Posts Tagged ‘emotional self-management’

When the Rain Comes

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

This afternoon, at the garden, I kind of on purpose got caught in the rain, which turned into an all out downpour. I knew it was coming–I could hear its distant rumblings and smell its warning in the stirring breezes, but I kept on digging…until it hit. And it hit hard and fast. By the time I took refuge in the nearby gardening shed, with the shovels and rakes and wheelbarrows, swathed in the scent of freshly cut grass and newly-turned soil, I was drenched to the bone, hair dripping and clothes stuck to my wet body. I happily sat on an upturned bucket in the makeshift shelter and watched the torrent of rain soak our garden plots, splashing upwards in the newly formed puddles, transforming the dry, dusty soil into a wet, moisture-rich haven, mother’s milk for the tender, newborn plants struggling to survive their first weeks of life. Everything turned a brilliant green.

The lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, and I couldn’t help but wonder: if plants need a good drenching from time to time, wouldn’t it do us good, too? Maybe it’s my frame of thought after witnessing baptisms at church the other day, or maybe it was from watching all the people out near the street hurrying, shoulders hunched, hands over their heads, attempting but failing to flee from the rain. It’s our first instinct — Run! Cover up! Hide! It makes sense: rain ruins our clothes, smears our makeup, flattens our hair, and washes away all the outward appearance we work so hard to put on and wear all day.

When the lightning lessened, though it was still raining, I went back to my gardening, mud sticking to my Crocs and working its way in between my toes, dirt speckled the back of my legs, my hair a damp mop, until I got chilled and sought the comfort of my warm car. I glanced in the mirror and saw a bedraggled plain girl looking back at me, makeup long gone and hair in tangles, dirt smeared on her face… but eyes wild with wonder. I felt alive, giddy from the craziness of being out in the elements.

I think staying out in a rainstorm is like life itself — we can run and hide when the storm hits or stay out there and learn how to weather it, soak it in, and though we may get a little beat up in the process, come out on the other side more alive and resilient. It’s easier to cower, keeping our lives all neat and tidy and dry and safe, but then I think we miss out on the adventure riding on the edge of the wind and the rain, beckoning us to try something new, step out in faith, bear through tough times…and grow.

The offense of being offended

offendedArticle contributed by Amy Sargent


Has anyone done something to you, or said something to you, even if it was a few days ago or maybe even months, and you’re still stewing on it?

Yeah, me too.

Most likely we all have people in our lives that offend us. When you read through status updates on social media, it’s almost like a play-by-play of events that people are offended by, both big and small. Family, friends, strangers in a store, coworkers, policy makers, restaurant owners, pastors, no one is excused from their seeming wrongdoings and missteps. And it can make us feel/appear “cool”, witty, smart, and funny to express offenses publicly. I am guilty as charged.

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase.” — Stephen Fry

It is a competency of emotional intelligence to exercise the ability to stay composed, positive, and kind in trying moments. Those with this skill set are able to remain cool under pressure and choose not to escalate a problem when they feel attacked or aggressively confronted by someone. Just this morning I read these wise words: “A man’s (or woman’s of course) wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” To our glory?  One definition of glory is this: “High renown or honor won by notable achievements.”  If this is true, then it is a notable achievement that will bring us honor when we choose not to notice, to choose not to call someone out, to choose not to be angry, or hurt, or slighted when that someone offends us.

Who is your someone? The one person you let get under your skin, and with whom you allow yourself to be offended by? The one you can justify being offended by because what they’ve done (and are doing) is really hurtful. I know who mine is, and it’s not an is but an are, not a someone but a somethem. They irritate me and seem to make an effort to continue to do so. However, I have a choice. I can choose to stay in my anger toward them, allowing them to depress my day and wreak havoc on my spirits, or I could try this ‘overlooking’ thing.

Are you up for a challenge today? Test this this little nugget of wisdom out and see how it works. Make an attempt to choose, not what everyone else around you is doing, but to overlook someone who is has offended you, just for kicks. Of course this is not referring to staying in a relationship with someone who is dangerous or can cause you harm. But the everyday people in your life that are offensive — who annoy you, who push your buttons, who tweak you the wrong way–what if today you gave them a break? Let them off the hook? It doesn’t mean you forget what they’ve done, or pretend it hasn’t happened, but you choose not to be offended by them.

