Emotional Intelligence

I recently attended a presentation on Emotional Intelligence  given by leadership expert and author Dr. Joe Serio.

Emotional intelligence is understanding and recognizing ours and the emotions of others and managing them, according Dr. Serio. The “game” (of job hunting, relationships, life) is about feelings. “It’s not about what you know, it’s about how you feel about what you know.” Your thoughts and beliefs often determine how we feel so emotional intelligence is about how you can better yourself and achieve your goals.

There are four parts to emotional intelligence. The first two are about you and the last two are about how you interact with others.

  1. Self-awareness – What are you telling yourself? What do you believe? What stories are you carrying around? Introspection can be painful as we hold onto past hurts and let them spill into our conversation.
  2. Self-management – how do you behave? Can you control your emotions or do you fly off the handle at the slightest offense?
  3. Social awareness – I have a friend that called it social fluidity – the ability to adapt to different personality types and find common ground in order to make a connection. Are you aware of social cues such as body language?
  4. Relationship management – How are your relationships? If you don’t know, ask them.This can be scary but listen even if you don’t like what they say ask what you can do differently.

As with everything else, it starts by asking yourself: who am I? What do I want? How am I going to get it? Clarity and focus is  the key. Once you’ve answered these questions, the next thing to figure out is your strategy for getting it.

You do have a strategy right? (Winning the lottery is not a valid strategy). Here’s the thing, as Dr. Joe said, in order to have something you’ve never had you have to do something you’ve never done. Nothing is going to change by playing it safe. If you’re not getting the results you want then do something different (I’ve said this multiple times).

Even when you have a strategy, we get stuck in a rut. “Everything happens outside of your comfort zone,” Dr. Joe reminds us.

What keeps us inside our comfort zone? Fear. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of success, so many fears. Dr. Joe calls it a “what if” life when we give away our energy and power by mentally playing out negative scenarios.

So how do we manage our fears? He gives us a seven step process as follows:

  1. Acknowledge your fears. What we resist, persists.
  2. Identify it – As Alex Korb, UCLA neuroscience researcher and author of The Upward Spiral, listening, labeling and acknowledging our emotions lessons their impact. It has such a powerful effect on the brain that it is used in mediation, mindfulness and by FBI hostage negotiators.
  3. Measure it – how afraid are you? We let our fears get away from us by being hyperfocused on it and believing it’s real.
  4. Imagine the worst case scenario. Is it really all that bad in the grand scheme of things? If it is, at least you’ve identified the situation and the first step in solving a problem is identifying it.
  5. Gather information and support. Ask other people how they handled this situation. Not only does this help you get ideas on how to deal with the situation, but also let’s you know you’re not alone. Other people have faced what you are and gotten through it.
  6. Contemplate your past success with change. You’ve made it through other problems, changes, etc, you can get through this too.
  7. Celebrate!

The bottom line is – events are neutral, it is our response to them that determines our outcomes. What we believe about ourselves determines how we think. We rarely examine our thoughts and beliefs, they’ve become habit, we aren’t even conscious of them. Awareness is the first key. Listen to what you tell yourself and question whether it is helping or hindering you. You always have a choice to think differently which will affect your emotional state.

In Praise of Toastmasters

In Praise of ToastmastersI don’t care who you are or what you do, being a good communicator is an essential skill in life and for that, Toastmasters is probably one of the best learning experiences that your money can buy. I recommend it for everyone.

It is the eve of my final Toastmasters speech, after tomorrow I will officially be a Competent Communicator (you can go to the Toastmasters header to see all my speeches. I tried videotaping all of them but the first few had some operator errors…as in I forget to press the shutter button so it would actually record…)

For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters, everyone starts out with the Competent Communication (CC) manual and there are 10 speeches to complete. Each speech focuses on a particular part of public speaking – tone, body language, organization, persuasion, etc. The tenth speech is a culmination of everything you learned – it is the inspirational speech. After you finish the CC manual you are free to choose from a variety of other manuals based on your individual goals (titles include: The Entertaining Speaker, Technical Presentations, Special Occasion Speeches, Communicating on Video, Facilitation Discussion and Storytelling)

My goal was to finish the manual in 10 months – one speech for every month. I will have achieved this goal but I wasn’t paying attention in the early months so I didn’t sign up fast enough. In order to finish in 10 months I’ve had to do four speeches in a row. I’ll be very happy when I complete this last one and will take a break from the speech writing/giving for the summer. There are other roles in the club that I’d like more experience in anyway, such as being Toastmaster or an evaluator.

