How To Become An Emotionally Wise Business Leader

In this age of reliance on impersonal devices, such as computers and the like, I submit that it is ever more important to make sure that what personal interaction is left is as effective, fruitful and rewarding as possible. If the number of your human-to-human interactions is to be reduced, then let’s make sure you get as much out of each one as you can.

In the business world, with its time pressures, competitions and an ever-changing cast of people with whom you need to interact, human-to-human contacts are indeed precious. Each of our business interactions need to be conducted free of misunderstanding and with as much read of your interlocutor as you can muster.

One of the ways you can accomplish this is by increasing your emotional intelligence, the higher level of which can be called “emotional wisdom.” Is there a difference between “emotional intelligence” and “emotional wisdom,” you might ask? I believe the difference is a matter of depth. Just as “wisdom” implies intelligence tempered by experience (rare is the individual who is born with it), so it is with “emotional wisdom.”

Achieving Emotional Wisdom

Increasing emotional wisdom takes place in two different stages: The first is understanding, and the second is adjusting.

• Understanding in this context means we understand and have integrated the fact that emotional wisdom is based on recognizing each of our emotions. We must not only understand that our emotions exist but also make that fact an integral part of our way of thinking.

• Adjusting means we logically and properly adjust our behavior based on a proper read of our emotions. For example, if we see that a particular approach is not working with a colleague, the emotionally wise person doesn’t continue trying the same failed inducements. Instead, they adjust and come up with a different and more effective way of addressing the matter.

The end result of going through these stages and the resulting “emotional wisdom” is, among other things, an improvement in decision-making effectiveness, as well as better human relations in general. The leader possessing emotional wisdom is the leader who not only possesses emotional intelligence but also has the experience, seasoning and ability to reflect. These are the hallmarks of the introspective individual. It is this type of leader who inspires others to follow and produce the best of which they are capable.

However, before attempting to implement these two stages, it would be helpful for you to be aware of the deep internal connection between your brain and your body, which makes it all possible. This means you also need to understand the difference between feelings and emotions.

Feelings Versus Emotions

While the brain, where emotions are produced, is, of course, located inside the skull, the feelings resulting from those emotions have their loci in several places in the body. Communication between the brain and those loci is carried out by the vagus nerve.

It is this connection between the brain (emotions) and the body (feelings) that allows you to feel frustrated, scared, abandoned or loved in different parts of our body, all of which has been confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences. Also, because different emotions have different intensities, the feelings resulting from those emotions also have different intensities. Researchers have developed an atlas of the human body to show where different emotions are felt.

The way it works is that outside stimuli (i.e., something you see, hear, taste, etc.) cause a response in the amygdala, a set of neurons in your brain that helps you process emotions, survival instincts, memories and motivations. The amygdala produces hormones that helps you react to the stimuli appropriately. Although you’re usually aware of the stimuli, the remainder of the process is automatic, and you can’t control or manage it.

What you can control or manage are the feelings you become aware of after the hormones have done their work. However, in order to effectively deal with these feelings, you must understand and label which feelings you are experiencing and trace them back to their causes. Think of your feelings as symptoms: Like a cold, simply treating the symptoms does nothing for the root cause; you have to treat the source.

Here’s How You Do It

First, put a label on the event that you believe caused the emotion. Then, describe how it made you feel. Sometimes, determining the cause won’t be this simple, but if you ruminate on it, I have found that you’re very likely to identify it. Once you have done so, you can move on to the following steps:

1. Think about whether the emotion you’re experiencing is warranted. If you’re feeling angry because you were fired, for example, most likely that emotion is fully warranted. On the other hand, if you just heard a rumor about someone you hardly know, you shouldn’t be grieving about it.

2. If you determine that the emotion is warranted, then you can move on to the remedial process, which basically means being proactive in addressing the stimuli that caused the emotion. If we continue with our previous example of feeling upset because you were fired, you might choose to improve yourself in the areas that resulted in you losing your job or even seek comfort from a loved one.

But I know this is not always easy to do at first. Even identifying why you feel bad can be challenging. However, if you take your time and process how you’re feeling — instead of letting yourself dwell on the initial meaning you gave to the event — you can make the best that can be made out of perhaps a bad situation.

Also, you will be creating a new paradigm by which you can learn from negative emotions and advance to other, more productive and healthy uses for your time and energy. Your leadership skills, interpersonal relations and decision-making abilities will all benefit, thus making you emotionally wiser.
This article was originally published in Forbes.

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