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  • Writer's pictureGirish Karnad

The 1 Thing You Must Manage To Become Successful

It is a bright and sunny morning. The monsoon clouds seem to have dispersed, at least for a while. A perfect start for a quick vacation to Lonavala with your family. You are looking forward to this break, particularly the drive along the route. Your wife is sitting beside you in the front of the car while your daughter is in the rear seat. As they chat animatedly, you chip in between. You ease the car into a cruise along the Expressway, feeling relaxed after what seems to have been ages! The entire last year had been horrendous. You had barely survived the Covid-19 infection and your family had gone through terrifying moments. You made it a point to work from home as far as possible during the second wave. Now that the lockdown had been eased, this unplanned sojourn was very much needed to recoup your energies.

The clouds gather soon, as it normally happens during this season. Soon it is raining cats and dogs – must be a cloud burst, you presume. You reduce speed as the wipers fail to do a good job against the pouring rain. Five minutes later the rain reduces to a drizzle, though the cloud cover continues to play hide and seek with the sun. You cautiously increase speed, aware that the road has become slippery. While marveling at nature’s beauty, you notice from the corner of your eye a huge trailer truck negotiating the steep curve ahead. It is coming from the opposite direction of the road, on its way towards Mumbai. As it comes closer you realize that something is amiss. The truck is moving down the slope much faster than it should and you notice its trailer swaying in an alarming way. There is a loud noise as it hits the road divider. The next moment the truck breaches the divider and comes hurtling towards your car.

You feel your body freeze, paralyzed by the fear rushing through your veins. Your first thought is for your wife and daughter, who are also watching horrified. The silence in the car cabin is deafening as the trailer careens closer. Your thoughts race between terror and helplessness. You want to live and save your family. You want to escape this situation, and you need to calm down if that is ever going to happen. To your surprise, your body listens. The trembling subsides and the blood returns to your arms and legs. You instinctively look into the rear mirror and notice a lone car behind you. You move into action and yank the wheel to the left while applying the brakes. The tyres screech as the car turns a half circle to face the opposite direction. As you now press down hard on the accelerator pedal, the car spurts ahead, away from the trailer. You manage to avert a head on collision. But the trailer grazes against the rear of your car, dragging it to one side, before toppling across the length of the road with a huge bang. You manage to apply brakes and get the car safely to a halt.

Exhausted and mentally drained, you slump against the steering wheel of your car. Your body is quaking from the nerve-wracking incident which nearly took your lives. Your wife and daughter are safe, though unable to move or speak due to the shock. You hear voices and with an effort look up. The local people had gathered, trying to help you and your family out of the car. As you stumble out of the door, you feel your legs give away. You cling on to the side of the car as a pair of strong arms hold you. As you walk to the side of the road with assistance, you notice that your wife and daughter have already been helped out of the car and are sitting there, unhurt but anxious and worried as you approach them.

The man supporting you is speaking – you and your family are very lucky to have survived without a scratch. He gestures behind with his hand. As you look towards the fallen trailer, you realize that the car which had been following you was not that lucky. You could see the mangled remains of the front of the car, which had borne the full impact of the trailer falling on top of it. You feel a surge of regret and anguish – if only you could have warned that car in some way. As you look closely, you notice as if by some miracle, the cabin of the car was intact and the survivors being helped out. You look up and say a prayer to the Almighty, overcome with relief and gratitude...

Most of us will never have to tussle with such situations in our everyday life. However, you will be surprised to know that our brains battle it out every single day. This daily challenge of dealing with our emotions is a critical characteristic of our human brain. This is because our brain is hard-wired to give emotions an upper hand. The signals from our sense organs reach our brain through the spinal cord. But before it reaches the logical rational thinking brain, it has to pass through the frontal lobe, where the emotions are produced. It is this communication between the emotional and rational brain that forms the basis of emotional intelligence. All emotions are derived from five core feelings – happiness, sadness, anger, fear and shame. Depending on the intensity of these feelings – low, medium or high, we demonstrate a wide range of emotions. The emotions can vary from pleased to elated, unhappy to depressed, annoyed to furious, worried to terrified and regretful to disgraced. The higher the intensity, the greater the chances of the emotions dictating our actions. Our first reaction to an event will always be an emotional one – we have no control on that. But we can control the thoughts that follow this emotion. We can decide how to react to an emotion as long as we are aware of it.

Emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ) is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in ourselves and others, and our ability to use this awareness to manage our behaviour and relationships. How emotionally intelligent we are, often determines the quality of our relationships, how we handle stress in everyday life, how well we can communicate with others, and even how effective we are at our job. There are three qualities that each one of us possess – IQ, EQ and personality, with very little overlap between them. And out of the three, EQ is the only quality which is flexible and can be changed.

There are four EQ skills which pair up under two main competencies – personal competence and social competence. Personal competence is made up of self-awareness and self-management skills while social competence is made up of social awareness and relationship management skills. Personal competence is our ability to be aware of our emotions and manage our behaviour and tendencies. Social competence is our ability to understand other people’s moods, behaviour and motives in order to improve the quality of our relationships.

