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How Mindfulness Helps Leaders Manage Conflict

In my study of the relationship between mindfulness and leader effectiveness, understanding the role of conflict was a career-altering realization for the forty-two leaders I interviewed. These leaders provided in-depth descriptions of Conflict Management, which is one of the twelve competencies in the Emotional Intelligence model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Strength in Conflict Management involves the ability to navigate emotionally charged situations in a diplomatic manner, which often requires open discussion and skillful de-escalation. Individuals with strength in this competency will also be:

  •      Comfortable discussing disagreements
  •      Effective communicators of the positions of all parties involved in a conflict
  •      Skilled in resolving disputes by discussing mutually beneficial goals
  •      Capable of openly talking about disagreements

Conflict Management relies on an individual’s ability to recognize their role in disagreements, either as a participant or a mediator. This necessitates Self-Awareness, since leaders must be aware of how people receive their behaviors if they hope to create an environment where others can safely express themselves. Development of this level of awareness requires active (real-time) self-observation and time spent reflecting on how conflicts could have had a better outcome for all involved.

Become Aware of Opportunities Lost to Conflict

Many of the leaders I interviewed credited mindfulness with helping them wake up to the relationship between conflict and poor-quality workplace interactions. Examples included understanding why coworkers were unwilling to help them, and why their teams lacked creativity and engagement. Exploration of their own role in these relationships led to a realization that their need to feel in control prompted conflict-inducing behaviors.

Leaders described gradually becoming able to see that they didn’t need to feel that they were leading every meeting or making every decision. For instance, the head of an interdisciplinary treatment program at a leading cancer center reported becoming aware of others’ unwillingness to cooperate with him. With the help of mindfulness he was able to recognize the risk to his own success created by focusing too heavily on his own personal agenda. As a result, he began investing more time in developing his ability to identify and address the needs of others, which led to not only a reduction in conflict, but also more supportive and collaborative relationships.

Participants specifically mentioned a reduction in emotional reactivity resulting from mindfulness, which they directly linked to less conflict in the workplace. The founder of a leading global consulting firm summarized these changes in the following statement: “It’s made me less reactive to my judgments and more thoughtful and compassionate, both with myself and other people. It’s made me more mindful not only of what I’m reacting to, but because I have that insight about myself, I’m also more able to notice when other people are being reactive.”

Leaders also credited mindfulness with an improved capacity for identifying and managing stress, which they considered a primary cause of workplace conflict. For instance, a senior leader with a major US hospital network described his increased strength in Conflict Management as: ”… the ability to be able to pause and not react in the heat of the moment. And instead, to be able to look underneath the feeling of anger, irritability … to see what is that really tapping into … that enables me to respond in way that’s more effective.” Many other participants also described an improved ability to minimize conflict once they became better at regulating stress. They specifically attributed these changes to positive outcomes such as successful departmental management during massive layoffs, preventing the loss of angry key clients, and maintaining production during highly volatile circumstances.

How to More Effectively Manage Conflict

Insights from this study into how leaders can strengthen their ability to manage conflict focused on two aspects of awareness: First, identify what triggers your conflict response by analyzing specific experiences. Second, develop the ability to identify what beliefs, fears, or potentially unmet needs may cause negative reactions in others.

You can further improve your ability to manage conflict by taking the following steps:

  1.     Learn to detect the early signs of conflict arising in yourself, both emotional and physical.
  2.     Refine your ability to regulate internal reactions that may lead to conflict.
  3.     Identify and work to understand the causal beliefs behind these reactions.
  4.     Invite others to express opinions that don’t align with yours and listen attentively.
  5.     Help those with opposing views find common ground and develop mutual respect.

Above all, the leaders I interviewed learned to view effectively managed conflict as an opportunity to surface potentially significant problems, strengthen relationships, and boost engagement. They were only able to realize this value once they invested in recognizing, and then giving up their need to feel important or in control. Finally, leaders reported that strengths in Conflict Management resulted in more respect from co-workers, which directly contributed to professional advancement.