How does it look to not be offended?  For you it may be shifting your thoughts when you wake up and not allow yourself to brew on the offense first thing in the morning. It may mean not talking about it in the kitchen at work with your coworkers. It may mean saying, “Sure!”, when your manager asks you to do something in a way you read as demeaning instead of rolling your eyes or giving her ‘the look’.  It may mean giving your coworker a smile instead of a sneer, or allowing that person who you disagree with to express their opinion, no matter how annoying it may be. It may be asking a colleague you dislike out to lunch to better understand why they do the things they do.

You of course don’t have to. But it’s Monday. The start of a new week. Why not give it a try today and see what happens? Maybe tomorrow too. Maybe even next week — but that’s a long way off so let’s see how this goes first.

The trouble with being too busy

poolArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I posted a picture of myself a few weeks ago relaxing at the pool on my lunch hour. I had to laugh at the comments that came in:

“Must be nice.”

“Work much?”

“You must never need a vacation!”

“Some of us have the life!”

First of all, I had already worked about 55 hours that week by mid week and it was my lunch break. I don’t know about you, but though I often work right through the lunch hour, once in a great while, when possible, it is nice to take a break for a few minutes and relax. Eat lunch. Talk to a friend…and yes, even lay by the pool. Yet it’s almost as if taking a lunch break isn’t acceptable in our professional world, especially if it truly involves ‘breaking’ and not ‘still working’. Productive, results-oriented people don’t take lunch breaks, right?

Over the years I have gotten to know me and, despite its unpopularity, have learned that if I don’t spend some time outside each day relaxing or enjoying the moment, I tend to get tense, stressed, and negative. This directly affects my productivity, ability to stay positive, and how I interact with others. For me, taking a short break actually makes me more productive during the work day.

“We all have one life to live, but if we are too busy to notice the world revolving around us, then we are not living.” — Rex Wilson

Are you really living?

Keep count one day of how many times you hear the response “Busy!” when you ask how others are doing. Our typical conversations consist of, “Hey, what’s going on? Too much, I’m crazy busy!” or “Do you want to meet this week for coffee? Would love to—but I have too much on my plate—maybe next week?!” Being overly busy has become our norm, but the downside is that it limits our ability to tune into our emotions and how we’re feeling in the moment, which in turn affects our ability to respond well. Busy may be the standard – but how emotionally intelligent is it?

“It’s in the quiet that our best ideas occur to us. Don’t make the mistake of believing that by a frantic kind of dashing around you are being your most effective and efficient self.  Don’t assume that you’re wasting time when you take time out for thought.” – Napoleon Hill & Clement Stone

Music to my ears. Maybe my pool time is not wasted time after all.

Emotional self-awareness is a vital component of emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to be aware of your own gut instincts and react appropriately to them. It’s being able to use your feelings as a valuable source of information to guide your decisions throughout the day.

Why is it so vital?

First of all, our inability (or refusal) to listen to our emotions can have many negative physical effects on our bodies. If you’re experiencing chronic headaches, lower back pain, neck or shoulder pain, and anxiety, these may be signals that your emotions are trying to tell you something.

Secondly, if we aren’t aware of how we’re feeling, then we can’t manage our behavior, and if we don’t manage our behavior, we’re going to blow up important relationships by acting impulsively. Author and psychologist Daniel Goleman says this,

“If you are tuned out of your own emotions, you will be poor at reading them in others.”

The social side-effects of not being emotionally-aware are irritability, treating others abrasively, and impatience. Think back on the last time you were, say, really exhausted. Did you like how you reacted to those around you that week? Most of us are too busy to even stop and reflect on how we’re feeling in the moment, which leaves many in react mode instead of act mode. It’s difficult to lead and work well with others when we can’t read how they are feeling at a given moment, let alone be aware of our own emotions.

Finally, when we tune out our emotions, we may begin to fail to notice when our day-to-day actions are not aligned with our vision and values and find ourselves way off course.

Are you too busy?  Take this short, simple online quiz to find out:

“People are clearly coming around to the idea of taking breaks and even ‘doing nothing’ in order to lead a healthier lifestyle,” –Liz Pryor, author & speaker

In an article entitled The Importance of Emotions, the author says this:  “In order to take good care of ourselves it is important that we know what are needs are. Our emotions help us to know what are needs are through what we feel. If you feel anger you know that you have to solve a problem with a situation or a person and that you must change your behavior. When you respect your needs you feel happy.”

