Six years ago after producing outstanding results for my team and greatly exceeding all our goals for the year, I had an unexpected performance conversation with my manager. He mentioned that the way I handled some of the disagreements with people across different levels wasn’t as productive, and I was hurting the effectiveness of the organization. He felt I was too focused on the results themselves instead of the how we produced them as a team. He gave me examples where I came off as being too pushy with a junior PM, where I did not adequately address the concerns of my partners teams, and when I pushed back repeatedly in a leadership meeting without deeply considering the alternate points of view.
My heart was in the right place and I was advocating for what I thought was in the best interests of the company. However my intentions were not landing accurately on other people, and, as a result, I wasn’t able to drive all of the positive outcomes I wanted.
This led me on a winding journey of understanding what I needed to change and how to actually make those changes happen. I spent tens of thousands of dollars on courses and bought hundreds of books. I picked up different insights from these materials that made a significant difference in my evolution as a person. I hit many walls along the way and I wanted to give up. I would then dig into my collection of books or find another course. The universe always found a way to send me the right help. I even started to take away learnings from my tennis coach. His favorite mantra was “Your technique is aggressive, You are not!” and I thought about all the ways it applies to my work. I would eventually view the wall as a speed bump in my rear view mirror. A few people who were close to me were inspired by the inner work I was doing and leaned in to help me.
I started to see the impact of my inner work in my performance review feedback I was receiving from other people in the company. My greatest joy was when one of my peers wrote in a recent performance review, “I’m pretty sure I would have flipped a table and started screaming at least a couple of times if put through what he had to go through, but he stayed calm and collected and worked each problem as it arose without any apparent consternation.”
I have come a long way from six years ago. The improvements I made from each of the individual courses or books were small pieces of the greater puzzle that I had to put together. In hindsight, I wish someone had shown me a more direct path to improving my emotional intelligence.
I am sharing my learnings so that you can get there 10 times faster than I did.
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to drive positive outcomes in high stakes situations without letting anyone’s hijacked emotions can get in the way.
Improving emotional intelligence require intentional work in a few areas:
- Mitigate Emotional Triggers by identifying the childhood experiences and our perception of reality that lead to emotional hijacking.
- Develop Self Compassion to forgive ourselves for our past and radically accept and love who we are at this moment even though we want to grow.
- Develop Mindfulness Skills to identify when we are getting triggered by listening to the signals being given by our body and using breathing/other techniques to move to more rational thinking.
- Listen Deeply and Speak Intentionally to understand perspective, content, and needs of the other person/party and speak intentionally to ensure that your message has the right effect on the other person.
- Prepare for tough conversations by setting outcomes, intentions, planning the words to use, identifying potential triggers, how to de-escalate when things go wrong.
- Execute on the conversation by working through an agenda, checking if you are on track at frequent intervals, identifying when conversations are going down the wrong path, thinking about how to reframe the conversations, focusing on the pre-established outcomes, asking for a recess/circling back if we can get to alignment etc.