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Emotional Intelligence for Leaders: Emotional Expression

Now that you’re aware of yourself and of others, the next step for leaders like you is to step in and authentically express yourself to others in a way that’s both effective and empathetic.

Expressing your emotions effectively and clearly is a skill, and there are many aspects to this. It involves identifying accurately which emotion you have rather than describing it vaguely. For example, you may be able to differentiate between different forms of anger, and know when you feel resentful, bitter, irritated, powerless, cheated, etc. You may know when you’re genuinely angry, or if you’re just simply exhausted about a given situation.

You also take consideration the best way to express these emotions. One thing to know about emotional intelligence is that it’s not about dumping your emotions on others. Again, you have to “read the room,” and understand the energy level and vibe of others in a given situation. Once you do that, you act accordingly using a variety of forms of expression, such as being able to express then through writing, through confrontation, through verbal description, expressing them in a private setting, and the like. Last but not least, it requires you to be able to express these emotions clearly and openly rather than hinting, implying or hoping that someone will work it out. It can mean actually being able to name the feeling and then finding the courage to say specifically how you feel without being passive aggressive.

What are the Common Challenges to Emotional Expression?

All of this sounds very good on paper until someone actually goes out there and tries to communicate to others authentically and effectively; it’s way easier said than done. What are the typical issues that people run into when it comes to emotional expression? They are, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Lack of awareness

This one’s a no-brainer: how can you express yourself clearly if you don’t know, or are not aware of what to express? How can you express yourself if you’re not aware of your own thoughts and feelings? How can you express yourself if you’re not aware of what others are feeling, and you don’t know what to do about it?

Emotional expression begins in awareness. It begins in objectively understanding the situation at hand. As a leader, you owe it to yourself and to others to know what’s going on so you can accordingly make the ideal decision. If you don’t have awareness, it won’t necessarily stop you from still expressing yourself, you are just more likely to express the wrong emotion, and that can lead to more trouble down the line in terms of how it affects team morale and team psychological safety. It’s a ripple effect that cannot be overlooked.

There’s a reason why the components of Emotional Intelligence by Genos International go hand-in-hand with one another, they all contribute to the desired result. That’s why it’s so important to be first aware of yourself and of others, so if you haven’t read them yet, click the links below:

Emotional Intelligence for Leaders: Developing Self-Awareness

Emotional Intelligence for Leaders: Being Aware of Others

         2. Fear of Failure

A common reason why people may keep themselves from expressing their emotions is the pressure and the fear of failure. This goes for leaders, but especially for members who are trying to prove themselves.

If you’re working under someone, you may be afraid to express your uncertainty over a project or task out of fear of disappointing that someone. Or, you may be afraid to express yourself that you want a different assignment because you’re not confident you can handle it. There are so many more instances of this and they are all rooted in the fear of failure.

When you envision a leader, or anyone for this matter, do you picture a “perfect” individual who is fearless and never makes mistakes? No, you don’t, because nobody is perfect. It’s time to remove the unrealistic expectation of perfection for everyone, and instead welcome failure as an opportunity for growth. Both members and leaders need to accept that mistakes will be made and that they are normal. It’s easy to sweep things under the rug and not take responsibility, but following that mindset will only prolong the unhealthy mentality. Leaders must acknowledge this feeling and reflect on it, like any other emotion, and once failure or adversity strikes, awareness is crucial. When the leader recognizes this and accepts it, the mentality will trickle down to others. Bouncing back and learning from mistakes will develop resilience and self-awareness. It will also cultivate a culture of learning and ultimately innovation.

    3.Vulnerability as a Weakness

When we’re at work with other people, usually with high stakes involved, it’s very natural for us to put on our masks and shelter into defense mechanisms. It’s common to perceive emotional vulnerability as something to be avoided.

With the changing workplace on a global level the line between business and personal is slowly becoming more blurred. Human interactions are all the more amplified, along with all the words, actions, decisions and activities that come with them. As leaders, we need to set the example by taking our masks off and show ourselves for who we really are. Only then can others do the same.

It’s normal to feel uncertain and uneasy about a lot of things. What matters is that we nonetheless be vulnerable, as it is a sign of courage, not weakness.

Brene Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It is the willingness to show up and to be seen, even when there are no guarantees for success. Leaders need to be vulnerable with their team to build confidence and stimulate problem-solving and decision making. For example, when a leader says they are unsure about the organization meeting its goals and asks for help from the team, it provides the team with the perfect opportunity to think critically and brainstorm solutions to solve the problem while simultaneously supporting the leader.

How To Improve Emotional Transparency in Your Team

Maintaining a culture of emotional transparency will lead to a team’s improved well-being. It will help them create better, more sound decisions with every day. On the other hand, hiding emotions will only lead to higher stress levels, poor communication, and possibly mental health problems. All of this is due to how emotional transparency is a centerpiece to psychological safety. People need to be transparent about their feelings towards everything and everyone, and that can only be achieved if people are granted the space, support, and comfort of doing just that.

Some ways you can do with your team to improve in your team include asking questions, listening, and opening up. When you ask questions, you invite the listener to provide their own input on things, which is in of itself empowering, but when you ask a question related to their emotions, you give them the opportunity to openly express themselves. It is here where listening comes into play, because now you have to accept their act of courage by accepting it, not taking it for granted or even invalidating it. We previously talked about active listening and how to do just that in our previous post so you can check that out.

Finally, if all else fails and you can’t get your members to express themselves openly, then open up yourself. Not in a way to berate them or to put even more pressure on them than they need to, but in a vulnerable way that will allow them to empathize with you, and for them to connect with you much better.

If a team is struggling with a specific function, then you can say, “I am not sure if I can do this alone,” or “I need help.” Words like these are sure to resonate with your members, who want more than anything, to feel empowered to help. It’s small tidbits like these that make all the difference in the world.

Do you want to be a better leader?

Even though we’ve talked about emotional intelligence and psychological safety, we are only scraping the surface in what it means to be a leader. It truly takes a whole lot more to it.

To know more about leadership and business transformation, check out our leadership courses and other resources on our website! Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram to stay up-to-date on all our courses!

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