like a Hawk (page 75),
  4. Stop and Ask Yourself Why You Do the Things You Do (page 84)
  5. Visit Your Values (page 86)

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit us at

7 Strategies That High EQ Leaders Use

In early March, Wilma was promoted to a sales management position. Although she was experienced at the organization and knowledgeable of their selling strategy, she was entirely new to leading people.

When the pandemic shut their office down a week later, she was thrust into a tumultuous state of change as a new leader. Her company’s goals changed overnight, and the organization’s expectations of her team seemed to shift weekly. Her team sailed rapidly into uncharted territories, and for the first time in her life, Wilma was the one at the helm. To add to this, she was stressed and anxious in her personal life, trying to balance her changing family life (her kids schooling remotely too) with her new work responsibilities.

You might think Wilma succumbed to all this change and stress, but she managed to succeed as a new leader because she leveraged the emotional intelligence (EQ) skills she’d developed over her years in sales. Following Wilma’s immersion into leadership, we can take away seven key EQ strategies for leaders navigating rapid change.

Prioritize self-care. When faced with a set of challenges as extensive and sudden as Wilma’s, many leaders attempt to play “team superhero” and fix everything at once, alone. What they really do is drive themselves into exhaustion and create a tense atmosphere for their team. Wilma knew the value of long-term perspective during high stress times. When she felt her stress surge, she reminded herself that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and that her team’s success wouldn’t be built in a day either. To succeed long-term, she had to take care of herself day-by-day and hour-by-hour. She got extra vigilant about her sleep, caffeine intake, exercise, and diet. She also practiced a more rigid work-life balance, giving herself ample “unplugged” hours each day to recharge and reset.

Foster a positive environment. When a leader takes control of their own stress and negative emotions the way Wilma did, they positively impact their whole team. Studies show that the emotions of a leader are especially contagious to their teams, for better and worse. Leaders like Wilma who show up to work upbeat and optimistic cause their entire team to see things in a more optimistic light. This increased positivity leads to increased creativity, better decision-making, and even boosts sales. Without realizing it, Wilma was looking after the well-being and performance of her entire team just by practicing self-care and bringing her best possible self to work each day.

Navigate tough conversations. One of the first things Wilma learned about leading people was that it entailed a constant stream of difficult, high-impact conversations. In March alone, she had to check in on a team member struggling with the shift to remote work, make pay cuts to salaries across the team, and even place one team member on furlough. Each of these difficult conversations required a high degree of empathy, active listening skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. For instance, when she checked in on her struggling teammate, she noticed the changes in his behavior, approached the conversation carefully and at the right time, and was willing to be vulnerable by sharing her own struggles to make him more comfortable.

Exercise humility. When the team needed help strategizing for a healthcare specific client pitch, Wilma knew she lacked experience in healthcare. Instead of insisting she take the lead as manager, she acknowledged the gap in her knowledge and pulled up the most healthcare experienced salesperson, Marcus, to take the lead. She also asked Marcus to coach both herself and their teammate to encourage spread of knowledge.

Be approachable. Wilma kept a virtual open-door policy, holding office hours on her Zoom account once a week where team members could drop in and ask her questions or chat. During team meetings, she encouraged anyone who constructively criticized, offered a differing opinion, challenged someone’s idea, or asked questions of any kind. Her approachability also equated to increased comfort, flow of ideas, and overall fun. People interacted loosely and lightly on her team.

Practice accountability. On the one hand, Wilma held herself accountable for her team and shielded them from higher-ups when mistakes were inevitably made. On the other hand, she also held team members accountable for their own work, trusting them to make decisions for theirself. This made her team quicker and more nimble.

Respond, don’t react. The ability to monitor your emotional reactions in the moment and avoid regrettable or impulsive behaviors is one of the core tenants of EQ. When Wilma’s team members let her down or said something that triggered her, she was careful to avoid reacting in the moment out of frustration, anxiety, or fear. Instead, she took her time in her responses. She slept on big decisions and ran important emails by other managers at her organization.

From Insights to Action. The great thing about the above strategies is that anyone can apply them to grow their emotional intelligence and positively impact the people around them—not just leaders.

To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit

The Secret to Team Performance (And 5 Strategies to Achieve it Virtually)

When Google HR hired a group of psychologists and sociologists to look for patterns in their highest performing teams, they thought team success had something to do with the mixture of personalities, backgrounds, and motivations within the team. After almost 200 team interviews, they still hadn’t found any discernable patterns to confirm their theory. Instead, they found that successful teams all shared one thing in common: a high degree of psychological safety.

Psychological safety is a sense of trust teams establish where people do not feel insecure or embarrassed by the possibility of failure. Studies show that on teams where people feel psychologically safe, people are more willing to share their perspective, take calculated risks, ask questions, admit mistakes, make jokes, challenge each other, and learn from one another.

Of course, developing this degree of trust within a team takes effort. With teams switching to virtual work, the effort to establish trust narrows to time spent on video calls, which can feel more convoluted and distant. To help get your virtual team moving in the right direction, we’ve compiled five concrete ways to build psychological safety in virtual meetings.

Recreate team chatter. Chatting around the table or in the hallway before a meeting doesn’t just pass the time as the group files in. Chatter actually quiets stress in the brain, relaxes people, and builds their courage to share later on during the meeting. To recapture your team’s lost chatter, manufacture it. Kick off meetings by having each person share something unrelated to work. Host a virtual happy hour or online game night. Close meetings by sharing weekend plans. The idea is to build group comfort and get people talking freely and just for fun. Then, when the discussion turns from light to consequential, people are already feeling more comfortable and therefore poised to contribute.

Break out in small groups. Who is quick to speak out among the 32 faces across two screens? No one, usually. People feel safer in small groups, and when people feel safe, they are more likely to open up. And this opening up in small groups actually translates back to the big group. When people report out to the big group, they tend to stand firmer with what they discussed in their breakout. That’s partially because the representative wants to stay true to their discussion group, and it’s also because they feel more supported by the group than they would feel speaking on their own behalf. Breakouts also prevent social loafing in bigger team meetings where many people feel that their individual contributions “aren’t worth the group’s time.”

Map the check-in process. Research shows that rules around communication reduce uncertainty and help build trust. Don’t just assign work vaguely with an arbitrary deadline. Agree to check-in points, check-in subgroups, and a process for completion. This helps hold people accountable as the task moves from hand to hand.

Reward people for risk-taking, candor, and feedback. Be sure to reinforce teammates who show vulnerability and risk-taking, even if you might not agree. Some teams even designate someone to “tell it like it is.” This person may call out things left unsaid, play “devil’s advocate,” and point out when other team members hog the stage, stay too quiet, or criticize unconstructively.

Break the meeting routine. Regularly scheduled meetings and check-ins can easily become routine, possibly becoming monotonous. To avoid people zoning out and counting the minutes, break the cycle: Cancel a meeting occasionally, hold an impromptu team meeting to celebrate a goal reached, call together a small group to devise a plan for a difficult problem, or even try scheduling monthly one-on-ones between randomly assigned team members to build internal relationships.

From Insights to Action. These strategies for creating team trust and safety may seem easy, but the challenge lies in upholding them over time. Commit to these strategies and give them time to grow into a natural part of how your team works together. Each one can make a big difference in your team dynamic and performance.

To learn more about increasing your team’s emotional intelligence, and TalentSmart’s products and programs to facilitate team development, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit

The Case for Team Emotional Intelligence (Team EQ)

As organizations increasingly invest in emotional intelligence (EQ) skills training, what should they do about this important fact? The bulk of work at organizations is done by teams, and teams are made up of people with varying levels of emotional intelligence. The answer is clear: Offer your teams the opportunity to develop emotional intelligence skills at the team level.

EQ at the team level means members of the group are able to interact well with each other, and cross-functionally with people in other departments, on other teams, and even outside the organization. Teams whose members recognize unproductive emotions when they surface and manage them constructively will overcome interpersonal and inter-team challenges to achieve peak performance. High EQ teams make better decisions, foster a positive working environment, and adapt better to unplanned surprises (i.e., work moves to virtual, people come and go, priorities change, or competition grows).

The 4 Core Team EQ Skills

The team that handles their emotions well and builds healthy relationships is tapping into four core team EQ skills: emotion awareness, emotion management, internal relationship management, and external relationship management.

On a high EQ team, better awareness of emotions (emotion awareness) opens doors for team members to respond better (emotion management). By fostering positive working relationships within the team (internal relationship management), team members are better equipped to influence others and build relationships outside the team (external relationship management).

Research shows that teams that continually hone these skills can increase their ability to achieve goals, collaborate cross-functionally, build trust, establish group cohesion, complete tasks quickly, and manage stress during emotionally charged situations.

Team EQ Skills in Action

On nursing teams, for example, a high degree of emotion awareness and management is necessary to navigate notoriously fast-paced, high-stress tasks and decisions without butting heads with one another (internal relationship management) or coming across as callous or uncaring to patients and their families (external relationship management). Nursing teams high in team EQ will be better equipped to support each other through an extended shift or an overflowing unit, and to effectively manage handoffs with other teams to work quickly and collaboratively toward positive results. A recent study found that teams of nurses higher in group emotion management were not only more cohesive, but also that their bottom line patient care ratings were higher.

Team EQ is the Foundation of Critical Skills
The reason team emotional intelligence is so crucial to a team’s success is that it supports the skills that are critical for success. For example, a team’s ability to recognize and understand what a teammate is feeling increases that team’s ability to listen, empathize, communicate, and influence that teammate. Similarly, building awareness of their emotional reactions to pressure will make it easier for a team to manage change flexibly and speedily while still showing respect and trust along the way.

From Insights to Action. Perhaps the most important finding in EQ research is that team EQ skills can be developed. With practice, teams who measure low in team EQ can work to improve their team EQ behaviors within six months to a year. These findings hold true for teams in various professions and across industries, all over the world.

To learn more about increasing your team’s emotional intelligence, and TalentSmart’s products and programs to facilitate team development, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit

How to Increase Your Confidence, Connections, & Energy in Virtual Meetings

When we’re in a virtual meeting with someone who is fully engaged and using an array of expressions, we can easily forget we are sitting at a computer at all. Instead of getting bored, tired, or self-conscious, we connect and engage in the conversation the same way we might in an office or at a café. These kinds of calls don’t just feel better; they’re also more effective in accomplishing their purpose, whether that’s collaboration, productivity, or connection.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the virtual meetings that run less smoothly. In these meetings, we feel distracted, self-conscious, and antsy, and by the time we exit the virtual room, exhausted. This virtual fatigue is as real as it feels. A Microsoft study on the effects of virtual meetings found that the same brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork spike during virtual meetings. And on top of this stress and exhaustion, the study also found that sixty percent of surveyed people feel they are less connected to their colleagues now.

So what can we do to combat distraction and disconnection as we head into our new “normal” that includes more remote work and virtual meetings? Two of the biggest problems faced in virtual work right now are self-consciousness and a lack of human connection. Here are three body language strategies to help you improve your virtual approach.

Virtual Challenge #1: Self-consciousness. Dr Tara Well, a psychologist at Barnard College, draws the comparison between your box on a virtual call and a mirror, and points out that virtual calls can feel like going through an important meeting with a mirror sitting in front of you. The mirror shows your quirks, emotions, and reactions in real time and this is of course stressful, distracting, and unsettling. In fact, a survey found that 72% of employees reported feeling distracted by their own appearance during video calls, and 59% felt more self-conscious on screen than in-person.

Body language strategy #1: Get your set-up right. In an HBR interview, communication consultant Rachel Cossar breaks down the ideal computer set-up for virtual calls. She encourages people not to just open their laptops on a table or desk with the camera facing up at them, but to actually set up their computers so the camera is eye level and about three feet away. This set-up is ideal for communication because it exposes your whole upper torso. With your torso exposed people can really see your movements more clearly, and this frees you up to communicate more effectively while speaking the way you always have in the past.

Body language strategy #2: Direct your focus away from yourself. As Well said, your box is mirror-like and makes you self-conscious. The set-up in strategy #1 is a good first step because it distances your vision from your computer and from your own box. Also, when you’re speaking, focus on the camera lens in front of you. This looks the best to people listening because your attention will be directed toward them on the receiving end. When you’re not speaking, actively observe the person who is and the way other people react.

