Emotional Brilliance

Mar 14

Emotional BrillianceTake a moment to reflect on people you know—famous and not—whom you consider to be highly successful and live happy, success-filled lives. Were they the most intellectually gifted people you know? Was there something more than their brainpower that accounted for their high degree of success? What the majority of us know in our guts is that there is more to success than book smarts, and there is a difference between book smart and being life savvy.

The question is: Does it really matter for your success in life whether you’re emotionally smart or dumb? The answer is, unequivocally, yes!

Emotional brilliance isn’t about being adept at handling mushy emotions or feelings in others, and it isn’t a substitute for a lack of baseline ability. Instead, it is about our having and expertly using a set of skills that influence the way we see and express ourselves, tune into the world, read others, cope with challenges, build connections, and use emotional information in meaningful and effective ways.

Just like brilliant leadership is intentional, so is developing one’s emotional brilliance. So where do you start developing your emotional smartness? Try these things as a great jumping off point:

Identify Where You Are and Commit to Where You Want to Be

Engaging our brain’s natural ability to reshape and rewire itself begins when we assess what our current capabilities are, and how are we currently using are emotional smarts. Balance across a variety of emotional intelligence skills is critical in becoming emotionally brilliant. Begin with a self-assessment via a tool that measures one’s emotional competencies and / or invite others whose opinions you value and trust to give you feedback through assessments that let them rate you anonymously on key aspects of emotional intelligence. The information gleaned will help you identify where to direct your efforts and energy.

Be Discerning In What You Select and Give It Focused Attention

Be cautious about trying to hone too many skills at once. This recipe for success involves focused, practiced, and disciplined attention on one or two skills. Part of being emotionally smart is being an expert at self-management, so don’t bite off more than you can focus your attention on, and be disciplined about practicing. For example: If you choose to develop the skill of being assertive, your plan might contain the following: when the opportunity presents itself to share what I believe with another person, I will clearly state my belief, give consideration, and be receptive to the beliefs of the other person. By being precise and having clarity about what you will do in certain situations, focused attention on implementing that skill, and doing it repeatedly over time, will embed the new skills in the hard-wiring of your brain, strengthening the connection so that the skill becomes automatic. You can create a simple log and check off when you use the skill throughout the week. Celebrate your successful use of the skill, and look for lessons in those times where you weren’t able to do so.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Perhaps you’re familiar with the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” and its famous answer: “Practice!” The same holds true for translating your new skills / smarts into automatic responses. The hard-wiring of the change begins with the first time you do what you planned to do, and can take up to six months before the new skill comes more naturally to you than the old. Mental Rehearsal is a well-known tool that will further assist you with embedding the new skill and helps you be prepared in the moment. Running through what you’ll do in your mind from your brain’s point of view is no different than actually doing it in the moment.

I encourage you to jump in and learn more about developing your emotional brilliance, so that you pursue your personal and professional goals with enthusiasm, build connected high trust relationships, and achieve what you set out for yourself.


How To Deal With Irrational People

Feb 09

How to deal with irrational peoplePreparing yourself for that challenging conversation with a person who pushes all your buttons, and is irrational, can be one of the most daunting things you’ll ever do. Yet moments like this are inevitable and you need more than courage—you need the right strategy to emerge unscathed and in a stronger position the next time.

Finding that right strategy—the one that will help you cut your losses and make the best of the situation—involves recognizing that you are being triggered to respond in a defensive and irrational manner both by your biology and the other party. Giving in to the pressure, and responding in a defensive way, will only serve to allow the other person to drag you kicking and screaming onto their playing field where they have the advantage—leaving you feeling drained, demoralized, and fearful of that next encounter with them. Then they leave the conversation empowered and victorious. How can you keep from moving from rationality to irrationality in these situations and also keep the conversation on your home turf?