When we practice EQ skills, the traffic between the emotional and rational parts of the brain flows smoothly in both the directions. The more we think about what we are feeling and do something productive with that feeling, the more developed this pathway becomes. Let us explore each of these skills and some of the top strategies which would help us develop them.

Self-awareness is the foundation skill. If we have this skill, it makes the other skills much easier to use. It helps us accurately perceive our own emotions and understand our tendencies across situations. It enables us to stay on top of our reactions to specific events, challenges, situations and people. If we want to cultivate a high degree of self-awareness, we should be willing to tolerate the discomfort of focusing on feelings that may be negative. As self-awareness increases, people’s satisfaction with life, their ability to reach their goals at work and life skyrockets.

Strategies for self-awareness

  1. Feel your feelings: Don’t label your feelings as good or bad. The goal here is to understand them. Sitting with your feelings can give insights into what is causing them. Once you understand why you are feeling in a particular way, you can let them run their course and release them. The next time you feel an emotion, remind yourself that it is there to teach you something important.

  2. Seek feedback: Being willing to look at yourself through others eyes will help you garner valuable insights into how your emotions, communication style, mannerisms and behaviour affect other people.

  3. Know your strengths and weaknesses: Identify what you are doing right and what could be done better. Start working on the areas which require improvement.

  4. Practice mindfulness: Being mindful of how you appear to others is a big step of knowing yourself. Body language counts, as you can send messages to others without even saying a word. And so does being physically and mentally present.

  5. Keep an open mind: When you welcome alternate ideas and views, you foster your own growth and development while making those around you feel accepted and supported.

  6. Keep a journal: Taking time every day to jot down how you feel emotionally and physically, will give a deep understanding of your internal triggers and how you respond to them.

  7. Follow your values: Are you living by your values? Taking time to understand if your behaviour is in line with your values, will help to keep your life in balance.

Self-management is our ability to use our awareness of our emotions to stay flexible and direct our behaviour positively. This means managing our emotional reactions to situations and people. Those who are able to manage themselves the best are able to see things through. Sometimes emotions can make our thinking cloudy and the best action may not be found. In such cases, self-management helps us tolerate the uncertainty while exploring emotions and options. Once we understand and build comfort with what we are feeling, the best course of action will show up by itself. Real results come from putting our momentary needs on hold to pursue larger, more important goals.

Strategies for self-management

  1. Breathe right: Shallow breaths deprive your brain of oxygen, leading to poor concentration, restlessness, mood swings, forgetfulness, anxiety and lack of energy. It also restricts your ability to self-manage. Focus on taking slow deep breaths. It will help to clear your head and make you calmer and more relaxed. It also triggers your rational brain and removes negative thoughts.

  2. Make your goals public: If you clearly tell other people – friends, family or spouse, what you are setting out to accomplish, their awareness of your progress can create a strong sense of accountability.

  3. Count to ten: If you feel angry or frustrated, take a deep breath and count number one as you exhale. Keep breathing and counting until you reach the number ten. This will stop you from taking any rash action and give you enough time to regain composure and develop a rational view of the situation.

  4. Sleep on it: Time helps you to self-manage by bringing clarity to the thousands of thoughts swimming through your head when something is important. It also helps to gain control of emotions which would lead you in the wrong direction.

  5. Set aside time for problem solving: A 15-minute period every day when you turn off your phone, walk away from your computer and take time to just think, is a great way to ensure decisions are not muddled by emotions.

  6. Take control of your self-talk: The thoughts that are most influential are those where you literally talk to yourself – this inner voice is “self-talk”. Negative self-talk can send you into a downward emotional spiral that makes it difficult to get what you want in life. Some of the common types of self-talk and the ways of taking control are:

    1. Turn I always or I never into just this time or sometimes.

    2. Replace judgmental statements like I am an idiot with factual ones like I made a mistake.

    3. Accept responsibility for your actions without giving excuses or blaming others. At the same time, do not take responsibility for someone else’s actions.

  7. Visualize yourself succeeding: Visualize yourself managing your emotions and behaviour effectively under difficult circumstances. This is a powerful way to practice self-management skills and make them into habits. Imagine yourself doing and saying the right things and allow yourself to feel satisfaction and positive emotions coming out of this exercise. Incorporate new, challenging situations as they surface.

  8. Put a mental recharge into your schedule: The physical benefits of exercise are well known. But even more relaxing and invigorating diversions, including hobbies can have a great effect on the mind and recharge your brain. They strengthen areas of the brain responsible for rational thinking, decision making, organizing and planning.

Social awareness helps us in perceiving what others are thinking and feeling even if we do not feel that way. It helps us to stay focused and absorb critical information. We have to listen and observe, stop the dialogue running through our minds, stop thinking ahead or anticipating what the other person is going to say or do. It takes a lot of practice to really watch other people as we interact with them and get a sense of what they are thinking and feeling.