Virtual Challenge #2: Lack of human connection. An in-person meeting usually consists of a lot of shared context. People greet each other, shake hands and pat shoulders, they smell the same coffee, and are all situated around the same table. But online, we each exist in our own world and are trying to connect on common ground that’s entirely virtual and two-dimensional. Not to mention, we’re doing this from our own rooms with our own environment and potential distractions. All of this makes it more difficult to feel connected to another person, let alone an entire group.

Body language strategy #1: Compensate for absent emotions. Use body language to make up for emotions you might otherwise communicate verbally in a meeting. Twenty people can’t say “agreed” on Zoom, but they can all nod. You can’t all greet each other verbally or with handshakes, but you can smile, wave, or nod as new people join. When someone else speaks, try not to fidget, scowl, or roll your eyes (the kinds of things you avoid in-person too). Instead, show engaged posture and physically lean in a bit when you find something interesting. Getting your set-up right, like recommended above, will help you do all of these things more naturally.

From Insights to Action. The bottom line is that virtual meetings are affecting our self-confidence, our ability to connect, and our energy levels. If we want to maintain our connection and collaboration, we have to adapt our approach to meet the new environment. Remember that in the virtual environment where we are often muted, our body language frequently paints the full picture that is received on the other end.

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Developing Emotional Awareness: What We Can Learn from Children’s Instincts

When Kenneth Hill’s study on wilderness survival rates first came out, his discovery shocked people: Children aged six and under consistently survived more effectively than even trained demographics like experienced hunters, fit hikers, former members of the military, and skilled sailors.

How is this possible? Laurence Gonzales breaks down what children do differently from adults in survival situations in his book Deep Survival

“Small children do not create the same sort of mental maps that adults do. They don’t understand traveling to a particular place, so they don’t run to get somewhere beyond their field of vision. They also follow their instincts. If it gets cold, they crawl into a hollow tree to get warm. If they’re tired, they rest, so they don’t get fatigued. If they’re thirsty, they drink. They try to make themselves comfortable, and staying comfortable helps keep them alive. They do not yet have the sophisticated mental mapping ability that adults have, and so do not try to bend the map. They adapt to the world they’re in.”

In other words, the secret to children’s survival skill is that they act on their instincts. We have these same instincts, but we have learned not to act on them. Most of the time this is a necessary and good thing. When we feel tired during a work meeting, for example, we don’t wander into the corner, curl up, and fall asleep. However, in our effort to act according to a working world that doesn’t operate on a life-and-death, moment-to-moment basis, we’ve unlearned more than just acting on our emotions. We’ve actually unlearned how to pay attention to our emotions at all. The result is that when we feel stretched, frustrated, exhausted, stressed or mad, and we don’t stop to understand why we feel that way, these emotions can build or take over and compromise our work and our relationships. We may accidentally lash out at a colleague, lose our ability to focus on our work, or make a glaring mistake during a presentation.  

The good news is that we all have access to that same degree of emotional awareness children show in survival situations. We are simply out of practice. We just need to get practicing again. This means noticing what, when, why, and how emotions affect our well-being, and what to do to manage these emotions successfully. This may sound simple, but only a well-practiced person can do this proactively and in the moment when emotions grab ahold of them. Here are three strategies to help you practice getting back in touch with the self-awareness your brain is already wired to tap into:

Adapt to the world you’re in. At the end of each workday for a week, answer the following questions: What emotions affected my well-being today? They can be good or bad. When did they happen? Why did they happen? How did they affect my well-being? Did I attend to them in the way I needed to? What can I do next time? For example: After I finally ate lunch at 1:45pm I felt reenergized, less worn down, and more able to concentrate. I should be more disciplined about finishing lunch by 1:30.

Learn the subtleties of your emotions. Anxiety, apprehension, hesitation, and resistance can all feel somewhat similar, but by labeling each one, you take a big first step toward knowing their subtleties and how you need to react to take care of yourself, your relationship, or your work. For example, apprehension could mean worry about your preparation or skill level, but resistance might mean you really don’t like that type of work. Your next steps depend on your knowing the difference.

Feel your emotions in your body. Backaches, headaches, sweaty palms, general soreness, your hip tensing up, body odor…the list goes on. We all react to our emotions differently. By starting with your body, paying attention to how you physically feel, you can often catch emotions you didn’t realize you were suppressing or repressing. On challenging days at work, take a moment to close your eyes and ask yourself, “What does my body feel right now and why?” For example, “I’m fidgeting more, opening new tabs, checking my email compulsively, and I’m making lots of typing mistakes.” Jot this down somewhere with a date and time. That evening think back and maybe add a word explaining your feeling. For example, Preoccupied by the deadline. This specificity helps you put together a plan of improvement: Next fidgeting spell I need to catch myself early, get up, and stretch or take a quick walk.

From Insights to Action. Children may have the upper hand in the sense that they haven’t spent years unlearning attention to emotions, but adults have the upper hand once they begin to practice. We have access to a more sophisticated vocabulary of emotions and a more nuanced perspective on where emotions come from, what they feel like, how they manifest, and how we can best manage them. Keen emotional awareness is also the first big step toward recognizing emotions in others, and in turn, managing your relationships. In other words, emotional awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence (EQ).

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3 Tips to Build Social Awareness

A front-line employee with masterful customer skills can seem like they’re performing an act of magic in mask-to-mask communication. How do they intuit what the customer is thinking in a matter of seconds? How is it that they know exactly what to do or say?

What seems like gut intuition or an innate ability is really a high degree of social awareness. Social awareness is your ability to observe, recognize, and understand the emotions, moods, and tendencies of other people. This awareness is necessary to control your reactions to others and manage relationships to the best of your ability.

Be reassured that social awareness is a skill you can grow to reap important benefits. Below are three recent accounts of people high in social awareness who succeed despite masks and new Covid-19 challenges. For each account, one social awareness strategy from our book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is used to break down how to bring these strategies into your life and to help you implement them in your mask-to-mask interactions.

Kyle: Seeing problems ahead of time, de-escalation, and conflict diffusion.

The Account: “When we [lifeguards in San Diego, CA] assumed responsibility for shutting down beaches at the height of the social distancing, we found our job had quickly changed from something physical (rescues) to something social (law enforcement). Namely, we had to regularly navigate conflicts with people refusing to leave the beach. Kyle stepped naturally into the role of diffuser and compliance officer. He had a way of first striking up conversations, then managing the conflicts efficiently with minimal disagreement. When disagreement was necessary, he stepped up and made sure the person knew who was in charge of the situation.” 

The Strategy: Practice the art of listening. While it may have seemed like Kyle was “just more comfortable and confident with conflict,” he was actually more strategic. By approaching people and learning more before he took the role of enforcer, he bought himself time to get a more accurate read. The non-confrontational start to the conversation was the time period when he listened carefully to the person’s tone, noticed what they said and how they said it, and he even asked questions to get a sense for potential aggression, compliance, or ignorance. Then, he matched his approach accordingly. If he adopted a one-solution-fits-all approach, he would inevitably invite stronger reactions. 

Sohel: Being likeable and increasing customer satisfaction (and tips).

The Account: “When Sohel works the register, our tips are a full 25% higher. He has a knack for engaging people in conversation, for getting orders right the first time, and even asking clarifying questions when he feels the customer might not know what they asked for. When a regular customer recently entered the cafe mask-less, Sohel even managed to convince him to put one on. I couldn’t believe it, but the regular customer actually smiled, laughed with Sohel, put on a mask, and left a large tip.”

The Strategy: Seek the whole picture. What makes Sohel so likeable in a matter of seconds? It’s not the fact that people know much about him. In fact, most people coming through probably don’t even know his name. What he does well is understand how customers enter the room and how he fits into their bigger picture. Some customers may not appreciate small talk, but they will appreciate pleasantness, care, and attention to detail. By focusing on their order and listening carefully, he wins these one-time customers over. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sohel knows that most regulars want to be recognized and forge a deeper relationship. Over months and years, he spends time getting to know regulars and greeting them by name. It was because Sohel took the time to know this regular customer that they talked through a potential conflict quickly.  

Colleen: Creating a good atmosphere and reading people’s needs.

The Account: “Colleen made me realize how much a waiter can really make the whole feel of a restaurant. Despite masks and distancing requirements, she manages to still sense people’s needs in real time and adjust accordingly. She shortens her social approach to match an absorbed couple that wants to be left alone, and she expands her social approach, telling jokes or stories to chattier groups of friends or family members. She successfully creates an ideal environment while still following restaurant safety protocol.”

The Strategy: Catch the mood of the room. While much of emotional intelligence consists of managing our instincts (i.e., learning to slow down when feeling anxious or angry), it’s sometimes useful to let instinct take the driver’s seat. In this case, Colleen catches people’s moods, sociability levels, and comfort around distancing by trusting her instincts. Even though she can’t make out facial expressions, her instincts pick up on all kinds of other clues. From years of working as a waiter, her brain is used to pairing things like tone, posture, and gestures with facial expressions. As a result, when she trusts her initial reaction, it tends to be right.

From Insights to Action. Facemasks may feel like an insurmountable challenge to our social awareness because they’re so different from what we’re used to, but our mouths are one social awareness data point of many. If you think about it, there are a significant number of people high in social awareness who regularly don’t observe cues from the mouth—i.e., the population of people who wear veils, people who are blind, and surgical staff in operating rooms. These people succeed because they learn to compensate for facial expressions with other EQ strategies like practicing the art of listening, seeking the whole social picture, and trusting their emotional instincts to catch the mood in the room.

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Mask-to-Mask Communication: Know What You’re Missing

TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that the group of highest performers is filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90% of top performers, to be exact). Because these people know how much our facial expressions influence our ability to communicate, they pay close attention to the facial expressions of others and they match their own facial expressions to the messages they want to communicate.

With masks, even the most emotionally intelligent people face a big challenge: our facial expressions are blocked. And we rely on facial expressions to understand emotions when words are mismatched with tone even more than you might think. According to a UCLA study, facial expressions account for 55% of successful communication when words and tone sound inconsistent.

Perhaps the people most affected by masks are those working front-line jobs. In the world of physicians and nurses for example, studies show that nonverbal cues are linked to better patient care. In the past, healthcare professionals have relied on facial expressions to show their patients empathy, sincerity, competence, and focus. That’s why doctors treating Covid-19 patients in full protective gear have resorted to taping photos of themselves to their scrubs to help put a human face on a scary situation. Or, as another example, in the service industry, waiting staff, baristas, or people working registers rely on facial expressions to make customers feel welcome, to smoothly navigate problems or complaints, and to create a positive atmosphere.

Even people not working front-line jobs still interact with the front line. When we go to the grocery or the doctor, we rely on facial expressions for greetings, to show gratitude, and to connect.

To help you get through these expression-less times, here’s what you can do to communicate with high emotional intelligence skills from the nose up and from the neck down.

Catch what you can. According to Dr. David Matsumoto, a psychologist specializing in emotions and body language, it’s possible to identify each of the following facial signals from above a mask that covers everything below the nose:

  • Wrinkles of disgust in the nose, forehead, and eyes.
  • Lifting of eyelids and eyebrows in fear or surprise.
  • Movement of corners of eyebrows in sadness or distress.
  • What we call “twinkling of the eyes,” a happy smile that crinkles the corners of your eyes.

Know what you’re missing. There are facial expressions that happen only or primarily in the mouth region. For these facial expressions, the best we can do is know what we may not see. Pursed lips, neutrality of expression, and a small frown or smile can easily stay contained in a mask. Maybe the most missed expression during the mask era is the “social smile” which is when we smile in place of a greeting or verbal acknowledgement. Because the social smile is manufactured to show appreciation or recognition, it doesn’t activate the whole face. The microexpression in your eyes is not enough to reach the twinkle level of happiness. The result is that your usual social smile when a barista hands you a latte appears blank-faced and possibly ungrateful with a mask.