Emotions help us stay aware of our needs, and the needs of others.

So how do we began to be more emotionally self-aware?

  • Slow down so you can begin to listen to your inner voice.  It normally doesn’t shout loudly so if you don’t tune in you may not hear it. It will always take a back seat to a frantic lifestyle, and if you don’t stop and listen closely you will miss its song.
  • Carve out some time each day for relaxation, meditation, and leisure.  I know, you’re too busy. We all are. But start with just a few minutes each day to do something that is non-work related that brings you enjoyment.
  • Take notes. Get in the habit from time to time of jotting down how you are feeling – and why. You can keep a simple journal to record your range of emotions and the intensity of each emotion. If you prefer to track your emotions on your phone, there are many apps available to help:

Because our emotions are essential in providing valuable insights and information about ourselves, others, and the situations going on around us, can we really afford to tune them out any longer?

The more adept we are at discerning what is shaping our moods and mental well-being, the more able we are to manage our behavior. The results? Greater productivity, effectiveness, confidence, and a feeling of being in control of our lives. Recognition alone can diffuse (or heighten) an emotional reaction. As you learn to know and understand your own emotions, you’ll also begin to be able to understand what drives the actions of those around you, improving relationships and connections.

Finding your decompression chamber

decompressionArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

Each morning I  walk about a mile from the train station to get to my office. At the end of the day I make the same trek in reverse. Colleagues who hear that I ‘have’ to walk so far each day offer their condolences. My kindhearted coworkers regularly offer me a ride, especially when the wind is whipping up or the rain is pounding down. I often decline.

What they don’t realize is that the walk is one of my favorite parts of the day. I climb steep steps, cross a footbridge above the freeway, meander along neighborhood sidewalks, and take a short jaunt through my ‘woods’, a clump of mature trees that casts a shady retreat for the green grass below,  a distinct contrast to the concrete jungle that surrounds  it. This daily walk has become my decompression chamber of sorts…that place in between the stressors of life where I feel no stress. Something about moving my legs, breathing in fresh air, and being out in nature, though only for a brief 15 minutes, relieves my worries and cares that have built up either on the morning commute or during the work day.

We often think of stress as the troublesome things that happen to us and around us, the tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. But in actuality, stress is internal. It is our somatic response to external events that are perceived as taxing. From the website we learn this: “When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.”  Wayne Dyer, philosopher, author and speaker, aptly states it this way:

“The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking.”

That being said, how does your ‘stressful thinking’ appear in your day to day life? Maybe it shows up as moodiness or anxiety. Other signs may include dry mouth, nervous laughter, inability to think clearly, tears, impulsive behavior, headaches, fatigue, tense muscles, to name a few . We’ve all experienced one or many of these on occasion. Maybe for you it’s every day – or every hour of every day. Though normal under trying circumstances, these behaviors can be self-defeating and can lead to much more serious symptoms if left unattended. When stressors and their symptoms are ever-present, our “fight or flight’ reaction stays in “on” mode. Over a period of time, this creates an overexposure to stress hormones that can throw most all of our body’s processes out of whack, and puts us at risk for health issues such as anxiety, headaches, sleep issues, heart problems, depression, digestive problems, weight gain, and concentration impairment.

Not only can poorly managed stress lead to health problems, it can elicit other unhealthy behaviors like excessive eating or drinking, criticism toward others, negativity, and procrastination. Think back on the last time you felt a high degree of stress. Did this affect your outlook on life in general and/or influence the way you treated others?

Situations that cause us to feel stress are a part of everyday life and they’re probably not going away any time soon.  But there are coping mechanisms we can develop to navigate them when they do occur. Those who have developed this emotional intelligence competency of stress management can sense early on when they are experiencing rising agitation, and can maintain composure to minimize hostile reactions. They have learned to not sweat the small stuff and have developed a high tolerance for frustration. It’s not that they don’t feel frustrated, or enjoy being frustrated—they just have learned to stomach it in a manner that doesn’t cause upset. Good stress managers know when to push for what they want and when to back off. They have learned to make choices that have a positive effect versus ones that drag them down.

