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Self-awareness – the key to growing your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is not mystical or weird, but practical. It starts with learning self-awareness.

People who rise to leadership roles are often star performers who have high levels of technical skill and knowledge. The hard truth is that the qualities that make them significant players in a business do not necessarily help them inspire and lead others. In fact, the skills required to become an effective leader are more likely to come under the heading of emotional intelligence (EQ) or social and emotional intelligence (SEIQ).

According to Dr Laura Belsten, founder of the Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence in Denver, Colorado, EQ is all about self-awareness, self-management, people awareness and relationship management.

In recent times, more and more companies have realised that EQ is not soft and fluffy but essential for long-term business growth. Emotional intelligence skills are highly practical and essential for keeping an effective team together; for managing conflict, learning how to inspire and get the best out of people, as well as for tuning in to what is really going on in an individual or in the relationship mix of a team.

All leaders MUST develop self-awareness

If a leader is goal- or task-focused more than people-focused, then chances are they are not always aware how they come across to others. They may not be very emotionally self-aware at all – not tuned into their own emotions and moods throughout the day. And when they are busy and focused on meeting a deadline, they will be even less self-aware.

I am not suggesting that we stop and have a team-bonding session to discuss how stressed we all are every time the pressure is on and stuff needs to get done. The task is important. People need to work hard and get things done.

However, I am saying that people are important too. A leader’s self-awareness of the way their mood, words, and actions affect others, is critical to the healthy function of their team. All successful long-term working relationships revolve around such self-awareness. It’s been estimated that 70% of people who leave companies do so because they struggle to get on with their immediate manager. It is far better for all when a team wants to work hard and contribute to their company’s success, rather than if they are unhappy or resentful. The emotional intelligence of the leader often makes the difference.

A leader sets the tone for a team. If the leader is often stressed and makes it difficult for others to communicate, then it will not be a pleasant working environment. Self-awareness during times of stress is a great place to start. How does stress show up on you? Are you even aware? What does stress do to you? How does that affect others around you?

5 tips to increase your self-awareness

  1. Regularly check in on your feelings. During the course of the day, schedule brief but frequent
    check-ins on what your body might be feeling and check in on your emotional state as well.
  2. Listen to your body. If you find yourself clenching your teeth, tensing your shoulders, feeling worn out or worn down, stop and ask yourself what your body is trying to tell you. Are you feeling strained? Stressed? Anxious? Fearful? Overwhelmed? Discouraged?
  3. Name your emotions. Increase your emotional vocabulary. Connect the specific emotion you are feeling to a source or to a situation, concern, or issue. For example, are you angry, frustrated or irritated? Do those emotions all look the same on you? What is the appropriate level of emotion for the situation or issue you are facing?
  4. Take a little time to be introspective. Listen to that quiet inner voice. Put aside some of your goal-oriented activities and think. Take long walks, know your core values and, importantly, stop thinking of your emotions as irrelevant or messy. Our emotions are an essential source of valuable information.
  5. Request feedback from time to time. And accept it without becoming defensive. Make it safe for people to give you feedback. Ask others for their insights on your strengths and weaknesses.

Self-awareness is the place to start

When you increase your self-awareness even a little bit, you are more likely to be aware of others around you, and tune into how they are feeling and responding in a given situation. This will make you better at connecting with other people: the starting place for any leader wanting to grow their emotional intelligence (EQ).

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