Catch yourself and compensate. To reveal your hidden facial expressions without unmasking, you first must catch yourself making them. Then, you can compensate with small changes in your expression. For example, to compensate for a social smile, you might fully nod your head, wave, or even say “Hi” or “thank you” out loud with the positive, grateful, or excited tone that you mean to get across. Here are a few other ways to compensate:

  • Face the person you’re speaking to.
  • Use hand gestures.
  • Use your body and head more.
  • Exaggerate a reaction so that it crosses the whole face.
  • Speak louder and slower. Enunciate.
  • Match your tone to your emotion.
  • Keep your posture upright to show you’re engaged.
  • Make sure you have their attention in the first place.

From Insights to Action. The bottom line is that communicating with masks will never quite reach our normal, nuanced levels of communication and may lower our EQ. However, we can do a lot to avoid communication breakdown and to still get our emotions and ideas successfully across. Here’s a hopeful solution to leave you with: Check out transparent masks. They’re designed for families and friends of hard-of-hearing people who need to read lips, but if more widely adopted, or at least used in more front-line positions, many more facial expressions would be noticeable.

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10 High EQ Ways to Check in on a Struggling Coworker

Jeannine notices her coworker Monty has seemed off the last two weeks. Monty’s known on the team for being especially stylish, organized, and loud in a fun way. Lately he’s a bit less put together. The left side of his hair appears disheveled, he arrives late, and he appears on Zoom in the same shirt across multiple days. Jeannine didn’t view this as particularly alarming at first considering the novelty in shifting to remote work, but this paired with the absence of his usual enthusiasm in meetings, concerns her. She knows she needs to check in with him to see how he’s doing.

The bad news about checking in remotely is that the environment is less under her control. When she calls Monty up, distractions are more likely, their usual shared meal or coffee is an impossibility, and a conversation-conducive location is no longer a given.

The good news is that these elements are all secondary to Jeannine’s approach, which is entirely within her control. Her approach consists of bigger things like knowing and managing their dynamic, listening carefully and asking good questions, and matching what she says and how she reacts to Monty sharing. In other words, a successful check-in with a struggling colleague is a matter of emotional intelligence (EQ). Below are ten emotionally intelligent strategies you can add to your EQ toolbox for more successful check-in conversations.

1. Make sure you can handle the conversation. Going deep with someone takes a toll on you too. Before you engage with a struggling friend, check in with yourself. By recognizing that you might not be ready, you could save both of you from a damaging conversation, where the other person doesn’t feel heard and you feel brought down.

2. Nail your timing. Remote check-ins may derail your ability to set a good atmosphere, but you can at least find a good time when your struggling coworker isn’t too busy or stressed and is at their most receptive. It should be a mutually agreed on moment.

3. Know your power dynamic. If you’re someone’s boss, be aware that you might not be the person they want to open up to. Worst case, your employee may even think a check-in indicates worry about performance. Leave discussion about work for other times. This conversation is only about how the person is doing. If the conversation doesn’t go further, you’ve reached out and that is enough for now.

4. Approach gently. A lighter entry to a deep conversation helps oil the hinges. You don’t have to perform a joke, and you probably shouldn’t. Start with small talk. Ask about something lightly work-related, and make the conversation a bit more organic and a bit less forced. Listen for any opening to use your check-in question. If nothing obvious arises, perhaps give it more time.

5. Be specific. One way to stay in your lane is to share exactly what you noticed about your coworker that concerns you. Point out to Monty that he’s been late to three meetings and much less talkative this week. By communicating what you observed, you act as a mirror. Then just stop talking. The silence will give them a chance to respond. Often, observations serve as a natural entry point because the person realizes how their behavior looks and wants to explain. The key to this approach is not to make any assumptions and not to come across as judgmental.

6. Be open-ended. On the opposite end of the spectrum from specificity, a simple “How are things?” can offer an entry point, especially for someone who likes to share. Open-ended questions are useful because they don’t show judgment or a desire to pry something loose.

7. “Do you want to talk or do you want some distraction?” Posing this question sounds blunt but can be a great check-in question for someone you’re close to. Sometimes people prefer your company to your counsel.

8. Don’t push. When it comes to someone’s feelings, being pushy can cause people to clamp up, lash out, or resent you. This is especially true when they’re in a vulnerable state.

9. Get vulnerable. Sharing about yourself opens a kind of exchange. Saying something as small as “It’s been tough for me during social distancing to concentrate on listening during the meetings with my kids being noisy in the background,” can soften the environment. Showing vulnerability is an especially good strategy for supervisors approaching employees because it temporarily levels the playing field.

10. Don’t waste time sweating your response. When your coworker does open up, don’t expend all your mental energy trying to solve their problem or devise the perfect response. It’s tempting to ask what you can do to help, lay out your advice, or share your similar experience from third grade. But, all of these things distract the point of the conversation and often make it about you.

From Insights to Action. You might notice that each of these strategies boil down to the same thing: Making the other person comfortable. That’s because honest and vulnerable conversations can only happen when people feel comfortable enough to share.

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Emotional Intelligence (EQ): The Bridge from Diversity to Inclusion

Andrea managed to find a new project management position at a large pharmaceutical company despite the challenging job environment of COVID-19. She had been laid off in March, and she wasn’t quite sure what to expect during an onboarding process. Turns out her new company takes onboarding seriously. They run an official process with a thick packet and formal classes. Andrea is delighted to discover the time and attention devoted to the company’s support of diverse minds, skills, and people, but privately she can’t help but wonder what the actual day-to-day will feel like for her as a woman and a person of color. Will she actually feel included?

Feeling included depends on whether her coworkers, direct reports, and the leaders around her do their part to implement inclusive practices, which are critical for building an inclusive culture and can only be experienced through the day-to-day life at the company.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) can provide employees, teams, and leaders with the awareness and behaviors needed to create a diverse and inclusive culture, one that is welcoming, curious, and supportive for everyone on the team. Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. It consists of four key skills: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. The highs and lows of Andrea’s onboarding experience illustrate three important ways EQ skills can help foster an inclusive environment:

1. EQ skills enable empathy for newcomers. From day one, Andrea’s team went above and beyond to get to know her. Within the first month, each team member met with her for a one-on-one lunch with a more informal agenda. As a result of getting to know each team member, Andrea felt more comfortable sooner, asserting herself when she had questions, suggestions, or concerns. Empathy necessitates a high degree of social awareness and relationship management. To be empathetic, team members have to proactively learn where new team members are coming from (their stories, culture, background, personality, etc.), acknowledge one another’s feelings, and make an effort to reach out or help. Empathy requires both understanding and action.

2. EQ skills deepen trust over time. Andrea was also pleased to see that as a group they prioritized trust. They used their self-management skills to listen longer and their relationship management skills to give trust (“Yasafar, I trust you. Thanks for working your magic”), rather than making people earn it (“Yasafar, let’s see if you have it in you”). They held everyone accountable for sharing their perspective by calling on quieter people to share and balancing the time taken by talkative people. On lesser teams, people can easily feel that they are outsiders and don’t have a voice at the table until invited, and studies show that individuals on these teams are much less likely to thrive. High EQ words and actions encourage performance and job satisfaction while low EQ words and actions create what are called micro-aggressions, leading newer team members to feel they don’t belong, or aren’t trusted.

3. EQ skills facilitate accountability and learning from mistakes. Even teams that practice trust and empathy can be prone to mistakes. When Andrea sat down to join her first monthly project management meeting, she listened as key players shared progress, numbers, and unique challenges and the next milestones. When the discussion got to the topic of mobilizing eight action teams and the need for recruiting more women, they began to direct questions to Andrea but none about the project content. Their intention was to learn from their newest player, but they really just made her feel singled out. They ignored her expertise, experience, and perspective, and assigned her the role of expert on recruiting women of color, which she had no background in. The team had built enough early trust with Andrea, that she felt comfortable calling out what just happened. She explained how they made her feel one-dimensional. One team member acknowledged she made a good point, apologized on behalf of the team, and another team member assured her they would work on being more aware and considerate. They moved on with the meeting. Working on being emotionally intelligent doesn’t mean doing everything perfectly all the time; it’s about continuous improvement through practice. The best thing Andrea’s team could have done would of course be to problem-solve the diversity recruitment challenge together, but once the mistake was made, they at least listened, could see how she felt, took accountability, apologized. and stated their effort not to repeat their mistake. Andrea’s courage to speak up, and the team’s vulnerability to own their mistake (instead of lashing back, joking it off, or withdrawing into awkward silence) are all examples of what being self-aware, socially aware, and able to self-manage can do for a team dynamic.

From Insights to Action. Just as humans aren’t perfect, Andrea’s onboarding experience was mostly good, but not perfect. The company really did value diversity and inclusion, so they had also invested in training people to develop their EQ skills. These combined efforts increased the likelihood that the project management team made early efforts to get to know Andrea, made her feel valued enough to speak up, and had the EQ skills to receive her feedback and navigate through an important moment. EQ skills don’t prevent bias, but they do give people ways to be aware in the moment, to work through uncomfortable feelings constructively, and to help foster a culture of inclusion.

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What You Can Do To Raise Your Team’s Emotional Intelligence

A team’s performance is measured most often by the things they accomplish as a group—a new product developed, a crisis managed, or a patient’s satisfaction.

Beneath each of these final outcomes, the team engages in a whole symphony of interactions, crowded with conversations, thoughts, and feelings between people. Imagine, for example, a patient in a hospital whose journey begins at the front desk, then transitions to nurses for preliminary testing and to a doctor for diagnosis (the list can quickly grow a lot bigger and more complex than this). Each of these medical professional team members interacts with the patient, and many of them will interact with each other. A team’s ability to effectively recognize, understand, and manage these interactions and their emotions toward successful outcomes is called team emotional intelligence (team EQ).

Studies have linked high team EQ to improved goal achievement, faster task completion, increased trust and group cohesion, better stress management, and stronger cross-functional collaboration.

As a team member, what amount of difference can you really make in the way the whole team interacts? The answer is quite a bit! The words you say and the actions you take greatly influence your team’s EQ. Below, we put together ten strategies tailored to the individual who wants to raise their team’s EQ:

  1. Help advocate different perspectives. When your group agrees too quickly, don’t be afraid to step in with a different perspective. Say, “Well, have you thought about it this way?” This is a great way to stimulate new ideas without attacking anyone or claiming to have the answer. Even if your team sticks with their original decision, you’ve helped deepen your team’s ap
  2. Help a struggling teammate. When you notice someone isn’t doing well, or doesn’t seem like their normal self, try to find a natural way to check in with them and make sure they’re okay. Say, “Hey, I noticed you were a bit quieter than normal today.” or “I noticed you have a lot to say about ____. Are you feeling okay with the changes?”
  3. Say “thank you” to team members who work above and beyond. Recognition doesn’t have to come from above. In fact, team leaders aren’t always there to see when something special happens. People will appreciate you spreading the news and they’ll follow in your footsteps, creating an environment where good work gets noticed and appreciated.
  4. Hold yourself accountable and apologize when you make a mistake. Work to fix it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if your mistake is complicated, or even if you’re just confused. Accountability is a powerful, positive force in a team. Why not model it?
  5. Encourage quieter members to share their perspectives. Say, “I remember ___ had something interesting to say about this topic last time. Would you mind sharing your perspective with the group?”
  6. Reinforce team confidence. Say, “We can do this. I know we’re capable.” Simple, positive affirmations help build a good team atmosphere.
  7. When things get difficult, remind your team what they can do. Say, “That might be out of our hands, but what we can control is…” When faced with big changes or challenges, teams tend to focus on how difficult everything is. This creates stress and a negative atmosphere, which in turn can lead to poor decision-making and conflict. Toxic stewing may trigger unhealthy reactions. By re-focusing the group on what they can control, you’re steering the team toward healthy action.
  8. Remind your team of the bigger picture. When your team finds themselves conflicted or unsure how to proceed, try reminding them of the original goal, where the eventual destination is, and why you got started down this path in the first place. Say, “Remember that what we’re trying to achieve is…”
  9. Point out when your team seems stuck in a rut. Inevitably there will be times when your team gets caught-up on a single topic or a bad mood. By pointing out that things seem stuck, you can save everyone a lot of conflict, energy, and time. Say something like, “It feels like we’re stuck and I think we could pause here and decide tomorrow where or how to proceed without making things worse.”
  10. Leverage your company connections. When your team is collaborating cross-functionally, and you know someone on the other team, offer to play a liaison role. By learning more about that team through your connection, and vice-versa, you can help kick off collaboration. Both teams will be better set to work through difficulties by understanding what the other is up against. A solid discussion between people who know each other well is a great way to proactively initiate that understanding.