As I said, everyone can benefit from being in Toastmasters. It doesn’t matter what your job is, whether you’re a stay at home mom, blue collar worker, student or CEO, we are always communicating. Even when we aren’t talking, we communicate through our body language, how we dress, our eye contact, mannerisms…everything we do says something about us.

Let me walk you through a typical meeting at my local club. Other clubs might have slight differences but there is a basic structure to most clubs.

Our club has several different roles that are filled each week by members. There is a Toastmaster, who determines the theme of the meeting and is kind of like the Ringmaster in a circus. There is a timer, speeches and evaluations are timed. A general evaluator who evaluates the overall meeting – and speech evaluators. Feedback is critical to our growth as speakers. I was resistance to “areas of improvement” because I saw that as a criticism but I soon realized that it was more important for me to grow than get praise (see this post). The Table Topics master picks out topics and then chooses someone from the audience to speak about it for 1-2 minutes. Table topics can be intimidating but it helps you think on your feet. We also have what we call a WAG, who comes up with the word of the day, counts “ah’s” and other superfluous words (some people might use “like” a lot or “and”) and checks grammar. Sometimes we have a meeting listener who will ask questions about the meeting to see if we have been paying attention. Participating in these roles, along with doing the speeches, helps build a well-rounded communication education.

Some of the specific benefits of Toastmasters are:

  • Confidence – it’s said that public speaking is more feared than death. Preparation and practice are the only way to overcome it.
  • Leadership skills  
  • Clarify your writing. Writing the speech is one of my favorite parts. Not only do you have to structure your writing in a way that makes sense, but you have to stay within a certain time frame so being succinct, knowing what to keep in and take out as well as narrowing your focus are important skills to hone.
  • Think on your feet. Sometimes we’re called upon to make a few impromptu words at a special occasion or your boss asks you for your opinion. Learning to think on your feet and be articulate is an important skill.
  • Listening skills. Communication is not just about talking, but also about listening and unfortunately our listening skills aren’t as developed as our speaking skills. Being an evaluator helps refine those skills
  • Critical thinking skills. Coming up with speech topics, research and organizing your thoughts into a coherent whole requires thought. As an evaluator you have to discern what the speaker is doing well and what they could improve upon.
  • Memory. I have yet to use notes in any of my speeches (though highly paid public speakers say they still use notes and there is nothing wrong with it.) I don’t say this to brag, I memorize my speeches because it’s good for my brain. My first speech I took 2 weeks to memorize. My ninth speech I learned in a day. I’ve given myself 3 days to learn the 10th speech because it is the longest speech and I didn’t want to be rushed. I’m hoping to finish strong!
  • Learn to take criticism. Criticism might be too harsh a word. We like to call them “grow” points but the fact is, if you want to learn and grow, you have to be able to objectively take constructive criticism.
  • Look for the positives. Everything about Toastmasters is geared toward being positive. Let people know their strengths, find something good in everything and when you do have a “grow” point, we phrase it in a positive light.
  • It’s fun! Turns out I’m a bit of a ham so getting up in front of an audience is fun. I love being animated and I always try to be either entertaining, informative or inspiring. Not sure if I achieve any of them but that’s always my goal.
  • Support. Finding a good club to call home is crucial. My club, while small, is filled with some of the kindest, funniest, supportive people that I’ve ever met.

I look back on my body of work with Toastmasters so far and I’m proud of everything I’ve done and have learned a lot. Maybe there’s a TED talk in my future…