 

 

In just 10-20 minutes per day, your organization can receive evidence-based training in Emotional Intelligence designed by the world’s foremost thought leaders. Learn more about our facilitated virtual training courses here.

 

 

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How Sleep Primes The Brain For Emotional Intelligence

When I first started dating my now husband, he asked me what he should know about me. The first thing I told him was that if he notices that I’m ever a bit “grumpy,” it’s likely an easy fix. I realized after a decade of sleep deprivation raising my three kids, who are now teenagers, that I need eight hours of sleep. Little did I know, it’s not just me…we all need our sleep. And, according to Matthew Walker, PhD’s new book, Why We Sleep, Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, getting eight hours of sleep not only makes us feel great, but measurably improves our performance. Sleep is also key to building Emotional Intelligence. It can affect our Emotional Self-Control, Empathy, and Adaptability, which are three of the twelve competencies that Daniel Goleman’s research has determined comprise Emotional Intelligence.

Getting eight hours of sleep is essential–not six or seven, but eight hours. Why? According to the research, those last two hours are filled with 60-90% of the important dream state REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It is during this time that our brains get a sort of emotional tune-up. As humans, we have the ability to deeply experience and regulate our emotions. We can recognize and influence the emotions of others. We also have more REM sleep than any other species. According to Walker, REM sleep “enhances emotional and social sophistication.”  

Here are three ways that sleep helps build Emotional Intelligence:

1.  Sleep helps us manage our emotions  

I described how I sometimes become “grumpy” when I don’t get enough sleep. Parents of young children experience this all the time. Both in the sleep deprived parent and in the toddler who was possibly up all through the night. We see it in the workplace when an “angry” leader might snap at and lose patience with a subordinate. A sleep deprived doctor can come across as impatient and have poor bedside manners. These “inappropriate emotions” are often the result of sleep deprived individuals. This is not an effective way to build strong relationships and improve connections. Managing ourselves and having Emotional Self-Control (also referred to as Emotional Balance) is a key competency for building Emotional Intelligence.  

So how does sleep help us manage our emotions? A part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for triggering strong emotions such and anger and rage, and is linked to our fight or flight response. Walker describes a sleep study in which two groups were shown images that ranged from neutral in content (a basket, a piece of driftwood) to negative in content (a burning house, a venomous snake) to a group of individuals who stayed up all night and another group who got a full night of sleep. It turns out, the sleep deprived individuals showed well over a 60% increase in emotional reactivity in the amygdala. The well rested group showed only a modest degree of reactivity.

Without adequate sleep, we produce inappropriate emotional reactions and are unable to put things and situations in the appropriate contexts. To make matters worse, the part of our brain that is responsible for managing the emotions of the amygdala is compromised by sleep deprivation. This area, called the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for rational, logical decision making. Getting adequate rest is essential to maintaining Emotional Balance.  

2. Sleep builds Empathy  

Empathy is another important competency of Emotional Intelligence. Empathy means having the ability to sense other people’s feelings and understand what they are experiencing and thinking. It means having an interest in what matters to the other person. Our ability to recognize different emotions through facial expressions is one way that we can develop Empathy. Facial expressions communicate the emotions and intent of another person. Our response can be influenced by the expressions of another.   

There are regions of the brain whose job is to read and decode the meaning of emotional signals, especially in faces. It is these regions of the brain that REM sleep recalibrates at night. Matthew Walker makes the analogy, “we can think of REM sleep like a master piano tuner, one that readjusts the brain’s emotional instrumentation at night to pitch perfect precision, so that when you wake up the next morning, you can discern overt and subtly covert micro-expressions with exactitude.” When we deprive ourselves of this dream state REM sleep, facial expressions become distorted. This is where we might confuse a friendly expression with anger or frustration.   

I remember meeting my friend, Charles, for coffee one early morning. I had a late dinner meeting the night before and I felt exhausted. Shortly into our conversation, I shared a thought about an idea we were brainstorming. I could see his mouth close tight. He looked up. And I could feel my heart start to race. I thought to myself, “Here it comes.” I could feel my body tighten as I prepared for the coming argument and possible harsh critique of what I had just said. Just as I was about to prematurely defend myself and my idea out loud, Charles broke into a smile, his eyes softened and he said, “I agree.”