The three tools below will help you keep your upper brain engaged (where logic and reason prevail) and keep you from being drawn into responding from your lower brain (where fight or flight and emotion are king):

1) Put the Brakes On to Avoid Being Emotionally Hijacked

Delaying your response and taking a pause allows the center of your brain called the amygdala to calm down and you to regain the high ground where you can choose to respond from a place of calm and logic. We have all heard of counting to ten and choosing to walk away for a brief time as time-tested methods, but they are not the only option you can use to avoid emotionally being hijacked. You could also choose to pause and become more conscious of how you’re feeling physically by asking yourself: What am I feeling in this moment? Or you could play out what you would really like to do or say in your mind. For example: In this moment I want to scream how difficult they are being and see yourself screaming at the person. Choose what works best for you, but make sure that it allows you the needed time for the body to reset itself.

2) Become Present, Clear and Focused In The Moment

Reframing the situation and seeing opportunities to de-escalate and disarm the other person are essential to shifting the game back to your turf. Repeatedly engaging in de-escalating and remaining focused will clearly communicate to the other person that their usual bag of tricks isn’t working on you. However, don’t expect that in the short-term they won’t try to escalate even more with an outrageous outburst to test your seriousness. Keep focused, clear, and present in the situation and continue to ask them questions that show them you won’t engage and act out in the same way. Here are a few to consider the next time you’re in a situation like this:

  • What is this really all about?
  • In what way can I do something so we don’t end up here again?
  • What do you need from me so we don’t have this conversation again?

Once you notice that you’ve broken their rhythm, you can attempt to steer the conversation in a more productive way. If you cannot shift the focus to the positive, and if the person is still extreme, then you know you’ve done your best, and looking for the most graceful way to disengage is the only option.

3) Seek Inspiration from Your Gurus, Heroes and Others You Admire

As you’re trying to navigate your way through this type of conversation, you might feel as if you alone are against the world. This doesn’t have to be the case. If you start feeling unnerved, uncertain, and like you’re losing control, stop and take a deep breath and ask yourself: What would my Guru, Hero, or person I admire do in this situation? How would they react to what I am experiencing? Tapping into the collective wisdom and strategies of those who mentor and we admire, even if only in our minds, can help us focus, regroup, and choose to respond in a more effective way. So the next time you feel like the person’s barbs are hitting their mark and your resolve is diminishing, call upon the collective wisdom and experience of those you admire to guide your approach. Thinking about the wise advice you’ve been given, and how it could help you, will lead to you shifting your perspective from fear and defensiveness to gratitude and sanity.

Overriding our natural biological influences (the fight or flight response) and long-standing approaches to irrational behavior can be challenging to overcome. Yet with practice and mindfulness in these type situations, you can develop the strategies that will allow you to emerge unscathed from encounters with less than rational people. Remember each time you try these strategies that the other person is less likely to try their usual bag of tricks on you the next time.

How To Keep A Conflict From Spiraling Out of Control

Jul 15

conflict-2The disagreements between baseball managers and umpires over balls and strikes in crucial moments in key games are legendary. In these moments, the conflict between manager and umpire can quickly turn from a heated conversation to a full out confrontation with the manager cursing, screaming, and following the umpire all over the field. The more intense a conflict becomes, the more likely it is for us to experience the fight-or-flight syndrome. No matter how adept we believe we are at managing our emotions, we often lose our composure and lose sight of ourselves when the conflict escalates.

Conflict even in the most critical of situations, however, doesn’t have to spiral out of control and descend into chaos or become unresolvable. Knowing when a conflict is escalating toward that point of no return requires knowing when to delay responding and take a well-needed “time out” to gather your thoughts, cool off, and slow the pace down.

The information below will give you the insight needed to recognize those critical moments and choose to alter the trajectory of the conflict simply by taking the opportunity to delay your response.

Notice When Either You or The Other Person Are Responding Out of Hurt or Humiliation

As is the case with the manager and the umpire, there comes a point in the conflict where one person’s behavior crosses the line with the other person or you feel hurt or humiliated. The person who first recognizes that the argument has gotten out of control can choose to take a break and delay responding. Being able to step back from the highly charged environment and give both people the time to gather their thoughts and disengage from the tense moment prevents the disagreement from escalating.

