Emotional Self-Awareness

Dr. Relly Nadler:
 This week we have Joshua Freedman, the author of The Heart of Leadership. He’s an expert in emotional intelligence and organizational change. He’s the CEO and one of the founders of Six Seconds, which is one of the oldest and leading EI organizations in the world.

Joshua is a master trainer having trained thousands of people in emotional intelligence over 10 nations. He’s the author of three tests, four books, and numerous training programs. They have offices in Brisbane, Beijing, Lisbon, London, San Francisco and Singapore. Joshua, welcome to the show.

Joshua Freedman:  Thank you Relly.

Dr. Relly Nadler: We were talking about emotional self-awareness, one of the EI competencies. Tell me, from your standpoint, why our knowing about feelings and emotions important for leaders.

Joshua Freedman: Well, I think the major issue is that it is an area that most of us know little about. We haven’t explored it, we haven’t learned about it. I took over 2,000 hours of instruction in how to solve mathematical equations. That just means I went to elementary and high school in America. I took no hours on how to understand the emotional equations. I find that for myself as a leader, my read challenges are things like engaging people, solving people problems, getting people to agree with each other stay focused. Those are all driven by emotions. A lot of it is driven by my own emotions.

Frequently, when I talk to leaders, the conventional wisdom is that we ought to leave emotions out of it. Emotions don’t belong at work. We need to make rational decisions because those are going to be good decisions. Yet neuroscience is very clear that without emotions we actually don’t make decisions at all. So, we have this kind of mantra, oh let’s leave emotions out of it—let’s make good business decisions. So we don’t pay attention to emotions and we haven’t learned about emotions so we are handicapped in this area.

It’s like a frontier where if leaders can begin to access a little bit of this data—that’s what emotions are—neurobiologically they are chemically encoded data. If we can begin to access that data we get incredible insight into what is going on inside of us and inside others.

We talk about the idea that emotions drive people and people drive performance. You see it in all kinds of corporate slogans and mission statements; people are our number one asset. Yet, how much energy do most leaders spend truly understanding what drives that number one asset?

Dr. Relly Nadler: Well, I think from our conversations and what we’ve talked about before, it’s just getting leaders to understand what their emotions are. Tell me a little bit about what you have in your book. You have this neural biology of feeling, and how do you relate that to a leader or an executive that you are working with?

Joshua Freedman: Well, one of the things that an important starting point is to recognize that emotions are real. There is actually a neurobiological basis for emotions, their chemicals. Most chemicals exist in everyone. So when I’m talking to a leader helping him or her understand—hey look, this stuff, it’s real. It’s going on in your brain, it’s going on in your body and it will affect you.

Just understanding some of the basic effects of emotions, for example kind of conventional thinking is that thinking drives feeling. Yet the reality is feeling also drives thinking. Just learning that. Learning how does my thinking change when I’m frustrated. It turns out, for example, when you are frustrated you tend to notice minor problems and you tend to focus on problems. That’s great if you’re an accountant and your job is to find errors on spreadsheets and that’s all you do all day long. Then that frustration would actually help you.

But if you are trying to rally a group of people, if you are trying to get a group of people to move and do something that they might otherwise do by themselves. You’re trying to get them to commit, then focusing on minor problems isn’t really going to motivate them. So your annoyance – you’ve got this group of people, they aren’t doing what you want them to do so you feel annoyed. That annoyance is going to change your thinking. It’s going to cause you to notice those problems; notice those issues that are going on—those minor, nitpicking things that get you more and more annoyed. As you get more and more annoyed you get less and less able to shift your own emotions to something that is going to be really useful for that situation.

So it’s the kind of skill that we want leaders to learn. That kind of knowledge that we want them to have.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So noticing some of their patterns or some of their triggers and then how they modulate that?

Joshua Freedman: Sure. At a starting point, we want them to look at simply identifying these emotions. Emotions follow rules. I don’t know about you Relly, you’re a psychologist who has had a lot of experience in your life with this. I’m not, I am a business person, I’m an educator and I’m a leader. For me, emotions, before I started to learn about this, they seemed random and chaotic and even dangerous. It was like someone would come into my office and they would be clearly upset about something and I didn’t even want to ask them; hey, what’s going on, because I thought, oh, gee, if I ask them what is going on we are going to be here for an hour, and they are going to end up crying in my office. What the heck am I going to do with that?

So I had this fear of emotions. I didn’t call it that because, wow, fear, that’s a big emotion, and I didn’t have that. But that is what it was. I had this fear because I didn’t understand that there were rules to emotions, and actually not that complicated.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Why don’t you give us a couple of those rules, I’d be interested in hearing that. Why don’t you give us a couple of those rules, I’d be interested in hearing that.

Joshua Freedman: Ok, well one basic rule is that emotions will continue and intensify unless the situation or stimulus changes.  In other words, if somebody is upset, let’s just say, they don’t like a decision that you made as their leader. You can see it in their eyes. You think, awe man, I don’t want to deal with this. I’m just going to move on, and you move on. What you need to know is that that feeling is going to intensify unless the situation changes. They are going to go from being a little bit upset to more upset, to more upset, to more upset, until they are really—that feeling comes out in some way.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Later, we are going to actually follow up on that, that emotions are not biodegradable. I think we will follow up on that concept. Somehow if we don’t do anything about it, it will disappear. So this rule that you are saying is the exact opposite of that.

Joshua Freedman: Yes, absolutely.

Another rule is that emotions are contagious or infectious. I just finished a whitepaper about this. Looking at a lot of research in our field called emotional contagion. The premise is, and we have all experienced this, we go into work and the boss is in a really great mood. After a couple of hours, it’s like wow, what a great place to work—that place is really fun.

The next day you come into work and the boss is really PO’d and you just want to hide underneath your desk. That’s emotional contagion. What’s happening is that you pick up the feelings of people around you. Feelings are messages. These messages help us understand the situation that we are in and the risks and opportunities of that situation. So we are actually biologically wired to pick up and feel the emotions of people around us. We literally have parts of our brain—there is a system called mirror neurons—we’re literally mapping into our own brains the experiences and feelings and behaviors that we perceive around us.

This is particularly true, particularly powerful for leaders. The most powerful person in the room is going to get the most attention. We are going to look at that leader and we might just be sitting at our desk and not even hearing what he or she is saying, but part of our attention is going to be on that person. This makes sense because we are herd animals. As herd animals, we need to pay attention to what’s going on in the pack. We need to pay attention to the signals of the group. So we are going to be picking up these signals and it’s going to start shifting what’s going on in our brain and our own feelings are going to change. Those feelings are going to impact performance. So we know, for example, that teams that are in a more positive mood are more creative. They are faster. They solve problems more quickly. They waste less energy. So if we can pay attention to that emotional contagion and the effect of that, recognizing how I feel, that is going to affect others. That’s a powerful lesson.

Listen to the complete interview above.


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