What does the term emotional agility mean to you?
If you have a picture in your mind of running through a course at Crufts while being scored for time and accuracy, you’re a bit off the mark! Although navigating life’s emotions can at times feel like a bit of an obstacle course!
Some people use the term emotional agility interchangeably with emotional intelligence, however they’re not the same thing.
You can be emotionally intelligent and yet lack emotional agility. On the other hand you can’t be emotionally agile and lack emotional intelligence.
Confused? Then read on!
Emotional intelligence is to do with self-awareness, awareness of others’ emotions and how you relate to them.
Emotional agility is all about having the ability to accept, not repress, your emotions and to deal with them in a constructive way that doesn’t build stress within you or adversely impact your immune system.
In other words, if you’re not emotionally agile, it can make you ill! Holding emotions within you is like turning the heat up incrementally on a pressure cooker and waiting for it blow. Everything spills out in a completely uncontrolled way and the pressure cooker is in ruins.
Hence why we talk about needing to let off steam when we feel pressure mounting within us.
The emotionally agile leader
If you’re a leader, developing emotional agility will take your leadership skills to a whole different level. However it can be a skill that’s in short supply. That’s because most leaders believe that they are expected to be in control at all times, which means they often try to suppress their negative emotions. Yet the very act of suppressing them can create unhealthy habits, stifle creativity, innovation and personal development, and impact decision-making.
And meanwhile, that internal pressure is growing.
It can lead to leaders avoiding new situations or any challenges that trigger those negative emotions and that means that they miss out on things that could actually be good for them and their company. Or, their negative emotions could actually be telling them something important, but they press on regardless along a different path, only to discover that they have bitten off something they can’t chew because they don’t have the skills or knowledge to deal with it.
They get to a point where their negative emotions are controlling them and decisions are based on those emotions, not rational thought. When you’re dealing with a leader like that, it can be almost impossible to reason with them, and a tactical retreat may be the only option, living to “fight” another day!
And that’s the thing, not only does this behaviour impact on them as a leader and a person, it can impact on everyone around them. Teams view leaders as role models so often mirror their behaviours, including negative ones. This is partly about believing that those are the kind of behaviours that make people successful, but it can also be to win favour from the leader, or at worst, as a form of self-protection. These behaviours then become the norm, leading to a culture where people suppress their emotions and feel unable to speak freely, populated by emotional outbursts when they are unable to suppress their feelings any longer.
And it also means that the leader who is unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge their own emotions, won’t want to acknowledge or understand emotion in others. And that leads to disharmonious relationships.
When things get to that stage, you’ve got a pretty toxic workplace. And toxic environments are dreadful for everyone involved.
If you’re reading this and it’s resonating with you, either because you work in that kind of environment or because you want to improve your emotional agility, then read on because improving your emotional agility means that the converse of all of the above negatives applies!
The emotionally agile leader creates a wholly different workplace culture, where no one needs to fear expressing themselves and talking about emotions.
Three ways to improve your emotional agility
1. Accept all the emotions you feel: good, bad and indifferent. Allow yourself to feel them.
This can be a challenge if you’re conditioned into thinking that you must only think positive thoughts and should be a ray of sunshine and happiness personified all the time.
Thinking positively doesn’t mean you can’t experience negative emotions; it’s about how you respond to those emotions. Everybody has bad days, but what separates the emotionally agile leader from the rest is their ability to channel those emotions in a constructive way and to rationalise them.
When you reach a place where you’re able to acknowledge and respond to your emotions in a healthy way, then you become a great role model for others, avoid making decisions based on those emotions, and create a culture of openness and innovation.
2. Reach a point where you can make decisions based on rational thought.
That doesn’t mean you ignore your emotions. Remember, you’ve already acknowledged the emotions that you’re feeling and have allowed yourself to experience them. Those emotions can be a negative influence on you; however, they can also be a positive factor. Some emotions are there to help guide us.
This is about taking your emotions out and holding them up to the light.
It's about asking yourself, "what are these emotions telling me and is this something I need to take into account when deciding on a course of action?" For example, anger could be an indication that the proposed course of action isn’t right for you; however, anger could also be directed at yourself for being afraid to take a big step that is going to have positive ramifications for you.
The key thing is to examine the emotion and decide if it is in line with your values. This results in values-based decision-making, not emotion-based decision-making - and that’s a really powerful way to build a culture which is based on company values, plus to role model positive behaviours for everyone around you.
Learning to be objective about your emotions leads to better wellbeing and allows you to deal with any negative emotions in a healthy and productive way.
3. Learn NLP!
NLP techniques help you to get in touch with and respond to your emotions in a dispassionate, objective way. It encourages reflection and critical thinking, "Why am I feeling like this?" "What is the emotion telling me?" "How does this fit with my values?"
NLP also teaches you how to respond to emotion in others, in a way that builds understanding and connection. It’s OK, not to be OK. It’s also OK to feel emotions and to want to talk about them. If you’re an NLP-trained, emotionally agile leader, you can also help to build emotional agility in others and guide them to respond constructively to their emotions.
If you’d like to learn more about NLP and emotional agility, or discuss options for NLP training then get in touch.
AboveBeyond is running a 4 day Intensive NLP Practitioner and an 8 day Enhanced Coach Practitioner training in February. More information is here:
I also do this work with teams, so if you’re stuck with high conflict, high sickness, low engagement and low productivity and you want to turn things around, please get in touch.