I had mistaken his “thinking” look with what I thought was an “angry” look. What started off as a friendly conversation could have easily turned into a negative experience. Thankfully, I didn’t react to my sleep deprived misinterpretation.

3. Sleep sparks creativity

Being able to handle change and adapt to new situations with fresh ideas or innovative approaches is another key competency in building Emotional Intelligence.  

How does this show up in the brain after a good night of sleep? Walker shows through several studies the increased creativity of his participants compared to the sleep deprived individuals. It is especially true after a full night of rich dream state REM sleep. One study showed problem solving abilities increased by 15-35%. A full night of dream-induced REM sleep also revealed an ease in problem solving. When we are in our dream state, our mind can process a wide range of stored information and come up with multiple solutions for complicated problems.  

In the workplace, a creative leader can adapt more easily to a changing environment. They can think of multiple ways to achieve their goals. They don’t get stuck in the same old ways of doing things. They are open to new ideas and perspectives. And they are therefore able to grow and innovate. These are all important aspects of Emotional Intelligence.  

It is clear that getting eight hours of sleep, especially the dream state REM sleep, is essential to well-being, optimal performance at work, and building our Emotional Intelligence. So how do we actually get better sleep? Walker offers several ideas. Here are my top three favorites:

  • Exercise! But not within 2-3 hours of sleep. Exercise helps your brain and body to relax, but working out too close to bedtime can be counterproductive. Your body temperature can remain high after exercise, making it difficult to drop your core temperature sufficiently to initiate sleep.
  • Allow yourself adequate time to prepare for bed. Reading, using dim lights or candles, and listening to soft music are soothing activities to prime yourself for rest.  
  • Create a tidy, gadget-free bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep. Tidy up your bedroom and remove your gadgets so that distractions are minimized. Open the windows to cool down the room; this helps drop core body temperature which is also needed to initiate sleep.

Recommended Resources:

 

 

Want to cultivate your Emotional Intelligence or bring EI training to your organization? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. You’ll explore twelve learning paths based on Daniel Goleman’s books and research through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

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The Power of Vulnerability in Leadership

Sarah is a young, talented leader who rose quickly to an executive role. As a part of her professional development, she went through a 360 assessment and worked with a coach. In her feedback, she was surprised to discover that her colleagues and direct reports perceived her as distant and aloof. They struggled to connect with her, and consequently didn’t trust her. This feedback was shocking and upsetting for Sarah. She resisted it as “just not true.”

However, within her coaching relationship, Sarah uncovered a mindset which didn’t serve her well, and had, until now, been a blind spot. The mindset: being more authentic and vulnerable is bad. It developed long ago in response to a string of childhood tragedies, including her Dad’s death when she was in second grade and her Mom’s breast cancer diagnosis around the same time. Since Sarah’s mom was consumed by her husband’s death and facing her own mortality, she was not emotionally available to Sarah and her siblings. Being the oldest, Sarah became the surrogate parent to her siblings. And as she believed she needed to hold it together for the family, she never shared the depth of her grief and loss with anyone. This set her on a course to become the stoic, high achieving leader she is today. Sadly though, by walling off a part of herself, she struggled to build trusting relationships and was reluctant to let others into her world. Indeed, this mindset and its impact surfaced when she was forced to consider how her self-perception vastly differed from how others perceived her.  

While she believed being objective, unemotional, and aloof made her appear as a more competent leader, just the opposite was true. Her unwillingness to be real and connect with others held her back from becoming the relatable, engaging leader others would be inspired to work with and for. And unsurprisingly, the teams she led all struggled with interpersonal trust.

Sarah’s story illustrates a commonly held mindset not discussed enough in leadership circles (and in life)–that we should avoid being vulnerable. Like Sarah, many of us think we need to maintain the veneer of “having it all together.” If you share this mindset, consider these two points.