From Insights to Action. Team EQ is powered by the seemingly small things each team member can contribute. Each of these strategies is intentionally simple and straight-forward in execution, yet each carries a small perspective shift that can cast a disproportionately large ripple effect on the team’s EQ.

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The Empathy Switch: How to Turn It On When You Don’t Feel Like It.

What makes our empathy wane and what to do about it.

In last week’s blog, we discussed how emotions can switch off our empathy for people around us, causing us to say or do things that go against our values and beliefs. We may do things like yell at a customer service rep when mad about our stolen credit card, curse at the umpire or pitcher when angry at ourselves for striking out, or neglect to stop to help someone when feeling rushed and late for a meeting. In these moments, we operate as though we are the only important player. Anyone else in front of us is to be blamed or ignored because we’re in a self-involved state of mind. You don’t matter. Only I matter right now.

Martin Buber, the philosopher and author of Ich and Du (I and You), describes this type of interaction between people as an “I-It” interaction. Whether briefly due to a mood, or intentionally due to a belief system, one person treats the other person as an object, something to be ignored (not seen), used, blamed or attacked. Through an “I-It” lens, our state of mind makes us more likely to engage in words or actions ranging from inconsiderate to harmful.

Empathy, on the other hand, is an “I-You” state of mind. Empathic thinking sounds like this, “If I do __, it will affect you in __ way.” You matter just as much as I matter. I notice how you feel and I care to do something helpful. Without empathy we erode our connections and relationships. With empathy we address each other’s pain, resolve conflicts, and build a feeling of community.  Empathy is our North Star when our state of mind erodes our connection to others. 

Here are the strategies that will help you switch your empathy back on when emotions or thoughts start to dim your regard for the person next to you.

World of Your Own Empathy Erosion: Strong emotions like stress, anger, or anxiety consume us. To avoid going blind or numb to people, here’s what you can do:

Strategy 1: Observe the ripple effect from your emotions. We all react differently when our emotions overwhelm us. Some people clam up in response, while others lash out. Some people work tirelessly toward fixing their problem, while others take time to reflect. Whatever the tendency, it has the potential to hijack our empathy if we’re unaware. Learning tendencies is the first step toward managing them (i.e., people who clam up may need to learn to force themselves to speak, and people who lash out may need to learn to breathe for ten seconds and give over the floor to other people.)

Strategy 2: Cut “catch phrase empathy.” “Maybe it’s better this way” and “At least it wasn’t worse” are little more than catch phrases used to avoid real acknowledgement. Under a veil of “well-wishing,” catch phrases are an example of how world of your own empathy erosion can become a workplace norm. Instead of using catch phrases as a crutch, try to be present, listen deeply, and thank them for sharing something so important.

Strategy 3: Note your circumstance. Just as our natural tendencies can cause us to treat someone badly, so too can our circumstances. One common example of this is being in a position of power, which studies show lessens our ability to empathize with others. Similarly, alcohol not only makes us less empathetic, but also makes our empathy less accurate.

Corrosive Emotions: Corrosive emotions like contempt and disgust seep into our thoughts over time. To avoid letting these emotions toward a person dictate your actions, here’s what you can do.

Strategy 1: Walk in their shoes. At its simplest this strategy can mean envisioning how someone we hold strong feelings against goes through their day or their life. At its most challenging this can be like George Orwell who intentionally lived homeless to learn what it felt like before writing his experience in the memoir Down and out in Paris and London. The most efficient way to step into someone’s shoes is usually something between the two extremes: long conversations. Stories of a person’s life help us to piece together who they are, what they feel, and why they act the way they do.

Strategy 2: Be open and vulnerable. To flip a negative relationship on its head, try flipping the entire approach. The last person we typically open up to is the person we dislike, but when we do, it can be surprising how they react. While we may fear that radical vulnerability and openness will make us look weak and inadequate, studies show that people actually see vulnerability as “desirable” and “good.” Vulnerability breaks down the “I-It” perspective by forcing us to communicate on a human-to-human level.

Strategy 3: Intentionally empathize with enemies. “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” -Abraham Lincoln

By seeking out the people we harbor long-term negative emotions toward and getting to know them better, we can proactively break down those long-term emotions like contempt and disgust. One profound example of someone who mastered this is Daryl Davis, a Black blues musician who has intentionally been attending KKK meetings for thirty years. He spends his time befriending members and has personally convinced over 200 members to resign. He’s done this by sitting down to have dinner with individual Klan members and having deep conversations with them.

From Insights to Action. In a Princeton study, Betsy Levy Paluck successfully led anti-bullying campaigns at middle schools. To accomplish this, she and her colleagues found that the most successful approach was to assign specific students to hold their peers accountable for bullying. The reason this worked so well is that groups operate first and foremost on norms. When we see other people act in a certain way, we’re much more likely to follow their lead than we are if, for instance, a principal walks around threatening punishment for bullying. By modeling empathy and practicing mindful empathy strategies, each of us can begin to successfully shift old team norms and mold organization cultures the same way individual kids were able to successfully reduce bullying at their schools.

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Two Important Ways Emotions Can Erode Empathy

Empathy is so essential to how we interact as people that even brief lapses can be hurtful to the people we work with and live with in our communities. Last year one of our training participants shared an all too familiar hectic workday story that illustrates what we mean by a brief lapse of empathy.

Liam (at least that’s what we’ll call him), woke up to an emergency call from the office in another time zone about an upset client. He didn’t have time for breakfast and boarded the train at six thirty still preoccupied on his phone. He sat down in the last available seat. An elderly man carrying a cane boarded the train just after Liam and had to stand right beside Liam’s seat. Liam noticed but didn’t offer his seat, too engrossed in his conversation about mitigating the crisis. At the next stop, the elderly man lost his grip on the pole and would have fallen if not for a woman nearby who caught him.

Liam received several pointed glares and turned bright red seeing this play out. Now he felt completely guilty. His inconsiderate state of mind almost caused a serious accident. He knew he could have taken his call standing up, but in the moment, he chose not to. He had acted as an uncivil stranger rather than the civil commuter he liked to think he was, and it was too late now to correct himself. Why did he do that?

Liam’s example is something we can all admit to at times. His feeling of being rushed and work-absorbed temporarily eroded his empathy. According to psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen in his book The Science of Evil, empathy requires us to “suspend our single-minded focus of attention and adopt a double-minded focus of attention” to include our own feelings and interests as well as those of the people around us. Both recognition and response are needed to be empathetic. Baron-Cohen goes further to say that mild empathy erosion can lead to cruelty when people turn other people into objects in their mind.He explains that this objectification of any person is one of the most hurtful things we can do to another human being, to ignore their thoughts, needs, and feelings.

Emotions can erode our empathy to both a mild and a severe extent:

1. In a World Of Your Own State of Mind

Instead of seeing the elderly man as a person who needed the seat more than he did, Liam saw a distraction from his priority—to solve his client emergency. Liam was completely absorbed in his own world, and his goal took precedence over the people around him. Other examples of “world of your own state of mind” include yelling at a telemarketer on the phone for interrupting your dinner, flipping off another driver for a mistake, or yelling at a colleague for messing up and making you miss your kid’s soccer game. Most often, this first type of empathy erosion is a moment’s deviation, the result of temporary anger toward or attention away from someone getting in the way of your goal.

2. Corrosive Emotions

The second kind of empathy erosion builds over a period of time and is the result of corrosive emotions like bitter resentment, contempt, and disgust. Dr. David Motsumoto a researcher of emotions from San Francisco State University warns us of the volatile combination of contempt “an emotion of superiority” and disgust, “an emotion of contamination.” These emotions, and the attitudes they feed, erode empathy levels to zero. If ignored and unmanaged, they create the mindset and conditions for treating someone as an object to harm, hold back, use for personal gain, or make unhappy. An example in the workplace could be a boss who intentionally excludes a capable employee from opportunities out of personal detest or jealousy, or a competitive coworker trying to make their rival look bad for personal gain.

From Insights to Action. It’s important to understand the potential we all have for acts of short-term and long-term cruelty. We are human and the emotional center in each of our brains works similarly.By discovering that your frame of mind and negative emotions can derail your empathy for people around you, you can begin to watch yourself and work to take proactive steps to avoid empathy erosion. You can also recognize when someone else is in a world of their own, so you can steer clear, defend yourself, or step in to protect another in their path.

Tune in next week for the second article in TalentSmart’s series on empathy. Next week we cover emotional intelligence (EQ) strategies for acting more empathetically.

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Understanding Self-Awareness Inside and Out

In a deck of tarot cards, one card shows a collapsing tower. The collapsing tower represents the danger of building something on a false premise. No matter how much work we put into something—a relationship, a company, an idea—it’s inevitably going to come crashing down if the work was built on a flimsy foundation. When you build your emotional intelligence, the essential foundation is self-awareness.

Self-awareness is your ability to recognize and understand your emotions as they happen and to know your general tendencies for responding to different people and situations. People who test highly in self-awareness build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively, work more creatively and productively, are better decision-makers, and are overall more confident.

Perhaps the best thing about self-awareness is that it’s a learnable skill you can improve with practice. To help get you started, let’s take a close look at two sides of self-awareness: Internal and External, followed by two self-awareness strategies from Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Internal Self-Awareness

What it is: The internal side of self-awareness is our ability to recognize and understand the things that make us tick—our values, beliefs, goals, passions, strengths and weaknesses, and personality. These drive how we feel. and why we feel that way.

Internal self-awareness in action: When Alexa von Tobel set out to start her business LearnVest, she was terrified by all the things that could go wrong. To quell her fears, she began to put together a written plan, and the writing deepened and expanded. By the time she was done, the plan was 75 pages. The interesting thing is not so much the business projections or the plan itself, but the core beliefs she had at the time about who she was and what she was seeking, and the way she still uses the plan. Now, whenever she finds herself stuck on a decision, lacking for motivation, or confused, she turns to that section of her plan as her self-guiding light, her foundation.  

Self-Awareness Strategy #11: Visit Your Values. Spend some time reflecting on the things that are deeply important to who you are, your core beliefs, and write them down. Your list doesn’t need to be a seventy-five-page manifesto. A short list of core ideas is often enough. Next time you’re faced with a tough decision or difficult time, pull out your list and use it to guide your next decision the same way von Tobel does. We tend to assume we draw on our core values or beliefs when faced with tough decisions, but in reality, we find ourselves reacting on a whim. By getting something written, you give yourself a place to go look, to slow down and visit your values more often.

External Self-Awareness

What it is: External self-awareness is our ability to see how other people experience us. This can be a tricky element of self-awareness because it means understanding how you actually come across to others (not just how you think you do).

External Self-Awareness in action: In a recent leadership study based on in-depth interviews with 125 leaders, the authors set out to learn how leaders develop over the course of their careers. One leader sticks out as a perfect example of the importance of the external side of self-awareness. David Pottruck began his career at Charles Schwab as the head of marketing. Being new, he convinced himself that he had to work as hard as possible to impress the people around him. He put in countless hours and held high expectations of the people around him. One day, Pottruck’s boss pulled him into his office and explained to him that other employees didn’t like him. They resented how he approached his hard work, didn’t trust him, and felt intimidated. All of this was going on, while in Pottruck’s mind he was winning them over through hard work. The feedback from his boss was that critical insight he needed to mold the way he balanced his work intensity with his approach with people. He went on to become the CEO.  

Self-Awareness Strategy #14: Seek feedback. Asking for feedback directly is one of the best ways to get honest opinions about your work and the way you come across to the people around you. Prepare yourself with specific questions for areas you can improve. When it stings, try your best not to be defensive or to deny any of the feedback offered. Pottruck could have easily turned on his boss and blamed his team saying they just weren’t willing to work as hard as he was, but instead he actually took the time to understand their experience, what his boss was saying, and to grow from it.

