Recently, we were designing a training program at the Institute for Health and Human Potential, and we began our meeting as we always do - by asking ourselves the question:
“What do we want people to be able to do differently after the program?”

It’s interesting that no matter what kind of program we design, and no matter the methods we use (training, assessment, coaching, e-learning, etc), the answer almost always goes like this: “We want people to better understand and manage the emotions that drive their own behavior and the behavior of others.”

This really is the basic foundation of Emotional Intelligence - the notion of emotions driving behavior. Most leaders and individuals that we work with don’t understand this (I used to be one of them) and they focus on observing and managing behaviors. For example, we worked with a leader - lets call her Jane - who was not doing well at holding her people accountable to deadlines. Her boss had spent considerable time explaining to her why it’s important to do this (which it is) and how to do it (i.e. the behavior).

But Jane was still struggling with it. She was fortunate enough to have attended an Emotional Intelligence program that included a 360 degree assessment, training and follow up coaching. During the training, Jane learned that we all have certain triggers – things that cause us to have an emotional reaction and trigger our innate “fight of flight” response. This limits our capacity to think clearly and causes us to move to default behaviors that may no be skillful or effective. Here are some default behaviors you might see (and experience yourself!)
• Someone get defensive when they feel criticized
• Avoiding difficult conversations (as Jane did)
• A person gives in to a strongly worded demand when they really don’t want to
• Someone becomes controlling and directive when they are feeling overwhelmed
• A person “shuts down” and becomes quiet when there is conflict in a meeting

These are examples of emotional reactions that can force us into unskillful default behaviors. For Jane, her default behavior was to avoid discussions about deadlines, because they trigger her emotionally. Jane’s 360 assessment actually reinforced this as she got feedback from others that they were noticing this behavior (of course nobody had the courage to give her that feedback directly, but that’s a whole other conversation!).

The foundation of Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness. During the training program, Jane came to realize that the reason she wasn’t holding people accountable (a behavior she knew she was supposed to do), was because she was afraid that the people on her team would get upset, and that they wouldn’t like her. Avoiding conflict and needing acceptance from others are fundamental emotional needs we all have.

Gaining this awareness made a huge difference for Jane as it explained to her why she had not been able to hold her people accountable effectively. Jane learned techniques she could use to soothe her emotions and stop herself from moving toward her default behavior of avoiding these discussions.

With the coaching, she was able to identify low risk situations where she could practice stepping into tough conversations, even when she felt uncomfortable. She was eventually able to learn to manage her emotions (her fear of conflict and wanting to be liked) so that she could step in and have those really tough conversations with people who were not meeting deadlines.

If you want to gain self-awareness of what emotions are driving your behaviors, you can start by asking yourself some of these questions:

- When you are feeling emotionally triggered, what specifically was the trigger (a person, a situation, etc)
- In the moment when you felt triggered, what were you thinking to yourself
- What emotions may be affecting you? e.g. not feeling valued or respected, being disappointed, feeling criticized, needing to be right, etc.

If you can figure out what emotions are driving your behaviors – as Jane did - you have made a big first step in getting to a higher level of performance.

Are you managing yourself, your team and the people around you for behavior without looking for the underlying emotions? I know I was only managing behaviors ten years ago, and by doing so, I was missing the biggest piece of the people-puzzle!

Bill Benjamin
Institute for Health and Human Potential

Author's Bio: 

Bill Benjamin is the CEO of the Institute for Health and Human Potential, a successful international business, recently named one of the “Fastest Growing Companies” in the “Fast 100” ranking in PROFIT Magazine.

Bill understands the barriers preventing leaders from growing profits and nurturing a healthy corporate culture. Bill struggled early in his career as a leader. He applied the same EI techniques he teaches, enabling him to engage his team members – ultimately growing a computer software business from $2 million in sales to $75 million.

Bill’s practical and scientific approach to leadership, combined with his advanced degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, make him a hit with analytical audiences. His experience in sales gives him a high degree of energy and enthusiasm. Bill has presented to discerning audiences that include Surgeons, U.S. Army Commanders and NASA Engineers.