First, a willingness to open up about our humanity and imperfections with colleagues, direct reports, and even our bosses, humanizes us and attracts respect. And this learnable skill often correlates with exceptional teamwork and results. If jumping into this seems way too daunting, consider sharing with a trusted colleague first. Pushing through the initial anxiety of having the first few conversations pays off for most. By letting others in on both your imperfections and your discomfort with sharing them, you will experience a decompressing effect whereby you feel lighter and more confident.  

Second, by sharing your real self with someone, you can connect more easily with others. Brené Brown, noted researcher in social connection, has increased understanding of the role of vulnerability in relationship-building. Vulnerability doesn’t mean being weak. The best leaders have learned it indicates the courage to be your real self. It means replacing “professional aloofness and an air of having it all together” with the ability to experience ambiguity and model Emotional Self-Awareness. Opportunities for vulnerability present themselves to leaders all the time. For example, admitting you don’t know the answer to a question, asking for help, and offering stories of times you made mistakes. Openness builds trust and deepens relationships, which makes for great performance, both individually and organizationally. Research shows that when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves.

After Sarah recognized her fear of vulnerability, and acted to challenge this mindset, her progress and motivation to become a better leader exploded. As she discovered first-hand, there’s power in expressing our struggles and accepting that we all have blind spots. Sarah’s new behavior was contagious. She observed her colleagues on the executive team starting to openly acknowledge others’ good ideas and perspectives in meetings rather than staying entrenched in their original positions. Sarah had, in fact, started her own movement!

Try this:

Teams need to connect and collaborate to become high-performing and successful. However, when your team includes a diverse mix of cultures and generations, achieving this level of cohesion can be challenging.

How can you bring people together? Try this exercise to help your team build deeper relationships.  

  1. At your next team meeting, ask everyone to find one partner and answer the following three questions in just 60 seconds each.
    • Where did you grow up?
    • How many kids are in your family and where do you fall in the order?
    • What current challenge are you facing?
  2. Have people share with the larger group what the experience was like for them–both as the listener and speaker.
  3. If you want to take it a step further, you can exemplify openness and vulnerability by sharing your responses to the questions with the entire team.  

The takeaway: Openness builds trust and deepens relationships, which makes for great performance, both individually and organizationally. Research shows that when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves.

Recommended Resources:

 

 

Want to cultivate your Emotional Intelligence? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Adaptability, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

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Give Negative Feedback with Empathy

Seth, the regional manager of an insurance agency, had a reputation for enforcing the rigid guidelines sent down from upper management, while doing the bare minimum himself. When one of his newest employees, Jason, failed to record customer information in accordance with guidelines, Seth arranged a meeting to set him straight. After talking Jason’s ear off about the importance of playing by the book, Seth handed him a few examples of correct customer reports and told him to study up or find work somewhere else.

Jason, who had never received detailed training on the customer reports, became instantly and thoroughly discouraged. While he still made an effort to get by, he felt increasingly apathetic about his job. He was not alone: Other members of the team felt the same disengagement. They avoided Seth and kept their heads down, trying to do their work without having to deal with him. No surprise that Seth’s reputation for intractability also prevented people from sharing their ideas with him. Result: sales plummeted.

Last I heard, Seth had been replaced by a new regional manager, tasked with revitalizing a floundering business. It’s no surprise – Seth was not just difficult to work with, but an ineffective leader as well. Looked at through the emotional intelligence lens, what Seth lacked was empathic concern.

Empathic concern is one of three types of empathy. The first type, cognitive empathy, lets us understand others’ perspectives. The second, emotional empathy, allows us to experience others’ emotions in our own body, giving us an immediate sense of what they feel. And the third, empathic concern, moves us to action. We care about other people’s well-being and feel motivated to help them. This is where empathy extends into compassion.

Consider results from a study of how empathic concern matters when we give negative feedback. Researchers found that leaders who gave negative feedback with empathetic concern got better responses from their employees, who also rated them as more effective. And this caused higher-ups to view these leaders as more promotable.