Strategies for social awareness

  1. Watch body language: It is important to become an expert in reading body language. Small changes in posture, eye movement, hand gestures and facial expressions can indicate how people are really feeling and an appropriate response can be planned.

  2. Make timing everything: Timing is everything while dealing with people and emotions. You don’t ask for a raise when business is not doing well, you don’t correct someone who feels threatened by you, and you don’t ask for a favour when someone is under a lot of stress or angry. The goal is to ask the right questions at the right time with the right frame of mind, keeping your audience in mind.

  3. Live in the moment: Planning the future and reflecting on the past are important. But doing this throughout the day interferes with what is in front of you – your present. Make being in the present moment a habit. If you are in a meeting, be at the meeting. Wherever you are, be as present as possible so as to experience the people and life around you in the moment.

  4. Go on a 15-minute tour: During any workday, take 15 minutes to observe things you have not noticed earlier. Observe peoples’ workspaces, how they move around and interact and those who mostly stay at their desk. Then tour the workspace to get a feel of the mood around. Avoid making any assumptions or conclusions – just observe.

  5. Practice the art of listening: Listening is not just about hearing words. It also includes the tone, speed, volume of the voice, what is being said, what is not being said or if there is a hidden meaning below the surface.

  6. Step into their shoes: Walking in another person’s shoes is the best way to become socially aware. It helps to gain perspective and deeper understanding of others, improve our communication and identify problems before they escalate. To practice this strategy, you need to ask the question “If I were this person…” The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel stepping into others shoes.

  7. Seek the whole picture: What others say about you is usually more accurate than what you think about yourself. The best method is a 360-degree feedback survey that asks others about your EQ skills. Muster some strength and request others to help you in understanding yourself through their eyes.

Relationship management taps into our abilities in the other three EQ skills. It ensures clear communication and effective conflict management. If we manage our relationships well, we can derive the benefit of connecting with different types of people, even those we are not fond of. Conflicts at work can aggravate when people passively avoid problems, because of their lack of skills needed to initiate a direct, yet constructive conversation. These conflicts can explode when people don’t manage their anger or frustration, and choose to take it out on others. Relationship management gives us the skills to avoid such scenarios and make the most out of every interaction we have with other people.

Strategies for relationship management

  1. Be Open and Be Curious: When you ask questions and others open up, you learn a lot of information that will help you manage relationships. Further, people will appreciate the interest that you are showing in them. Whether you are beginning a relationship, in an established one or in a rough patch, make time to be open and curious with these people.

  2. Avoid giving mixed signals: People trust what they see over what they hear. You confuse and frustrate others when you say one thing and your body or tone say another. Use your self-awareness skills to identify your emotions and use your self-management skills to decide which feelings to express and how to express them.

  3. Take feedback well: Feedback helps us improve in ways that we cannot see on our own. However, some feedback can take you by surprise and catch you off guard. First consider the source of feedback – whether that person has a real interest in seeing you improve. Next turn on your social awareness skill to listen and understand what is being said. Whether you agree with the feedback or not, thank the person with grace. Next use self-management skills to decide the next steps.

  4. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings: Everyone has a right to experience feelings, even if you don’t feel the same way. You may not agree with how they feel, but recognize their feelings as legitimate and respect them.

  5. Explain your decisions, don’t just make them: Instead of making a change and expecting others to just accept it, take time to explain the why behind the decision, including alternatives, and why the final choice made the best sense. Its better if you ask for ideas and inputs in advance. Acknowledge how the decision is going to affect them. Transparency and openness make people feel trusted, respected and connected to their organisation.

  6. Make your feedback direct and constructive: Giving feedback is a relationship building event that requires all the four EQ skills to be effective. Use your self-awareness skills to identify your feelings about the feedback. Next use your self-management skills to decide whether you are comfortable with the feedback process. Next use social awareness skills to think of the person receiving the feedback. Constructive feedback means sharing your opinion and offering solutions for change.

  7. Tackle a tough conversation: Tough conversations are inevitable. Acquiring EQ skills can help make these conversations easier to navigate without ruining the relationship. When you enter a tough conversation, prepare yourself to take the high road, not be defensive and remain open by practicing the below strategies.

    1. Start your discussion with an agreement on the common ground that you share.

    2. Ask the person to help you understand his or her side.

    3. Resist the urge to plan a rebuttal or “comeback”.

    4. Help the person understand your side too.

    5. Move the conversation forward.

    6. Keep in touch.

Emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned – and unlearned. Just as you work hard to lose weight, only to pack those pounds on again during the festive season, you can sharpen your EQ skills only to see them go dull again. You wouldn’t expect Federer or Djokovic to keep winning titles if they stop practicing their tennis game, would you? The same is true with EQ skill development. If you consciously stop practicing these skills, somewhere down the road you will slide back to the old habits and allow tough circumstances to overpower you. If you need help to build your EQ skills and keep them sharp, you can take professional help from a certified EQ Practitioner. A professional can tailor-make a plan for you to follow every day and provide a roadmap for achievement and success.

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