From Insights to Action. The challenge with self-awareness is that most everyone feels like they already are self-aware, but we all have major blind spots like Pottruck’s, or we forget to look deep inside, as Alexa Von Tobel does. Denial and frustration can be enemies to growing self-awareness, which requires admitting your shortcomings and living your values, both big and small. As you set out to learn about yourself, inside and out, make sure you do so openly and with self-compassion.

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The Power of Feedback, Especially Now

Few things are as costly as employees feeling disconnected from where they work, and with the sudden shift to remote work during COVID-19 this is a more pressing concern than ever. While remote work can be and often is a smooth and flexible process, it does present some legitimate concerns, especially when rolled out quickly with minimal training or preparation.

Research shows that remote employees often struggle to get information they need, they’re more likely to feel isolated, and they often feel that their remote managers are unaware of their needs. All of these issues become even more troubling when we consider that fifty percent of all employees say that they “rarely” or “never” meet with their managers one-on-one.

The good news for organizations and leaders of people is, by simply making one-on-ones the norm, performance increases and relationships improve. Regular feedback improves leader-follower relationships in three key ways:

Regular feedback reduces the power of emotions that get in the way. One of the most common and understandable uncomfortable feelings when it comes to feedback is that bosses fear speaking candidly. No one wants to tell their employee that if they don’t get their sales numbers up, they’re gone. By looking at the week-to-week numbers or performance together, you make the conversation around month-to-month or year-to-year more approachable and expected. Another fear is fear of emotions on the receiving end. Meeting consistently with someone who takes feedback too hard (i.e., they push back, get defensive, or seem completely crushed) will help reframe for them how to understand what the feedback means, what they can do, and guides them through their self-consciousness, fear of failure, and toward a place of receptivity and a willingness to try things differently.

Regular feedback is necessary to break through to people and influence performance. It’s nearly impossible to receive feedback once and immediately change for the better. Even talented employees need progress check-ins to see when and how they falter. It helps to think of frequent feedback as a best fit line. The line will naturally consist of dips in performance (i.e., as efforts slip or approaches are adjusted and tested), but the long-term trend should be positive. When feedback is inconsistent or nonexistent, the dips in improvement can lengthen or become the new normal.

Regular feedback builds and deepens relationships. While meeting one on one regularly may not always spark a beautiful friendship or mentor-mentee relationship, at bare minimum supervisors will get to know their staff personally. One-on-ones are an opportunity to discuss employee interests, motivations, style of communication, and long-term goals and desires. As rapport is built, employees feel more comfortable reaching out to managers for help, to share a new idea, to express a need, to speak up about problems they see, and to actively seek more feedback.

From Insights to Action. “Out of sight” can quickly escalate into “out of mind” when it comes to remote work. By simply making feedback more regular, you can help build trust and dialogue around all of the uncertainty, change, and challenges swirling through the workplace right now.

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How to Self-Motivate Through Distraction and Change

Motivation tends to feel like something you either have or don’t you have, you feel or you don’t feel, but research shows that most issues of motivation are really issues of negative emotions.

As we’re faced with a task, negative emotions like anxiety, boredom, fear, self-doubt, frustration, and insecurity inevitably surface. Procrastination from work, whether by watching a funny cat video or by doing dishes, temporarily relieves you from those negative emotions. The problem is that the temporary relief feels good and it becomes a habit where you prioritize distracting yourself from your negative emotions over the work causing them in the first place.

Besides wasting time and stressing you out, procrastination has been connected to depression, anxiety, a decrease in life satisfaction, and cardiovascular health issues.

Astronauts and athletes have tackled procrastination. Here are two profiles of their creative approaches to stay motivated so you also can manage your negative emotions and stay on track, especially during times of heightened negative emotions.

A Time-traveling Astronaut

In Psychologist Adam Grant’s recent article, Grant interviewed the astronaut Scott Kelly to learn how he dealt with 340-day periods isolated in space. Kelly’s number one mental trick for self-motivation was he intentionally played with time. Notice how mental time travel helped him gain perspective on pesky negative emotions that would otherwise get in his way.

~Kelly turned to the future to envision positive outcomes. We can turn to the future for a long-term goal (like a promotion) or a short-term goal (like how we want the end of the day to feel). The future motivates us in the present by connecting our desired outcome to our current actions.

~Kelly turned to the past to look at good times and bad times. Reliving good times reminds us what we have to be grateful for, and reliving the bad times reminds us of our past perseverance.

~Kelly also turned to what he called an alternate present. By imagining our current life as a more difficult alternative, we can alleviate our current pain and lighten up for the task at hand. For example, if you’re down about working from home, you might imagine being in true isolation in space for 340 days trying to deal with issues like a broken toilet.

The Pain-Planning of Endurance Athletes

When it comes to pushing through indefinite, uncomfortable, and ever-changing situations, who better to learn from than endurance athletes who devote their lives to this highly specific type of pain?

~Set Realistic Expectations: Endurance athletes can’t envision a long race as simple. They have to put together a realistic expectation around the pain to come in order to set a doable pace and plan. Realistic expectations are essential when it comes to dealing with the natural highs and lows. A realistic expectation can help you work your way through days that feel like walking through wet cement, and they can help slow you down when you’re tempted to ride a productivity high and burn yourself out.   

~Break down your outcome: Runners break their training down day by day, their marathon down mile by mile, or their mile step by step.  Work can also be broken down into simpler parts. These smaller, more achievable goals allow for small victories. With each small victory, you replace negative emotions with positive ones. This alone can break the habit of procrastination which relies on you conceding to your negative thoughts or emotions.

From Insights to Action.

“I can’t blame modern technology for my predilection for distraction, not after all the hours I’ve spent watching lost balloons disappear into the clouds. I did it before the Internet, and I’ll do it after the apocalypse, assuming we still have helium and weak-gripped children.”
-Colson Whitehead, Author

Distraction is inevitable and human, but motivation is ultimately about the long game, and about establishing the best day-to-day habits. Mental time-traveling and pain-planning will help reshape your mindset and get your self-motivating habits trending in the right direction.

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3 Simple Steps to Manage Overwhelming Emotions

There’s so much pain and raw emotion in our communities and across the world right now. And when our emotions reach a certain degree of intensity, we lose our ability to focus or think rationally. Our emotions consume us, and these overwhelming feelings make day-to-day life more difficult than ever.

Some of the most common signs of feeling overwhelmed include:

  1. You feel sick or exhausted.
  2. You can’t focus on basic tasks, and completing work feels impossible.
  3. You react disproportionately to a small mishap or event.
  4. You withdraw from friends or family.
  5. You lash out at friends or family.

For those who are experiencing any of these warning signs, TalentSmart wanted to share three of our best emotional intelligence strategies for self-care in the face of overwhelm. These strategies aren’t about powering through emotions to be productive and creative. They aren’t even about working at all. Ultimately, these strategies are to help you feel your feelings and protect your physical health.

Rest. Emotions are exhausting. When emotionally overwhelmed, our emotions literally overpower our ability to feel the very feelings that are overwhelming us. Take time off if you can. If not, try to find a way to take more frequent recharge breaks through the day.If neither of these are possibilities, then carve out a solid chunk of time in the morning or evening to fully break from work, chores, social media, and anything else that causes you stress. The reason true rest is so important is that when we’re emotionally overwhelmed, we’re essentially multi-tasking at all times, our attention split between our emotions and the work at hand. Rest may very well be the only time you can break that endless, shallow cycling of thoughts and begin to untangle your thoughts and emotions. Rest is a necessary step toward letting emotions sink in, processing them, and eventually reflecting on and managing them.

Don’t suppress your feelings.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” -James Baldwin, Author

The same can be said of emotions. Feelings will exist whether you want them to or not. And when you suppress your feelings, you’re really letting them loose to wreak havoc on your mind and your body. Left, unconfronted emotions can lead to any number of physical problems over time—ulcers, migraines, and respiratory issues to name a few of the most common responses. Everyone processes emotions differently, but many people find they are better able to consider their emotions while walking, exercising, showering, meditating, or journaling. Whatever your method, the goal with time spent confronting emotions is definitely not to try to change your feelings or judge them; the goal is to accept the feelings for what they are.

Don’t feel bad for pulling away. When the emotional reservoir is already overflowing, the last thing you want to do is add to it. During these periods, it’s natural to want to pull away from friends and family. This isn’t actually a bad thing. Do what you have to in order to shield yourself from people who don’t make you feel good. Instead, reach out to the select person or people who you know can help you talk things out or even just feel good for a moment.

From Insights to Action.

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” -Audre Lorde, Poet

Our pain in the now often becomes wisdom in the future. By paying attention to your emotions, however chaotic they may be, you might surprise yourself with what you learn long-term. It’s in the midst of chaos that we often approach solid meaning. Take these initial steps to hopefully help grapple with big emotions, but above all, practice self-love and personal acceptance as you work through complex and intense emotions.

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Leading Through a Crisis with Emotional Intelligence

The way a leader shows up to work emotionally sets the tone for everyone around them. So much so, that your boss’s mood can not only make or break the rest of your day, but it can also affect your and your whole team’s performance.

A UC Riverside study found that employees don’t just notice the emotions of their boss, they absorb the emotions until they feel them. A flustered, stressed-out boss can derail a team’s ability to stay calm and work through a challenge. On the other hand, an optimistic and tuned-in boss can establish a positive environment, even during a crisis, where people collaborate freely and perform highly.

That’s why leading is such a tough job. Leaders are responsible for their own emotions as well as those of the people below them. They have to constantly monitor their emotions and manage their reactions knowing how serious the impact can be, for better or worse. To do so effectively, leaders need a great degree of emotional intelligence (EQ).  

We did some digging at TalentSmart to unearth the key behaviors emotionally intelligent leaders prioritize to guide their teams through a crisis. Here are three of the best:

High EQ leaders aren’t afraid to show vulnerability. We’ve all had that boss who operates under a sort of robotic professionalism with a painted-on smile. These bosses don’t actually do anything to make employees feel good, because people see right through their inauthenticity. What these bosses really do is create a stiff, cold atmosphere where people are afraid to share, connect, or even trust each other. Emotionally intelligent leaders, on the other hand, share honest emotions with their teams. This shows people where they’re coming from as they make difficult decisions. Sharing openly also helps eliminate an “employee vs. boss” mentality and sets a precedent for the team to feel comfortable sharing, asking for help, and holding healthy check-ins and dialogues. Research shows that organizations that embrace vulnerability establish a culture of psychological safety where forgiveness for failure, openness, and empathy are the norm.

High EQ leaders deliver news transparently and empathetically. During the 2008 layoffs on Wall Street, some organizations literally had a line of laid-off people wait with boxes to pack up their desks. The message sent, whether intentional or not, was “we don’t value people.” The employees who were laid off were understandably bitter, but so were the remaining employees whose friends had been treated apathetically. Those still employed felt survivor’s guilt and didn’t understand how or why things had transpired the way they did. Panicked in the middle of a crisis, the leaders lost track of the importance of transparency and empathy as they laid people off. They worked frantically to make sure their organizations stayed afloat, but they forgot to see what kind of impact their actions and emotions had on the people who would still be coming to work every day.  

On the opposite end of this spectrum, is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity, a company that  processes payments for small businesses. He found his company in dire straits these last two months as Gravity’s small business customers suffered. In response, Price held an all-company meeting in which he openly shared company finances and the kind of cuts necessary to survive without layoffs. Then, he met with employees one at a time for a week straight to discuss potential solutions. As a company, they developed a private form where each employee wrote down what they would feasibly be able to sacrifice in terms of a pay cut to help save the company. The system worked. Gravity didn’t lay anyone off, and they made cuts on each employee’s terms. Empathetic transparency means taking the time to fill employees in on major changes in a way that addresses and values their feelings.

High EQ leaders update frequently. During a crisis, ongoing change quickly becomes the new normal. As a result, updates don’t always match that rate of change, and this gap causes people to feel anxious and insecure. By erring on the side of over-communication, emotionally intelligent leaders help alleviate that fear by giving people space and time to listen, ask questions, and share their reactions. Sometimes it takes multiple updates for the questions and insights to finally surface.

From Insights To Action. At the heart of EQ and leadership lies a whole set of delicate balancing acts: Sharing without oversharing, emotional honesty without emotional dumping or lashing out, the needs of the company with empathy for individuals, and information in the right amounts while the right timing. Add these three behaviors to your leadership repertoire, and you’ll be surprised how far they go to carry your team through these changing times.