People respond more positively to criticism and are more likely to take feedback to heart when they feel their leader cares about their well-being and wants them to improve. Empathic concern makes feedback more effective, kickstarting positive change in employees and rippling throughout organizations.

Instead of grilling a new hire like Jason over an understandable mistake, Seth could have empathized with Jason’s need to learn how to perform his new job, and maybe also nodded to the tediousness of the task. Most important, he could have expressed his desire for Jason to succeed and offered to give him further guidance if needed. But by resorting to scripted lectures and unwarranted threats, Seth prevented a new employee from becoming engaged and motivated to do his best.

A leader’s emotional intelligence (or lack thereof) can make or break an employee’s performance for an organization. The benefits (or toll) can be seen in indicators like employee engagement, creativity, and turnover. EI – being intelligent about emotions – includes ways to manage our own emotions and help shape emotions in others. This includes the ability to give feedback effectively, to inspire and motivate, and to consider employees’ feelings when making decisions.

So, a lack of empathy in a manager or executive creates dissonance. Leaders who don’t consider their employees’ perspectives when delivering feedback foster a tense environment in which trust and collaboration cannot flourish.

EI training can help leaders get better at the range of people skills they need, such as recognizing their employees’ emotional reactions and communicating their understanding and concern. By attuning ourselves to others’ emotions, performance feedback becomes an opportunity to create positive change and cultivate engagement. And when employees experience this positive resonance, leaders – and their organization – can gain a range of value-added benefits.

 

Recommended Reading:

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Coach and Mentor.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

 

For more in-depth reading on leadership and EI, What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters presents Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking, highly sought-after articles from the Harvard Business Review and other business journals in one volume. It features more than half a dozen articles, including “Reawakening Your Passion for Work.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Can Online Learning Replace the Classroom?

The growing landscape of online learning programs enables people across the globe to develop their knowledge and abilities in countless disciplines. Online learning is increasingly incorporated into traditional K-12 education and can offer an alternative to homeschooling. In higher education, reputable, accredited institutions offer the option to earn degrees–from the associate’s to doctorate level–online. And beyond typical degrees, online education is also ideal if you want to dive into a new hobby or develop professional skills for a career change.

Online learning makes it easier for people who can’t commit to full-time, in-person learning to further their education. People working full-time jobs and parents raising young children often benefit from the flexibility of online education. Adult students with disabilities also frequently “prefer and excel in the online environment.”

While online courses typically lack opportunities for conventional in-person contact, learning platforms increasingly offer features that bridge this gap. Cohort-based courses, in which students learn as a group, cultivate a strong sense of community. Multi-media interfaces can further strengthen these connections.

For instance, an online learning experience may begin with a video conference call in which students introduce themselves and share their motivations for participating in the course. This also allows the teacher or facilitator to set the tone for the group and the material they’ll learn. And once students begin to engage with the material, a built-in chat feature makes it easy to connect with peers and motivate one another.

Multi-media interfaces also create a high-level of learner control, which has been shown to increase student engagement. Students can not only control when and where they learn, but also how they complete assignments. With integrated technology, you may have the choice to share your responses to material by recording audio or video, through digital journaling, or by uploading images of handwritten responses.

By streamlining these responses within the online course, students can engage with each other’s work and ask thought-provoking questions. This also makes it easier for a teacher or facilitator to track your progress and to provide personalized feedback.

The benefits of multi-media capabilities also extend to the content of the online course itself. Varied resources, such as animations, instructional videos and audio, and interviews with experts in a field can make it easier to understand complex information. And since these resources live in the online course, you can easily return to them as you cultivate your skills or prepare for assessments.

Online learning also offers a unique opportunity to close the knowing-doing gap. Many courses favor intellectual learning–such as reading textbooks and attending lectures–over experiential learning. Intellectual learning is sufficient in some disciplines. History, for example, largely requires that we read and analyze primary sources as well as other’s interpretations of those sources. But when we want to develop ourselves and enhance our skills, intellectual learning alone is insufficient.

