Self-Awareness

To Be an Effective Leader, Sometimes You Need to Give Yourself a Time Out

Nine questions for building self-awareness.
To Be an Effective Leader, Sometimes You Need to Give Yourself a Time Out
Image credit: Ezra Bailey | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Author, President of DialogueWORKS, Inc.
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I had just finished a difficult meeting with our legal team about an infringement on our company’s copyrights. I came into my next meeting without signaling to my team what I was feeling in the moment, nor did I take the time to ground myself and shift out of my current emotional state.

It didn’t take long before one courageous team member said, “John, I think you are coming in too hot for us right now.” When I asked him what he meant, he talked about my tone, tempo and physical behaviors that clearly signaled something negative was going on with me. I asked the rest of the team if they had the same interpretation about my current behavior. They replied in the affirmative. I apologized and told them what was going on. Doing so allowed me the time to re-center myself and set my feelings aside for the time being.

Related: How to Improve Your Attitude in a Matter of Minutes

We often don’t see ourselves the way we are seen by others. Becoming more self-aware, especially when our negative feelings start to emerge, is the first key to managing ourselves more effectively and becoming more emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage our own feelings, as well as influence the feelings and our relationships with others.

As leaders, we can’t afford to negatively impact those we need to work with to achieve our goals. Here are nine questions for improving your self-awareness, especially when your negative emotions start to take center stage in your interactions with others.

1. Do you let your feelings get the best of you?

Sometimes our negative or “hot” emotions occur so quickly that they completely hijack our rationality. Part of being more in control or rational in any given situation is identifying beforehand those situations or people who may push your buttons. By recognizing potential triggers, you can do a lot to prepare yourself to positively handle the situation if it should start to take a turn for the worse.

2. Do your unmet expectations stress you out?

When we suppress our feelings, they tend to build up and usually emerge under stress. As a leader, it can be common for your expectations to be unfulfilled, which can result in a variety of harsh or negative emotions. In order to remedy this situation, examine the directions you gave and the expectations you had. Were they clear? Specific? Effectively communicated? If they weren’t, you may be at least partially to blame for the unsatisfactory results. Next, take a look at the source of stress and the thinking or judgment that created it. Once you have surfaced your thinking, examine it for accuracy.

3. Do you understand what is contributing to your feelings?

Emotionally intelligent people know how to examine their feelings and the thinking that gives rise to their emotions. They also know how to challenge the accuracy of their thinking as well as their emergent feelings. This enables them to correctly describe how they feel and shift out of unproductive feelings into more constructive ways of dealing with others.

4. Do you know what violated values are driving your behavior?

Part of being emotionally intelligent is knowing what is important to you -- what values you possess. When you begin to react emotionally, it is usually because you perceive others are saying or doing something to violate one or more of your values. Taking the time to identify the standards and principles important to you will help you determine why you are feeling the way you are and whether others are legitimately calling into question what you value.

5. Do you lack patience or become irritated when others don’t agree with you?

Some people are quick to judge others and certain situations. When this happens, these people tend to only focus on the data that supports their point of view. They often refuse to look at other perspectives rationally or examine the facts from another angle. To avoid this from happening to you, take a step back and ask yourself, “What’s another reason this person might think this way?” or “Why would they say or do that?” You can also increase your understanding by asking the other person clarifying questions to confirm you have your facts straight.

Related: Gary Vaynerchuk's Best Advice on Self-Awareness and Mentorship

6. Are you unforgiving of others?

Whether or not you were intentionally harmed or not, it is not uncommon for some people to maintain their negative judgments and keep a running score of any perceived injustices. Not letting go of these negative feelings and thought patterns will harm you and color all future interactions that you have with others. Forgiving others will free you of the negative judgments and feelings that may be keeping you from understanding and connecting with them. 

7. Do you know how you are perceived by others?

Because I am quite animated and passionate, I know that my actions and tone of voice are often interpreted as frustration or anger by the more quiet members of my family. Knowing this helps me to adapt my style of delivery so as to not be misinterpreted by them. One way to check how you are coming across is to notice how they are responding to you. If they begin to become animated, increase their volume or energy, they may be matching the emotional intensity of your message. Or, if they are shutting down, have flat or short responses, turn away or avoid any eye contact, then you know your mode of delivery is having a negative impact on them.

8. Can you manage the negative emotional reactions of others?

As I mentioned earlier, negative emotional reaction signals the perception of a violated value on the part of the emotional person. It’s important to learn to recognize the emergence of these feelings before they become unmanageable. How are they acting? Reacting? Is their response different than you expected? What are they demonstrating through their vocal tone, countenance, body language and verbiage? If they are defensive or otherwise acting in a negative way, you will need take steps to defuse this reaction through the use of questions that explore what is important to the person. This is an important skill in resolving conflict while maintaining the current relationship.

Related: Honest Vulnerability Is a Better Personal Brand Than Pretending Life Is Perfect

Say to the person, “I can see you’re (state their emotion)." Follow that statement up with one of several questions:

  • “What is going on?”
  • “What did you want or expect?”
  • “Why was that so important?”

Asking these types of questions allows you to explore the person’s story, what they wanted and didn’t get, and what they really valued in the situation you are exploring.

9. Do you take things personally?

If you are the type of person who is easily offended, you need to check whether that offense was intentional. Many times offense is taken where none was given. If you have an overly critical view of yourself, then your behavior and the actions of others may become the basis of your emotional reaction. Whether you end up blaming yourself or others does not remedy the fact that you may be overacting to the words and actions of others. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is one of the easiest ways to avoid taking offense. Reminding yourself that there is often an unexpressed reason behind their behavior will help you stop the negativity from escalating.

When we are facing challenges and obstacles in our interactions with others, it is easy to come in “too hot” and say or do things that can cause an undesired result. It is important to recognize what you do, how you do it and how others are responding to you. If you are unaware, those you are trying to understand, work with and connect with, will either shut down or match the intensity of your emotional reaction. When this occurs, people won’t engage in a productive way. Increasing your self-awareness is the first step in maintaining your cool and treating others with the respect and the dignity that they deserve, leading to more productive and successful outcomes. 

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