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How Successful People Beat Stress and Avoid Burnout

In times of extreme change, like we’ve faced the last couple of months, negative emotions begin to multiply and intensify. Emotions like anxiety, fear, and frustration can even begin to feel baked into our everyday lives.

A recent survey of American workers during COVID-19 reported the following:

–70% of employees say that COVID-19 is the most stressful time ever in their working career

–88% of employees say they’re experiencing moderate stress or worse

–62% of stressed employees say they lose at least an hour of productivity per day

When stress and negative emotions begin to take over on a daily basis, burnout waits just around the corner. Burnout saps confidence, positivity, and energy. It kills productivity and creativity, and it’s been linked to serious, long-term emotional and physical health issues. According to a SHRM survey, burnout is also one of the top reasons people leave jobs.

The interesting thing about burnout is that even though all people experience stress and negative emotions, not everyone burns out in response. It’s possible to navigate high stakes, long hours, and looming disasters in a way that protects you from emotional capsizing.

Emotional Intelligence Skills Protect People From Burnout

In a study of Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), an exceptionally high-stress position, almost all of the CMOs rated their stress as “severe, very severe, or worst possible.” The researchers, who specialize in studying stress and burnout, noticed something unusual about the CMOs. Even though they experienced heavier levels of stress than most people, the majority still did not burn out. Instead, they had developed effective coping mechanisms through years of managing their excessive stress loads. Their coping mechanisms shared a common theme: emotional intelligence (EQ).

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. EQ is made up of four core skills, and each one plays a critical role in stress management:

Self-Awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen. The researchers found that the Chief Medical Officers were skilled at recognizing when they felt anxious or stressed. Once they recognized a negative emotion, they didn’t stop there. They traced the feeling back to its source (like a tight deadline or a specific conflict with a colleague). This allowed them to understand not only what they were feeling but also why they felt that way. Getting specific about your emotions is one of the best ways to overcome that vague and shallow circulation of negative thoughts we experience when stressed. Specificity gives you control over time and place for your reaction. It frees you up to separate your fears or anxieties from your actual work and actions. Without awareness of your emotions, you can’t manage them.

Self-Management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior in a positive way. For the CMOs, self-management influenced how they dealt with their anxieties and stress as well as how they avoided impulsive decisions or destructive tendencies. Self-management can come in a number of forms. For many people, self-managing against stress works best when they return to the basics—things like exercise, sleep hygiene, connecting to close friends, eating healthy, or meditating. At peak self-management, the CMOs even leveraged their stress as a motivator to perform highly under pressure.

Social Awareness is your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people. One big source of stress at work is conflict with others, especially when the conflicts aren’t handled with sensitivity. When faced with high-stakes conflicts, the CMOs made an extra effort to understand the experience of others. By empathizing during a conflict, they could more effectively negotiate resolutions that met the needs of multiple parties, not just their own.

Relationship Management is the ability to use awareness of your emotions and others' to manage successful interactions. Relationship management skills are essential in navigating the emotional complexities of difficult conversations, like conflicts, bad news, significant changes, or tough feedback. It was the CMOs’ relationship management skills that helped them create an environment of trust with their teams. This meant they were comfortable asking for help when they felt overwhelmed or stretched to their limits.

From Insights to Actions

High EQ behaviors like this prevent burnout and benefit the medical officer, the team’s performance and retention for the organization. While most of us aren’t CMOs, we can still apply their approach to stress in our own work. Their strategies for stress management are adjusted over years of stressful tests at work. By understanding their use of emotionally intelligent practices, you can also begin to take control of your own stress and build your EQ in the process!

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Why Emotional Intelligence is the Most Critical Skill Needed Right Now

Emotions impact essentially everything we do, think, and say, and for this reason, a whole set of critical business skills are all enhanced by emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in ourselves and others, and our ability to use this awareness to manage our behavior and relationships. By training for EQ, organizations aren’t just touching on a single skill, they’re growing an entire set of desired skills and competencies.

Emotional Intelligence Skills Enhance In-demand Business Skills. In early 2020, LinkedIn published its Workplace Learning report from 4,932 respondents (managers, learners and budget decisionmakers). Not only did emotional intelligence make the top 5 soft skills list, but each of the top three in-demand business skills are also enhanced by emotional intelligence. When organizations invest in helping employees and leaders understand and manage their emotions productively, the entire workforce is better equipped to grow skills critical to the business.

In-Demand Skill: Leadership & Management: Strong leaders and managers have to understand where their people are coming from—their strengths, motivators, personalities—and leverage these to inspire, influence, mentor and motivate. High EQ leaders and managers interact effectively with others. In a TalentSmart study on leadership, we found a direct link between high EQ and transformational leadership.

In-Demand Skill: Creative Problem-solving: Creative problem-solving requires the ability to step away from usual or safe options into the unknown and requires loose collaboration, a feeling of safety, and a willingness to fail. Self-aware employees can recognize their hesitancy to push boundaries. They self-manage by pushing through their discomfort to overcome feeling hesitant. High EQ teams invest in relationships, where people work to build trust, strip away judgment, and encourage each other to share and be genuine.

In-Demand Skill: Communication: To get an idea across to other people, working professionals have to know their audience, notice how people respond, and adjust in the moment to convey the message. Self-aware communicators better understand the impact of their words, body language, and tone. Communicating with social awareness skills means listening better and understanding where others are coming from. They pay attention to their audience’s body language and response for insights into what others are really saying or feeling.

From Insights To Action: A pleasant surprise about EQ is that employees can increase their emotional intelligence skills through conscious practice and development. By learning what EQ is and how it applies to the challenges they face, they take a big first step toward self-awareness. Try our self-assessment, which allows your employees to evaluate their current EQ and practice three recommended EQ strategies.

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Why Humor is a Key to Success

“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”
―Robert Frost

Whenever tough times sweep in, humor follows close behind. And the last couple of months have certainly been no exception.

After closing down from visitors, the prestigious British Royal Academy of Arts issued a “ham drawing contest” that resulted in a bizarre display of ham drawing prowess across the country (a ham hunched over a desk working, a set of Dalí hams resembling the famous melting clocks painting, and even a tattoo of a ham on one man’s thumb). In true comedic form, comedians Sam Morril and Taylor Tomlinson moved in together and began producing an entire comedy show called “New Couple Gets Quarantined.” There’s also a New York Times therapist who shared in her article that more and more of her patients take virtual therapy calls seated on the toilet to ensure privacy. One, she said, even had a breakthrough when they accidentally bumped the flusher mid-conversation and laughed for the first time in a month. The list of strange, funny, and complex responses to social distancing could honestly be a book in and of itself.

To state the obvious, jokes like these happen during difficult times, because they make us feel good. They pull us away from negative thinking and into a more positive space. In the workplace especially, humor and a lighter environment benefit people and companies far beyond the moment of laughter. Here are three key benefits humor brings to the workplace.

Humor is an antidote to stress. Humor doesn’t just temporarily alleviate stress, it lightens your load mentally and physically. Laughter triggers a release of endorphins, increases oxygen intake and circulation, and relaxes your muscles. One study found that people who turned to humor in a difficult time were more likely to experience a shift in perspective as they realized different ways of viewing their problems and failures. Another study found that using humor to help a struggling colleague can build feelings of social support and trust. However, a word to the wise: research also shows that too much self-deprecating humor can backfire and make you more stressed.

Humor builds teams. When the British Royal Academy surprised everyone with the ham challenge purely for the sake of fun, people responded with surprisingly creative takes. The nonchalance and humor of the post loosened up the atmosphere, and the creativity followed. The same thing happens on the team level at organizations. Research shows that teams that joke and approach work in a playful manner build solidarity, trust, and a safe atmosphere where people feel they can be creative and genuine. The result is that each team member feels empowered, less tied down to a strict hierarchy.

Humor exudes confidence.
“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.” –Oscar Wilde

When Dick Costolo accepted the job as Chief Operating Officer of Twitter, he quickly fired off a tweet: “First full day as Twitter COO tomorrow. Task #1: undermine CEO, consolidate power.” Costolo’s tweet was, of course, a joke. Funnily enough, he also went on to become the CEO years later. Humor has a way of drawing people to you. It humanizes you and shows confidence at the same time. Humor can even be the deciding factor when it comes to hiring or choosing a group leader. In a UPENN study, participants presented a Visit Switzerland campaign to a group of people. Some participants were instructed to conclude with a simple joke: “Travel to Switzerland. The flag is a big plus.” Those presenters were overwhelmingly perceived as more competent. People voted for them to present on behalf of the group. Perhaps most interestingly of all, the researchers found that even when the joke fell flat, the presenter was still rated as more competent. Purely by having the confidence to make the joke, the presenter won favor in the eyes of the group.

From Insight to Action. Humor at work doesn’t have to be forced, where employees get together and tell a daily joke. Leading by example is the best way to spark humor, levity, and creativity in a natural way. The occasional well-timed joke, whether or not it flops, will loosen people up, make everyone a bit more comfortable, and then your team will be well on its way.

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Two Lessons for Building a Resilient Organization

When the first U.S. patient to contract Ebola was admitted to a Texas hospital in 2014, the hospital had no idea it needed to be on alert to respond to something happening a world away. When Thomas Duncan reported he felt better, they sent him home. Sadly, he returned to the hospital in a rapid state of decline, and his case ultimately proved fatal. Two nurses contracted Ebola during treatment, and the hospital mass tested everyone immediately. The nurses recovered, and the virus was contained. Luckily, Ebola didn’t spread as readily as COVID-19.

In a 2017 article from University of Houston’s Business School, Dr.’s Elizabeth Anderson-Fletcher and Dusya Vera set out to examine the hospital’s response from start to finish. Though their findings did not prevent the outbreak of COVID-19, they do provide important lessons for organizations facing the threat of a sudden change. The actions of the medical team and the hospital were the types all employees and businesses make, especially in a time of crisis, and we can learn a lot by taking a closer look at the lessons learned. Resilience requires being on alert, making decisions quickly and acting fast through ongoing adversity.  Here are two important lessons that will help keep all our organizations and staff surviving.

Lesson 1: Resilience Requires Attention + Awareness.

Even though Ebola had been a significant global crisis for ten months, the doctors and nurses overlooked Duncan’s case as a possibility because there hadn’t yet been one in the United States. A brief note from a nurse mentioned Duncan’s travel, but there wasn’t a sufficient red flag system to ensure the medical team would attend to it or that the hospital was aware to implement a hold policy for patients traveling from Ebola hotspots.

What We Can Learn: Our tendency is to move fast and rely on habits and past experiences. In Thinking, Fast And Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about the importance of habits to preserve mental energy. Mental energy is finite and it’s not possible to deliberate over everything. This can cause us to overlook things that are important and directly in front of us. By paying more attention and being more broadly aware, people can minimize letting auto-pilot win over significant new information.

Attention + Awareness in Action: Though we’ve all learned this lesson again with COVID-19, some organizations are demonstrating attention and awareness early enough. At the outset of the pandemic, the cycling gym Cyclebar East Cob, like all gyms, faced layoffs and total shutdown. Unlike other gyms, Cyclebar looked deliberately at the responses of companies beyond gyms, and they devised a new plan. They reached out to gym members and rented their stationary bikes and equipment directly to them, delivering the sterilized machines by hand.

Lesson 2: Resilience Requires Group Accountability.

Once the US Ebola case was spotted by the media, the organization went on the defensive and publicly blamed the nursing staff.  It took the nursing union stepping in swiftly and severely for the key stakeholders to apologize and get back to the problem solving at hand. Had the Ebola outbreak worsened, the hospital and key professions would have been at odds with each other as they faced a heightening crisis.

What We Can Learn: Placing blame creates an “us versus them” mentality within organization walls and focuses attention unhealthily on the past rather than how to proceed now.  A resilient culture would encourage doctors, and nurses to notice and talk about errors safely, quickly, and openly, and empower supervisors to assist frontline staff to solve problems together and in the moment. Suspending traditional hierarchy during a crisis allows from direct counsel with those who offer expertise regardless of official title. Group accountability builds trust, communication, and respect across teams and various levels of expertise, and shifts everyone’s focus to the entire situation going forward.