Experiential learning includes actively practicing the skill we want to develop and reflecting on our progress. It can also be beneficial to have a teacher or coach to keep us on track and offer us guidance throughout our experience. Online education is particularly suited to this process. Brief instructional videos and audio make it easier to practice a new skill or technique daily and fit it into our busy schedules. And a variety of methods for self-reflection offer ample learner control as well as a streamlined process for sharing and interacting with a community of peers and teachers.

While classroom learning will always have a place in education, online learning enables a vast array of people from across the world to learn and grow together. With flexible scheduling, multi-media resources, and innovative learning platforms, students who may be unable to attend traditional classes can continue their education within a supportive community. Particularly for adult learners, who often prefer self-directed, experiential learning, online education serves as an ideal format.

Recommended Resources:

 

Want to cultivate your Emotional Intelligence? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

Enrollment is now open for courses that begin September 24th.

 

 

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Adaptability, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

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Brain’s Blind Spots

When we hear the words “Diversity & Inclusion,” some of us cringe or roll our eyes, not because we don’t care, but because we feel uncomfortable, guilty, or feel we don’t need any training in it because “we’re not racist.” Yet every day, we read a news story where someone’s hidden biases trigger a potentially harmful action, from calling 911 on a congresswoman visiting her constituents to using racial slurs on political opponents. “Diversity & Inclusion” is necessary but insufficient; as Coaching Certification Faculty member Michelle Maldonado notes, we need to move from “Diversity & Inclusion” to “Belonging & Unity.”

One first step we can take is to recognize our lack of awareness of what influences our decisions, actions, and perceptions of other people. According to Leonard Mlodinow, scientists estimate that 95% of what happens in our brains is beyond our conscious awareness. In other words, we’re only 5% aware of why we think and act and feel the way we do. The majority of what dominates our mental activity is unconscious.

Our world is filled with differences. We are naturally drawn towards what is familiar and deemed “safe,” like family members who, for the most part, look and smell like us, and we move away from what is unfamiliar. Our brains use heuristics, or mental shortcuts, to help us navigate a complex world. We unconsciously build beliefs about different groups of people outside of “our tribe,” based on various socially constructed or identity markers, to help us organize our social world.

Similarity bias is our preference for others who are similar to us. Our brain’s natural inclination to categorize our world starts at a young age. David Kelly found that babies as young as three months show a preference for those with a similar race to them. The chances are that these babies are not “racist,” but unconsciously, they realize that their main caregivers are their sources of comfort, food, safety, and diaper changes. More often than not, these caregivers are related and therefore, “look” like them. Such biases may persistent in adulthood unconsciously in how we act. University of Michigan researcher Jesse Chandler found that people were 260% more likely to donate to hurricane relief efforts if the hurricane’s name began with the same letter as their first initial.

Our brains are also subject to implicit egotism, the notion that we think more favorably about others like ourselves. We are more likely to respond to a stranger’s email if they share our name, and we’re more likely to help someone out if they went to the same university. The opposite occurs unconsciously as well. Have you ever met someone new that you irrationally didn’t like or felt animosity towards them simply because they share a name with a childhood bully? That’s our unconscious brain at work.

Our hidden biases also are influenced by visual bias. Our optic nerves attach to our retinas in a way that means we have actual blind spots, and so our brains fill in the visual gap we can’t see. Similarly, when it comes to how we view and evaluate other people, if we have missing data about another person, we tend to take the little bit we know about the social categorization of that person and fill in the rest of the information. For example, if you meet someone of Nepalese descent for the first time, and the only bit of information you have about Nepal is that it is a Buddhist nation, you might assume that they are Buddhist and hesitate to include them in your Passover Seder.

