With today’s uncertainty, fear, and escalating stress levels, emotions often run high, which not only changes the way our brain functions, but it also diminishes our cognitive abilities, decision-making powers, and interpersonal skills. Now’s the time to be focused on being emotionally intelligent.

Consider a time you’ve said something in the heat of the moment and later regretted those words you seemed to have no control over. Self-awareness is the first step of Emotional Intelligence. It’s having a deep understanding of your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and motivations. In other words, knowing who you are and what kind of person you want to be in your professional and your personal life.

Recently, as I drove through a construction zone with heavy traffic, I needed to switch lanes. I checked the mirror, saw my opportunity, and merged, leaving ample space between my vehicle and the next car. But the driver behind me stomped on the gas pedal, nearly touching my bumper. In my mirror, I saw his angry, red face shouting obscenities. When the road finally opened, he passed my car honking and yelling toward me.

What made him so angry? What triggered him? What emotional stage was he in? He either didn’t try to control his behaviour, or perhaps this was a bad habit he’d become used to.

When you’re not self-aware and cannot regulate your emotions, they affect your behaviour, relationships, and job performance. Being self-aware means being honest with yourself so you can move into self-management.

Imagine this: You’re in a meeting, and one of your team members challenges your idea. This person always gets under your skin. Emotion rises from your gut, passes your throat, and is about to fly out your mouth. But at that moment, instead of letting lose words you’ll soon regret or is unhelpful in the situation, follow these four steps to ensure you become the person you want to be:

Step #1:  Stop. Count to 10.
Step #2:  Acknowledge the emotion. Don’t suppress it or pretend it’s not there.
Step #3:  Ask a “what” question.
Step #4:  Bring out the appropriate behaviour.

To get productive insight, you need to ask a “what” question instead of asking, “why” am I feeling upset. Productive questions would be:

  • What was the behaviour that triggered my emotion?
  • What other types of situations upset me like this?
  • What is the commonality?
  • Is there a pattern?

These questions keep you objective and feeling empowered, future-focused. You can then have a rational assessment of your limitations, strengths, and triggers. 

In this scenario, an appropriate behaviour, Step #4, would be listening actively until the other person finishes talking. Then consider one of the following scripts to continue:

  • Can you help me understand your thinking here?
  • What makes you say that?
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • How do you see the situation differently?

To get your perspective heard, you can then follow up with:

  • Here’s what I’m thinking. I came to this conclusion because…

When you’re self-aware, you can determine where you want to go, what is the importance for you, and then plan how to get there. In other words, you need to find your passion and your purpose to build the road that will take you to your goals.

After working for more than twenty years in the corporate world, it suddenly came to an end. I never saw it coming. I had no control over the situation. Chaos and extreme emotions surfaced, much like living through the COVID pandemic.  I had to ask myself:

  • What do I want to do?
  • What gets me excited and motivated?
  • What is fun for me?
  • What is important to me?
  • Who is the person I want to become?
  • What is my purpose by taking this path?
  • Do my passion, purpose, and goals align?
  • What are the limitations I set up for myself?
  • What is my true potential?
  • What are my strengths, weaknesses?
  • How can I use the tools that I already have to reach my goal?
  • What other tools do I need?
  • How can I complete those missing tools in my toolbox?

Notice there are no “why” questions here. Answering these questions is not easy. It takes a lot of self-checking, self-assessment, and rethinking. It took me three months to discover what I wanted to do, what the next steps were, and begin to build it. Finally, I found my passion and purpose – and got excited and motivated to start building the next stage in my career.

When you’re passionate about what you’re doing and know the purpose of your existence in the workplace, you’ll realize the value you add to an organization. You’ll have the energy, strength, and resilience to overcome challenges. You’ll set your goals and use that positive energy for motivation.  And you’ll build strong relationships with others by being aware of emotions (yours and theirs) and prepared to regulate them – that’s emotional intelligence in action.

Nurdan Tokoz has developed a reputation for shining a light on individuals within high-performance teams and helping them to exceed performance expectations so the organization can achieve its goals. As a Human Performance Consultant, with degrees in industrial engineering and adult education, Nurdan excels at identifying performance issues, developing sustainable solutions with a systematic and holistic approach to improving human performance.
Download her whitepaper, “The Top 5 Performance Mistakes,”.