If the way you typically respond to difficult situations is not working that well for you, it’s time to make a shift.  How? The simple answer is this:

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” –William James.

Nicely put but difficult to do.

So how do we begin to choose a different set of thoughts?

First of all, learn to recognize what you are feeling, in the moment. Take note of the symptoms that you are experiencing most often. What sort of situations trigger these emotions and reactions?  Is there a different way to deal with the stressful situations that can help you avoid some of these symptoms?

Secondly, we need a go-to toolkit of stress management techniques ready and available to pull out of our pocket when needed. Here are some ideas – which of these could work for you during your day?

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Take a walk/exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Practicing thankfulness
  • Making a to-do list
  • Laugh and/or make others laugh
  • Take a nap or go to bed earlier that night
  • Prayer
  • Avoidance (take a break from the people and/or situations that cause stress)
  • Visualization
  • Doing something fun
  • Talking to a friend
  • (add in your own)

I realize not everyone may get to take a 15 minute walk to and from the train station on each side of the workday, but I hope you can take some time to discover your own decompression chamber before the effects of continued stress take their toll.

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” –Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

How is your conflict resolve working for you?

scarlettArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I often get accused of being passive-aggressive when it comes to resolving conflict. And I don’t deny it. Well, at least not the entire accusation. When conflict arises, I am passive but I am not aggressive. I’m not a yeller, I don’t explode, and I’ve never thrown things or slapped someone in the face like they do so promptly (and somehow seemingly consequence-free) in the movies. Remember when Scarlett threw the vase at Rhett? (Me either, it was a little before my time, but I’ve heard about it.)  When in conflict I tend to camp out in Wayne Dyer’s mindset when he said, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” But my lack of vase-throwing does not elevate me above those who do. My passiveness is equally hurtful and unhelpful in conflict resolve. It drives people nuts, especially those who tend to be competitive or controlling. Heck, it drives me nuts! Why can’t I just voice my opinion, yell a little, and get mad?!

Just a few weeks ago I received a phone call from someone carrying quite a bit of pent-up anger directed toward me. (These are rare, mind you, lest you think I’m a high-conflict sort of person). She was upset, to say the least, and I could hear a shaky anger in her voice. She became quite vocal, asked me questions but answered them herself, and even threw out a bit of name-calling.

I know her words probably should have riled me up, but they didn’t. When she reached her peak of spewing, I sensed the blank expression on my face and could actually feel a cloud of grey, emotionless fog creeping into my bones. I wasn’t tuning her out. I actually heard her quite nicely (because she was very loud at that point), and think I understood where she was coming from. It’s just that she’s someone who gets angry often, at many people, and I’ve learned to separate her stress from my stress. She gets upset but that doesn’t mean I have to get upset. Nevertheless–my passiveness, though it may protect my heart in moments such as these, actually escalated her anger and didn’t help with the conflict resolution one bit.

I have always carried a bit of guilt about my lack of Scarlett-ness when it comes to conflict resolve because so many people have told me it’s not healthy. Well-meaning friends have actually chided me to show my anger, to punch something! Passiveness is my own brand of avoidance, I’ll admit. But sometimes it really seems to work to de-escalate a situation. Yet other times, like on the recent phone call, it just makes things worse…which leaves me not feeling so great about my problem solving skills.

So is avoidance good or bad?! I only recently learned, from the work of Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in 1974, creators of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to assess an individual’s behavior in conflict, that there are different approaches to resolving conflict and each approach is correctdepending upon the moment. The 5 Conflict Resolution Styles they came up with are:

  • Competing
  • Compromise
  • Avoidance
  • Collaboration
  • Accommodation

Who would’ve known?  I’ve always thought there was one best practice to resolving conflict, and knew I didn’t have it. I figured I just needed to be more assertive. And the thing is, I do. At times. But sometimes, I need to be more accommodating. And other times, a little more compromising would do the trick. It’s not that one way is any better or worse than another way –it’s just a matter of figuring out WHICH method is most appropriate for the situation at hand.

So how do we know when to use which style of conflict management? Authors of  the book Competence in Interpersonal Conflict, William Cupach and Daniel Canary, said this,

“There is little value in preparing a cookbook of recipes for conflict success. The effects of conflict interaction depend directly on what the participants do mentally with conflict behaviors – that is, how they process and interpret those behaviors.”