Even though we think we evaluate others based on their individual qualities in rational and deliberate ways, our brain’s automatic processing is influenced by cultural and social messages around stereotypes and the “Other.” Groupthink can lead to “Othering,” whereby we discourage individual disagreements or thoughts for the sake of wanting to belong to the “in-group.” Daniel Goleman offers important insights into how groupthink may manifest in the workplace and what to do about it. While we have seen historical incidences of how groupthink can cause irreparable harm, from the Holocaust to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, “Othering” in the workplace can lead to lower performance, well-being, and engagement. UCLA psychologist Naomi Eisenberger found that the area of our brain associated with physical pain is also associated with feeling left out. When we overlook the administrative assistant during lunchtime as we sit with our cubemates daily to eat, we may be impacting their feeling of belonging, even though our intentions are not to exclude.

It is therefore important that we consider how to build psychological safety into our environments, whereby people feel safe to express their true and whole selves without judgment or reprisal. When we do, people feel confident to express opinions, have disagreements, and show up. In fact, Google researched hundreds of its own teams to find out why some thrived and others wilted and discovered that psychological safety was the number one factor. In short, if we want high-performing teams that bring diversity of perspective and a sense of inclusion and belonging, we must build trust, raise our awareness, and reach out to others.

By using our brain’s natural structural functions, we can hack our minds to bring greater curiosity of the “Other,” Self-Awareness of our own unconscious thinking, and Empathy to find similarities with others who may appear different than us. Emotional Balance can help us raise our awareness and ability to move from unconscious to conscious. As Daniel Goleman notes, “when it comes to diversity, you’re seeing people who have a range of backgrounds, of understandings, and of abilities. And the more diverse team is going to be the one with the largest array of talents, and so it will be the one with the potential best performance.”

Recommended Resources:

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Balance, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to cultivate your Emotional Intelligence? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

 

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Discover the Importance of Self-Empathy

The Empathy competency enables us to interpret unspoken emotions and to understand a range of perspectives. With empathic concern, our understanding of others extends to caring deeply for them. But it is also important that we practice Empathy towards ourselves.

When we experience empathic concern or feel compassion toward others, we become the first to benefit. Empathizing with another person activates our brain’s salience network, enabling us to experience our compassion first-hand. In this way, compassion is beneficial for others as well as for our own well-being. It creates inner happiness independent of receiving compassion ourselves.

We can also practice Self-Empathy by treating ourselves with kindness. Many of us have been conditioned to be highly critical of our mistakes. We may be far tougher on ourselves than on our friends and coworkers.

Strengths in Emotional Self-Awareness can enhance our understanding of how we treat ourselves. We recommend you take a moment to reflect on these statements and also ask someone who knows you well whether they think these statements are true for you.

 

  • When I make a mistake, I tend to be very critical of myself.

 

  • When I look back, I tend to remember the mistakes I have made rather than the successes I have had.

 

  • I can be really heartless toward myself when I feel down or am struggling.

 

  • When it comes to achieving my goals, I can be really tough on myself.

 

  • I am driven to achieve my goals and set very high standards for myself and those around me.

 

If you found yourself agreeing with most of these statements, and the significant people in your life also agreed, you are not alone. Many of us were raised to believe that being brutally self-critical was necessary in order to achieve the highest standards. Indeed, you may still believe that if you aren’t hard on yourself you will become lazy, aimless, or complacent.

In some instances, practicing Self-Empathy can make it easier to expand our circle of caring and to extend compassion toward others. But if you identify as extremely self-critical, it can be helpful to begin with compassion for others. Caring for others makes it easier to love and forgive ourselves.

When we take responsibility for forgiving and caring for ourselves, the compassion we extend to others also becomes more genuine. Self-Empathy enhances our confidence and inner strength and opens us up to connection and shared purpose. This enables us to inspire others with our vision and articulate common goals.

Self-Empathy can also make it easier to forgive people in our lives. When we replace self-criticism with self-understanding and accept that as humans we will inevitably make mistakes, it becomes easier to extend this understanding to others.

Practicing empathic concern doesn’t mean that we allow others to walk all over us. Rather, we can act strongly when necessary and remain open to helping everyone, including ourselves. By combining Empathy for ourselves with Empathy for others, we can find our inner strength and make meaningful connections with people from all walks of life.

Recommended Resources:

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Coach & Mentor.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

Want to cultivate your Self-Empathy? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.