How Negative Emotions Can Empower You As A Leader

Did you know that fear and anger can be used to your benefit as a leader?

Too often, we resist accepting negative emotional data such as fear and anger, and don’t give it a chance to inform our decisions. However, with a little practice we can come to learn that we are holistic individuals and that even negative emotional input has its value. This is done by using your emotional input as valuable information to be analyzed and transformed into positive action.

A good example of this is our fight-or-flight response. Since human life as we know it first began, our species has been aided in its survival by fight or flight. Because its origin is in the emotions, it was developed even before we began higher-level thinking. That doesn’t make it less or more important than our sensory inputs — it’s just another source of information and data and provides an important means of acquiring as much information as possible on which we can make decisions. The more information coming in and the more varied it is, the better.

Emotional intelligence (EI) can be used to inform and empower your decision-making and resultant actions. With it, you can turn what otherwise might have been a negative situation into a positive one.

In order to do that, you must overcome what can be overwhelming emotional reactions and take time to evaluate. A tall order? Yes, but an important and extremely useful one. Using this technique, you can use the energies of anger or fear, for example, as a way of facing problems at their source and not simply becoming outraged, striking out or fearfully running away.

The key to all this is to always look for the cause for your emotions. Sometimes it’s not obvious, and you’ll have to dig down a bit. But you have to get to the source. What exactly was it that caused you to become angry or fearful? Which of your values were violated, or which boundaries were pushed to make you afraid or irate? Once you’ve taken the time to determine this, you can address the actual problem, and not, perhaps, only a symptom of it.

Now, I’d like to share something important about emotions in general with you: There is no such thing as a “bad” emotion. All emotions are real and healthy. We developed the capacity to have them for a reason. Yes, we would all prefer never to be angry or fearful, but the ability to become so was developed in order to keep us safe. That doesn’t mean, however, that we need to be ruled by them, or give in and act in inappropriate ways because of them. Rather, we need to recognize them for what they are and put them to work serving our other, usually less obvious, needs. In short, you need to be smart about your emotions and feelings. Improving your EI allows you to do that.

Here’s my step-by-step method for upgrading your EI in order to satisfactorily resolve an emotional problem:

1. Start collecting your emotional data. Slow down and recognize the fact that you are experiencing a challenging situation. What are your brain and body telling you?

2. Identify the exact cause of this challenging situation. What was it, exactly — internally or externally — that triggered your “anger” or “fear”? As I said earlier, you may have to dig a bit in order to determine the cause, but if you really think about it, you should be able to do it.

3. Look for the meaning that you gave to this situation, and label it. What is your concluding thought?

4. Name the negative emotion and its feelings that this trigger stimulated. Use Paul Ekman’s Emotion Wheel as a reference. Assign the feeling you are experiencing to its core emotion. For example, if you are experiencing fright, worry or inadequacy, then you’ll see that the core emotion is “fear.”

5. Locate the place in your body where you feel this core emotion. Once you have identified that place (it is probably in your gut), use focused inhaling and exhaling for a few minutes (counting to five for each breath in and out) until the negative feelings are under your control. You need this type of breathing because your parasympathetic nervous system has been activated. This exercise will calm you down and normalize your sympathetic nervous system functioning by activating a relaxation response.

6. Use your identified emotions and their related feelings for rational cost-benefit analysis. Be honest with yourself about why you get angry or experience fear, and answer the following questions accordingly:

• “What kind of boundary or value was challenged here?”

• “How have I contributed to this challenge?”

• “What should I have done differently?”

Once you have slowed things to a speed at which they can be logically and emotionally dealt with, you can calmly decide what your options are and which one(s) are best.

In summary, slow down, breathe, analyze, name and decide. This will allow you to be the leader who is calm in the face of chaos and uncertainty, and who others will look to as a voice of wisdom and intelligence.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

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