Group Accountability in Action: Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity, a company that processes payments for small businesses, found his company in dire straits these last two months as their small business customers suffered. Price held an all-company meeting in which he openly shared company finances and the kind of cuts necessary to survive without layoffs. Then, he met with employees one at a time for a week straight to discuss potential solutions. As a company, they developed a private form where each employee wrote down what they would feasibly be able to sacrifice in terms of a pay cut in order to help save the company. The system worked. Gravity didn’t lay anyone off, and they made cuts on each employee’s terms. By emphasizing group accountability, Price ensured a unanimous company solution.

Resilience Into Action:  Attention + Awareness + Accountability.

The 2014 Ebola crisis lessons each share a kind of tunnel vision and hastiness that ultimately led to bad decisions at key moments. We are all in our Zoom tunnels making hasty decisions, and we don’t yet know their ultimate impact. Next time you find yourself on autopilot or ready to cast blame, try stepping back instead of plunging in. Go for a walk, take a deep breath and consider your situation more broadly, more creatively, and together.

The Importance of Keeping it Light Through Tough Times

Like it has for most people, Covid-19 derailed Levi’s established work-life routine in his Brooklyn apartment. A new part of his rearranging work life was that he found himself on daily TalentSmart Zoom calls in the afternoon. With so much change going on around him, he often logged onto these calls feeling varying degrees of anxiety, loneliness, and stress. But, he noticed that by the time he left the calls, he felt significantly better.

While some of Levi’s improved mood could be attributed to the practical elements of the calls (like talking through uncertainty as a group and mastering the remote meeting platform), a lot more of it seemed to stem from the overall atmosphere. He couldn’t help but smile as colleagues sitting in rooms across seven states joked about things like quarantining with a brand-new roommate, growing accidental mullets, putting on a “quarantine fifteen,” and letting hygienic and work wear practices vanish. This kind of fun-spirited sharing lightened the mood and brought TalentSmart team members all together. Like magic, he left the calls feeling less stressed-out, more connected to the team, and more prepared to be productive.

A recent Saint Louis University article reveals why the experience of these seemingly “magical” Zoom calls actually makes a lot of sense. Psychologists Heather Walker and Richard Harvey attributed this type of light working atmosphere to what they call “levity.” “Workplace levity” they wrote, “is an uplifting and pleasurable interaction that lacks tension and anxiety.” The benefits of levity, they found, extended far beyond a nice moment. Organizations that embraced levity long-term experienced benefits like:

  1. improved stress relief.
  2. improved attitudes as a result of a sense of belonging, value, and empowerment.
  3. increased psychological well-being.
  4. increased employee engagement.
  5. increased retainment.
  6. increased likelihood of employees referring other people to their organization.
  7. improved team cohesion.

But before everyone rushes out to implement mandatory pre-meeting jokes, it’s worth noting a potentially darker side to all of this. Approached incorrectly, attempted lightness and humor can be detrimental. Think of Michael Scott in The Office. He definitely thinks he’s pretty funny and light, but in reality, he’s a nightmare of a boss with no idea how he impacts the people around him. Studies confirm that humor used inappropriately in the workplace divides teams, disparages people, and distracts from deadlines and serious topics. Perhaps worst of all, leaders who disparage others in their humor cause employee disengagement and increased bad behavior.

So the real question is how do you avoid this twisted cousin of levity and create an environment of authentic and consistent levity?

Well, you need to operate from a foundation of emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. EQ skills allow you to navigate social complexities (like timing and content of humor in meetings) in order to achieve positive results (like laughter, happiness, and collaboration).

On an individual level, people need EQ skills like self-awareness and social awareness to understand how their jokes or digressions come across to others, and they need self-management and relationship management to effectively filter their jokes and digressions according to the current situation and mood. On a team level, high EQ teams establish norms (written and unwritten) around their behavior, and they use these norms to keep each other in check. This way, when a team member’s joke or digression is inappropriate in any way, team members feel comfortable lightly calling them out. This builds out a true sense of trust and safety, which allows for an authentic and group-wide sense of levity.

Some Closing Thoughts

Levity can feel a bit intangible, like something a group either has or doesn’t have, but in reality, levity is created in a place of trust and respect where everyone is comfortable opening up. Laughter sparks social connections that strengthen team bonds, and emotional intelligence provides teams shared skills and vocabulary as they work to build their own environment of levity.

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The Power of Resilience

At age thirteen, Bethany Hamilton was already deemed a prodigy destined for a career as a pro surfer. During a daily dawn patrol with her best friend Alana Blanchard at a reef break called Tunnels, a fourteen-foot tiger shark attacked her. She immediately lost her left arm to the bite, and by the time doctors stopped her bleeding, she had lost 60% of her blood and gone into hypovolemic shock.

Hamilton barely survived the attack, saved by a surfboard leash tourniquet fashioned by Alana Blanchard’s father, and an orthopedic surgeon who rushed to the hospital from a nearby hotel.

Despite surviving the attack, Hamilton now faced body and mind obstacles. She had to start over and adapt to her new normal. A couple days ago, she had been a budding professional athlete. Now, she was trying “to learn how to put her hair up with one hand.”

While a shark attack like this would mark the end of most surfers’ careers, Hamilton set out to relearn how to surf. She paddled out for the first time less than a month after the attack—a quicker recovery than a broken arm. Within two years, she won the National Scholastic Surfing Association championship. Since then, she’s surfed countless pro contests and has traveled the world surfing renowned waves.

It’s tempting to think of Hamilton’s rapid recovery as the result of an innate resilience unique to her. But, in her interviews, she doesn’t attribute her resilience to anything genetic. Instead, she talks about daily habits that helped her along, things any of us can do while we adapt to our new normal:

She practiced gratitude. “When I lost my arm I was just thankful to be alive and that propelled me to have a more positive mindset.” Even at one of her lowest moments, Hamilton found something to be grateful for. Gratitude became a driving practice toward daily positivity. “My mom definitely encouraged me to find things to be thankful for on rough days and just look for the good in tough situations.” A substantial amount of research connects gratitude practices like Hamilton’s to a mentality of resilience. For example, a George Mason University study found daily gratitude practice increased people’s self-esteem, daily happiness, and intrinsic motivation. Getting started on your own gratitude practice is as simple as setting aside five minutes each day to write a list of the things you’re grateful for.

She revisited her goals and values. Resilience includes working through unpleasant tasks and difficult challenges to rise above adversity and ultimately reach an end goal. To avoid succumbing to stress or burning out as you push yourself through your current challenges, it’s important to revisit your goals and values. In Hamilton’s case, she had to relearn the basics, things she’d already spent five years mastering. On top of that frustration, there was the fear that comes with being the first person to face something. No other pro surfers had one arm. For Hamilton, her values were tied strongly to her faith. “So many doubts, fears and unknowns flooded my world, but the hope I found as a Christian led me to overcome them.” As for her goals, she decided that her love of surfing and her desire to compete was far greater than her fear to get back in the water.

She relied on a support network. “I think for all of us there are hard times in life, and maybe we are not facing them now, maybe they have come to pass, or will come in our future, and I just think, ‘know that you are loved by the people around you.’” During her recovery, Hamilton received social support from every angle. Her mother encouraged her to stay grateful. Her classmates from church came out to the hospital to support her. Her brothers and her friend Alana Blanchard all encouraged her to continue to surf. For encouragement, Hamilton even reached out to a surfer she didn’t know who had lost his leg and now surfed on a prosthetic. Her father custom built a handle onto her surfboard so she could pop-up more easily with one arm when she caught a wave. The list could go on. Research shows that social support doesn’t just feel good, it actually increases a protein in the brain called BDNF, which neuroscientists describe as “brain fertilizer.” BDNF has been found to enhance resilience and curb depressive tendencies. Next time you get the urge to “lone wolf” your way through today’s challenges, just remember that the benefits of support transcend the initial fear of reaching out and asking for support.

Putting ideas to practice. We’ve all found ourselves facing new challenges as a result of COVID-19. While we’re struggling ahead, it’s possible to treat the challenges during this period as an opportunity to reflect and build new resilience habits for our new future. Just remember, adopting Hamilton’s good habits won’t “give you resilience” overnight. They are proven daily habits that need to be practiced over time to reap their full benefits.

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3 Ways EQ Can Make Your Team More Agile (Continued)

Two weeks ago, Stephanie Keene and Isaac Budmen, a couple from Syracuse, heard that a coronavirus testing center was set to open nearby. Together, they own and operate a 3-D printing company from their home. Knowing about the ever-worsening shortage of medical supplies, they began experimenting with a 3-D printer to try to produce a medical shield. In a matter of days, they would print 300 shields, enough to stock the entire testing center for opening.

One of the silver linings in the midst of this pandemic has been the clever ways in which people like Keene and Budmen innovate to make a difference.

On a bigger scale, Nike now manufactures face masks, Pernod alcohol distilleries now produce hand sanitizer, and fast-fashion company Zara now produces hospital scrubs.

Whether you’re a part of a two-person team operating from your garage, a team of executives at a large-scale organization, or like most of us, a part of a team somewhere in between, every team wants to stay agile and productive through this time of extreme change.

But where do you even begin when your team is newly remote, worried, or unfocused?

To help get your team moving in the right direction, we’ve chosen three emotionally intelligent strategies teams use to stay agile in the face of change.

They manage their stress. In a study looking at the effects of stress on a team, researchers found some unsettling results. Stress has the power to entirely shift people’s perspective from group-focused to self-focused. In other words, when a team finds itself under a lot of stress, individual members naturally begin to look out for themselves at the expense of the group’s performance. Emotionally intelligent teams implement strategies for managing their stress as a group. They do things like hold one-on-one meetings to check in on stressed-out members, take turns sharing how they’re feeling about a particularly high-stakes deadline, and emphasize individual self-care via breaks, exercise, and friendly conversations. All of these measures help keep the team on track through stressful periods. For an individual, this may even be the difference between negative emotions taking over and rising to the occasion to produce and adapt.

They may change course readily, but they operate from a stable center. People are quick to emphasize how agility is all about comfort with change and learning to live in a constant state of fluctuation. However, even on the fastest most innovative teams, stability plays an important role. In fact, the confidence to shift gears or experiment with new ideas that could easily fail typically comes from a stable center of values and norms. Emotionally intelligent teams establish their values and norms up front (and constantly revisit them) in order to give everyone a common ground for actions and decisions. This comes in especially handy under ongoing pressure when our emotions are more likely to hijack how we make decisions to act.

They insist on accountability. Agility doesn’t mean “do what I say, except more of it and faster.” It doesn’t mean “exist in a state of anarchy” either. Agility means empowering individuals to make decisions and test ideas by stripping away hinderances to their work. The key is that it’s a two way street. In return for freedom, those individuals are expected see their own work through, own up to mistakes, be proactive about changes to come, and communicate openly with their teammates and manager.

Bringing It All Together. Emotional intelligence at the team level is the glue that holds agile teams together. Without team EQ, even agile teams might succumb to high levels of stress, communication breakdowns, an environment where some people dominate and others are afraid to speak, and a lost sense of stability or direction. With team EQ, agility will be bolstered and thrive. Add these team EQ goals to your team’s repertoire to better navigate turbulent times.

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3 Ways EQ Can Make Your Team More Agile

When thinking about team agility, it might help to picture a team of whitewater rafters heading toward class five rapids. The team paddles and maneuvers the raft swiftly but effectively. They’re proactive in communicating logs or rocks they see in their path. They adapt in real time to new challenges by scanning the near horizon, gathering information, communicating, and calling out a clear strategy of action. They’re decisive and intelligently improvisational in the face of stress and accelerated change. They have to be or they will capsize.

These agile traits make any team successful. In fact, research on agile teams shows greater productivity, increased employee satisfaction, and a stronger sense of trust and respect among the group. A Gallup study also found that employees who view their organizations as agile are more likely to believe in the future financial stability of their organization and more than twice as likely to believe in their leadership. So how does a team develop their agility? While there are essential elements of process and structure, many of the core traits that define agile teams hinge on emotional intelligence (EQ) at the team level. For example, it’s with team EQ that an agile team is able to develop an environment of trust, manage their stress through change, and communicate openly and clearly to devise a plan.

