“The most important need for leaders today…” my ears perked up. The speaker, a well-known tech leader and best-selling author, was addressing an audience of HR professionals. He had presented some facts showing the abysmal state of employee engagement, numbers I have sadly, been sharing for years. I was hoping for a brilliant insight when he said the most important need for leaders, “…is to hold meaningful one-on-one conversations with their employees.” Wasn’t this the message I was asked to deliver over 30 years ago when I taught my first management training class? Leaders avoid the way to improve engagement.
Most people prioritize what they are good at, leaving the difficult tasks at the bottom of the list. So it makes sense that leaders avoid one-on-one conversations because humans are unpredictable and messy. Humans are emotional by nature. Everything seen, heard, felt, touched, and smelled is processed through two emotional centers of the brain before the logical center is engaged. There’s no guarantee how any conversation will turn out, so leaders avoid what could turn out badly.
Even if people trust you to be honest with them, they need to know it’s okay to be themselves no matter what they are experiencing, without worrying about being negatively judged. What leaders avoid – emotional expression – is their best chance to connect.Emotions aren’t bad; they are reactions to stimuli. They reflect energy moving through the body. Acknowledging emotions in a conversation can lead to discovering important information needed to breakthrough blocks, make good decisions, and take a positive step forward.
If you weren’t raised to talk about emotions, you probably don’t know how to respond to them when they show up. You might tense up, check out, give an unsolicited suggestion, or impatiently wait for the person to get over it and move on.
Most leaders rationalize their avoidance by saying things like, “If I encourage people to talk about their feelings, I will say things I wouldn’t normally say.” Or, “I don’t have time for their dramas.” The business world is full of aphorisms that declare, “Only the tough survive.”
Being uncomfortable with expressions of emotions doesn’t make you bad. Your discomfort is an indication that you haven’t had enough training to develop your skills. When you learn how to use the power of sensory awareness—to feel deeply and empathize with others—you are more capable of making a difference.
Understanding how emotions affect decisions and behavior makes you wise. Creating a safe space to talk about emotions makes you strong. Leaders who develop the skills of emotional intelligence can have meaningful conversations that increase engagement, innovation, and results.
I know this is easier said than done. Staying alert to what you are feeling or receiving from others can be scary and even painful. Here are 6 tips for what to do when emotions arise during difficult conversations:
People are emotional. If you judge or avoid their reactions, you are judging or avoiding them as humans. That never feels good. Being a leader means you can sort things out together no matter what they feel. See the person in front of you as doing his or her best with what he knows now. From this perspective, you might an amazing conversation that could surprise the both of you.
With over 36 years of coaching experience, Dr Marcia Reynolds became one of the first 25 people in the world to become a ICF Master Certified Coach. She was also one of the first 25 people to join the Profitable Leadership Coaching Network. If you enjoyed this article, do visit our blog to read more articles by Dr Reynolds, our founder Tony Latimer and many other coaches on our network.
For more information about Dr Marcia Reynolds, please visit her website.
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