Regrettably there’s not an easy formula to use, an ‘input = output’. I’d love to tell you that when this happens, do this, and when that happens, do that, but these things called human beings are involved in interpersonal conflict.  Living, breathing, feeling humans with erratic behavior, differing backgrounds and all levels of maturity and ability to manage their own emotions. Not to mention what you bring to the table. And when these feelings clash in passionate discourse, the ability to choose the correct conflict management style can be difficult to say the least. We have to use social and emotional intelligence – the ability to read, in the moment, our own emotions and those of others, and manage them appropriately. In the moment. That’s the hard part. Because in the heat of the moment is when it’s extremely difficult to exercise any kind of control, but in the heat of the moment is when we need to use social and emotional intelligence the most!

And we all have our go-to, preferred style when it comes to managing conflict. What’s yours?  Know that this is normal. We develop it based upon our past experiences of what has worked – and what hasn’t, even from our early childhood. We also learn our style based upon the corporate culture in which we work. For example, in your office, how is conflict typically resolved? Are there frequent blow-ups? Does your manager immediately call a meeting? Do certain coworkers avoid other coworkers? Sometimes we tend to go with the flow of ‘how things are’ in our work environments and adopt those styles as our own. As well, we can learn our own style of conflict resolve based upon observing others and seeing what works (and doesn’t work) for them.

No matter your current style of conflict resolve, it doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself to learn a new way of operating. Phyllis Bottome, a British novelist, put it this way:

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties:  You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself meeting them.”

Since most conflicts that arise can’t exactly be altered, as they’ve already taken place, our choice is how we alter ourselves to meet them.

Learning to use each of these styles, depending upon the situation, will increase our interpersonal effectiveness and ability to work well with others. Let’s look at the 5 styles to 1-see which best describes you and 2-learn when using this style is most effective:

The Competitor.  You are assertive and aggressive, and tend to dominate disagreements. You demonstrate little concern for the opinion of others. While this method can be hurtful and stifling to the other parties involved, the Competitor is vital in situations where decisiveness is necessary. Emergencies in which quick action is needed cry out for the Competitor, often when the issue requires an unpopular action.

The Compromiser.  You are cooperative and assertive and act as a bridge between team members. You are agreeable to both sides of the conflict and can see the benefits of both viewpoints. The danger in this is that you are seen as not having a firm set of values, and at times you may not even recognize what you stand for. But the Compromiser is very beneficial to situations where a temporary settlement is called for on issues that are more complex, or when you need to find short-term solutions for the benefit of the relationship.

The Avoider.  You (me) can easily shrug off conflict. You refuse to engage in heated arguments, never let your temper rise and quickly disconnect from the other person’s viewpoint. Though this style can delay problem-resolve, and if overused breeds a lack of empathy, it is helpful when there are more pressing matters to tackle to keep everyone focused on what is important.  The Avoider can ‘turn down the heat’, (you’ve heard the saying it takes two to tumble) and slow things down so all of the information needed to resolve the conflict can be gathered.

The Collaborator.  You are a good listener and like the Compromiser, able to cooperate and assert your opinions simultaneously; however, you actively seek to find a resolution so both sides win. You can be taken advantage of by more assertive team members, but this style is crucial when the objective is to integrate differing points of view and keep the team intact.

The Accommodator.  Harmony and cooperation are important to you. You are willing to put aside your own needs out of concern for the others and for the sake of the team. Though you tend to resist changes that are inevitable, this style is valuable when it is important to keep the peace or elevate positivity. Being accommodating is a good style to use when you realize you are wrong, or need to be the voice of reason. The Accommodator’s influence has a long reach and when conflict comes up again down the road,  teammates remember that you were willing to see things from a different point of view.

So there you go. Easy as pie, huh? Just pick the right style for the right situation and you’re set!  We all know it is easier said than done, and learning to navigate conflict resolve with ease can take a lifetime. But we may as well get busy figuring this out, as conflict is a part of being human. Saul Alinsky, community organizer and writer, sums it up with this:

 ”Conflict is a part of life. Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”

Conflict is not going away. But learning to deal with it in a healthier, more productive style can be learned. And the rewards of learning how to use the correct style of conflict management for the right occasion will bring us the gift of healthier, stronger interpersonal relationships.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” – Richard Bach

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