To aid in your team’s agility, TalentSmart recommends focusing on six emotionally intelligent team behaviors that agile teams rely on to succeed. Here are the first three.

They build an environment of trust. This is first on the list for a reason. Agility means finding quick, effective solutions, making decisions in the moment, performing well under pressure, and taking calculated risks. None of this is possible without an environment of trust, because people need to feel safe first. In a year-long study of Google’s teams, Google found that the single most important factor to their teams’ success was not personality, IQ, or structure. It was a mentality called psychological safety. Psychological safety is a group mentality where people feel comfortable taking risks and don’t fear rejection or ridicule. Google teams that felt this sense of safety had more equal contributions from all of their members, read their teammates’ tones of voice and body language more effectively, and were more skilled at recognizing when a teammate felt excluded or upset. So how did the teams develop psychological safety? The answer was surprisingly simple and easy to implement: By setting aside time to share personal challenges or events with the group.

They communicate openly and fearlessly. Agile teams strip away barriers to innovation and improvement by empowering each member of their team to make decisions and test new ideas. With this great freedom of action, comes the great responsibility of communication. When significant changes are made, it’s important that the rest of the team is cued in. Communicating your actions not only opens up potential for additional improvements or collaboration, but it also helps catch mistakes and prevent negative ripple effects.

They don’t overvalue individuals. A study from MIT shows that a team’s collective intelligence is actually much more likely to affect team performance than the sum of individual intelligences. And the good news is, collective intelligence is also much easier to improve. It’s all about shifting the focus from individuals to the group dynamic and interactions (sounds a lot like EQ, doesn’t it?). To improve collective intelligence, the researchers recommend you:

  1. Clarify the roles of individual members.
  2. Teach conflict resolution.
  3. Recognize and reward team accomplishments over individual ones.
  4. Don’t reward how busy people are. Instead, reward team outcomes, team happiness, and team engagement
  5. Ensure equal participation.

Bringing It All Together. These three strategies all rely on emotional intelligence skills at the team level, and they can make or break your team’s success. Stay tuned for TalentSmart’s additional Team EQ strategies to help make your teams more agile.

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5 Things To Do As You Transition To Remote Work

With the coronavirus pandemic, you may have suddenly found yourself working from home bunkered up next to a copiously stocked fridge and a nervous roommate rattling off hourly news updates.

While increased snacking and a distracting roommate don’t necessarily make for ideal working conditions, there’s potential for much more serious problems to arise. After all, this is an unprecedented movement of workers from office to remote, and the movement essentially happened overnight.

Research shows that one of the gravest threats to remote employees is a feeling of isolation. In a joint study conducted at UT Austin, Yale, and NYU, researchers found that remote workers who felt isolated experienced a sharp decline in performance, felt a decreased sense of “belonging” to their organizations, and had an increased desire to leave their companies altogether.

The good news is that you can curb isolation and many of the other problems arising around remote work by paying extra attention to emotional intelligence (EQ). Establishing emotionally intelligent practices in your remote work can help bridge the gap between online work and in-office work.

Below are TalentSmart’s five essential strategies for communicating as effectively online as you do in person.

Meet by video. Ever been on a phone call where you share an idea you’ve been developing for a long time, and you’re met with a wave of silence in return? You inevitably run through the list of possible reactions as you wait to hear something back: Nods of approval, skeptical eye rolls, or furrowed brows… These types of miscommunications are inevitable on the phone because humans are by nature visual learners and communicators. In fact, research shows that our brains naturally pay more attention to visual cues than auditory ones during conversations. Even our memory sharpens in response to what we see rather than what we hear.

FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom play into our natural visual strengths. They also replicate in-person meetings more effectively than a conference call. On a conference call, people can mute themselves, get up and walk around, organize their desks, respond to emails, and flip through Instagram while other people talk. On a video call, people are accountable for their attention in the same ways they are at an around-the-table meeting. Video also allows emotions and reactions to surface in real time in front of the group.

Encourage breaks. When it comes to remote work, the default tends to be distrust. Managers seem to want to know about every minute of everyone’s day to make up for the fact that they can’t monitor butt-in-chair minutes like they could in the office. In reality, the default should be trust. Remote workers need breaks to walk, eat, use the bathroom, and socialize, just like they do in an office. Don’t make them feel guilty for every minute spent standing up from their desks. Instead, monitor aspects of the big picture like the quantity and quality of work completed.

Cut out multitasking during meetings. One of the biggest killers of remote communication and productivity is social loafing during calls. You put ten people on a call, and people inevitably begin to feel like they don’t need to be there. The result is usually muted phones, email checks, and snack breaks. In remote work, when meetings are your only form of communication, it’s especially important to make them count. Here are four methods TalentSmart uses to keep remote meetings on track, involved, and communicative:

Call on people to share opinions. Calling on individuals keeps people mentally present during meetings because people are reassured that their opinions matter. No one wants to get caught off-guard in front of the group and waste everyone’s time either.

Assign people tasks or roles. Instead of just letting the meeting play out passively with people contributing as they please, ask people to come in with questions, content, or research on a particular topic.

Address people individually. Carve out a time during weekly meetings (we like to use the first fifteen minutes) to conduct a round-robin meeting where people open up about what they’re doing personally and professionally. If this is new to your team, try having the person leading the meeting share first to help set a comfortable precedent for everyone else.

Meet by video. Like we just emphasized in the previous section, video meetings elicit more responsibility and add an authentic personal touch.

Encourage conversations that stray off the beaten track. In an effort to understand what makes their best teams succeed, Google closely analyzed over a hundred of its teams for a year. The researchers looked for patterns in personality, IQ, and team structure, but none were discernible. Instead, they found a specific mentality that the best teams all shared: psychological safety. Psychological safety is a group mentality where people feel comfortable taking risks and don’t fear rejection or ridicule. Google teams that felt this sense of safety had more equal contributions from all of their members, read their teammates’ tones of voice and body language more effectively, and were more skilled at recognizing when a teammate felt excluded or upset. How did the teams develop psychological safety? The answer was simple: By opening up to each other about personal challenges or events in their lives.

So how do you recreate an environment of safety in a remote world stripped of water-cooler conversations and hallway run-ins? You have to make an active effort to strengthen bonding. It can be as simple as setting aside fifteen minutes at the beginning or end of a meeting to check in personally on each member of the team. You can also encourage people to hold their own virtual water-cooler conversations by meeting virtually for lunch or a snack.

You can’t communicate enough. The tricky thing about remote work is trying to understand what the people around you are thinking and where they’re coming from. When communication is minimized or confined to formal meetings, people inevitably miscommunicate and feel a growing sense of distrust and isolation. Nip this problem in the bud by erring on the side of over-communication. Sure, there are the usual things you would need to communicate about in an office, like the questions you have, documents you can’t find, and clarity on some email instructions. But, there are also some forms of communication more unique to remote work, like updating bosses with progress on a project more frequently or taking a few minutes to converse casually the way you might in an office.

If you manage people, set up times of open availability for anyone reporting to you. Try to schedule one-on-ones more often than usual. Also, be sure to communicate encouragement and emotional support, even if it feels unnecessary. Recognition goes a long way in fighting isolation by making people feel valued and connected to the organization.

Bringing It All Together

The secret to remote work is giving those extra nudges of effort to show people where you’re coming from as well as trying to understand where they’re coming from. These strategies all work to build a high-EQ remote workplace because they focus on using technology to make our interactions more human, not less. Maybe there’s a silver lining to all the chaos and change going on right now: People are learning new ways to communicate and get work done, and this has the potential to make work more flexible moving forward.

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3 Powerful Ways To Stay Positive

We’ve all received the well-meaning advice to “stay positive.” The greater the challenge, the more this glass-half-full wisdom can come across as Pollyannaish and unrealistic. It’s hard to find the motivation to focus on the positive when positivity seems like nothing more than wishful thinking, especially during unsettling times like right now.

The real obstacle to positivity is that our brains are hard-wired to look for and focus on threats. This survival mechanism served humankind well back when we were hunters and gatherers, living each day with the very real threat of being killed by someone or something in our immediate surroundings.

That was eons ago. Today, this mechanism breeds pessimism and negativity through the mind’s tendency to wander until it finds a threat. These “threats” magnify the perceived likelihood that things are going—and/or are going to go—poorly. When the threat is real and lurking in the bushes down the path, this mechanism serves you well. When the threat is imagined and you spend two months convinced the project you’re working on is going to flop, this mechanism leaves you with a soured view of reality that wreaks havoc in your life.

Maintaining positivity is a daily challenge that requires focus and attention. You must be intentional about staying positive if you’re going to overcome the brain’s tendency to focus on threats. It won’t happen by accident. That’s why positivity is the skill that we should all be focusing on right now.

Positivity and Your Health

Pessimism is trouble because it’s bad for your health. Numerous studies have shown that optimists are physically and psychologically healthier than pessimists.

Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted extensive research on the topic. Seligman worked with researchers from Dartmouth and the University of Michigan on a study that followed people from age 25 to 65 to see how their levels of pessimism or optimism influenced their overall health. The researchers found that pessimists’ health deteriorated far more rapidly as they aged.

Seligman’s findings are similar to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic that found optimists have lower levels of cardiovascular disease and longer life-spans. Although the exact mechanism through which pessimism affects health hasn’t been identified, researchers at Yale and the University of Colorado found that pessimism is associated with a weakened immune response to tumors and infection.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky went so far as to inject optimists and pessimists with a virus to measure their immune response. The researchers found optimists had a much stronger immune response than pessimists.

Positivity and Performance

Keeping a positive attitude isn’t just good for your health. Martin Seligman has also studied the connection between positivity and performance. In one study in particular, he measured the degree to which insurance salespeople were optimistic or pessimistic in their work. Optimistic salespeople sold 37% more policies than pessimists, who were twice as likely to leave the company during their first year of employment.

Seligman has studied positivity more than anyone, and he believes in the ability to turn pessimistic thoughts and tendencies around with simple effort and know-how. But Seligman doesn’t just believe this. His research shows that people can transform a tendency toward pessimistic thinking into positive thinking through simple techniques that create lasting changes in behavior long after they are discovered.

Here are three things that you should be doing right now to stay positive.

1. Separate Fact from Fiction

The first step in learning to focus on the positive requires knowing how to stop negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that — thoughts, not facts.

When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity. Evaluate these statements to see if they’re factual. You can bet the statements aren’t true any time you see words like never, always, worst, ever, etc.

Do you really always lose your keys? Of course not. Perhaps you forget them frequently, but most days you do remember them. Are you never going to find a solution to your problem? If you really are that stuck, maybe you’ve been resisting asking for help. Or if it really is an intractable problem, then why are you wasting your time beating your head against the wall? If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you can trust, and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out.

When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.

2. Identify a Positive

Once you snap yourself out of self-defeating, negative thoughts, it’s time to help your brain learn what you want it to focus on — the positive.

This will come naturally after some practice, but first you have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your brain’s attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps there is an exciting event you are looking forward to that you can focus your attention on.

The point here is you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative. Step one stripped the power from negative thoughts by separating fact from fiction. Step two is to replace the negative with a positive. Once you have identified a positive thought, draw your attention to that thought each time you find yourself dwelling on the negative. If that proves difficult, you can repeat the process of writing down the negative thoughts to discredit their validity, and then allow yourself to freely enjoy positive thoughts.

3. Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels.

You cultivate an attitude of gratitude by taking time out every day to focus on the positive. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.  

Bringing It All Together

These steps sound incredibly basic, but they have tremendous power because they retrain your brain to have a positive focus. These steps break old habits, if you force yourself to use them. Given the mind’s natural tendency to wander toward negative thoughts, we can all use a little help with staying positive. Put these steps to use, and you’ll reap the physical, mental, and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind. It will also help you remain focused and productive, especially when times are tough.


Travis Bradberry, Ph.D.

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and a cofounder of TalentSmart® the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His best-selling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries.

Dr. Bradberry is a LinkedIn Influencer and a regular contributor to Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, The World Economic Forum, and The Huffington Post. He has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Fast Company, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.

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