Notice When It Would Be Good to Break the Momentum

For many, the most frustrating aspect of conflict is when all reason and rationality leave the scene. If either person during the conflict becomes belligerent, uses sarcasm, personal attacks, derogatory language, insults, or consistently engages in blaming the other, things are spiraling out of control. Choosing to ask for a pause and delaying your response can provide the necessary break needed for all involved to regain their composure, and begin looking at what may be valid alternate solutions.

Noticing When the Conversation No Longer is Effective

When the stakes are high and tensions are mounting, each and every point becomes more and more crucial. People become more focused on making their points, and listening for understanding becomes listening for the other person to finish so you can say what you want to say. Choosing to delay your next response and ask for a break in the conversation with the intent to re-engage later gives each person the needed time to gain clarity about what has happened, determine what is the most crucial thing to be resolved, and let go of those things that were overhyped in the heat of the conflict.

Noticing these patterns, and consciously choosing to delay how you respond, gives you the chance to step away from the conflict and turn the focus to calming down and determining how best to re-engage the person in a constructive way. Opting to delay your response is not about reflecting on what transpired, but rather on dissipating the tension, anger, and stress caused by the conflict. The next time you’re in a conflict, ask to step away to gather your thoughts and formulate a response that will bring constructive resolution to the conflict.


Something Sage: Do You Know Your Hot Buttons?

Sep 02

your-hot-buttonsWhen was the last time you found yourself in a situation where someone or something aggravated and frustrated you to the point where, despite knowing better, you instigated a conflict?  This has happened to all of us at one time in the workplace, home or social gathering.  Our hot buttons are characteristics or situations that aggravate, frustrate and provoke us into lashing out and engaging in conflict even though we know better. Some of us get upset when we encounter untrustworthy behaviors, for others it might be encountering people who are self-centered. Giving in to your frustration and engaging the button pusher leaves you feeling angry, demoralized, anxious and powerless. Creativity and productivity are impacted as well as your physical and emotional well-being. When our buttons are pushed we are less likely to resolve disagreements constructively and are more inclined to engage in behavior that is destructive.

By learning what situations and characteristics lead to your being most upset and understanding when and how you are provoked, you are able to develop better reactions to the button pusher and confront conflict more effectively. Cooling down your reactions lets you take the perspective of the button pusher and make a better assessment of their motivation.  Identifying and understanding what triggers you and designing new ways to react in those moments will reduce the negative emotions, help you better control your reactions, allow you to exert influence over the situation and not be caught off guard. Identifying your hot buttons is only the first step. Making the behavioral changes requires changing your characteristic reactions, new tactics and interpreting situations in different ways.

The Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) contains a section dealing with Hot Buttons. A portion of the assessment tool that helps you to identify your Hot Buttons is online so you could try it out. The Hot Buttons are only one part of the larger assessment that deals with conflict behaviors and organizational perspectives on conflict.   As an executive coach, I use The Conflicts Dynamics Profile (CDP) both in my group and individual coaching work to help leaders become conflict competent. Working with the (CDP) feedback and coaching either in an individual or group session enables my clients to understand what drives their responses and develop practical recommendations for dealing more effectively not only with their hot buttons but workplace conflict as well.

I invite you to learn more about your hot buttons by taking the portion available on-line by following the link below or reaching out to me either in the comments field below or via email to susangilellstuy@sageexecutivecoaching.com:


Moving Beyond I’m Right and You’re Wrong

Jun 03


dancing-feetHow many times have you found yourself disagreeing with someone and wishing they would only admit they are wrong and you are right? For most of us, the answer to that question is probably “More than I’d like to admit.”

Whether the issues are small or large, when people are passionate and committed, disagreement is bound to happen. Not all disagreements end in an impasse or need to be resolved, but when decisions need to be made or actions taken, ignoring them is not an option. Disagreement isn’t the end of the world. Instead, it’s quite the contrary. Disagreement is a natural part of life that when handled productively can lead to more collaborative relationships and unexpected solutions. Resolving disagreements without damage and loss of trust creates healthy relationships that are essential to thriving, happiness, and success on both the personal and professional levels.

Here are some tools to help make sure that when the inevitable disagreement arises, you can focus on getting the other person to do what you need in the long term, without asking them to be wrong.

  • Don’t continue to insist you’re right. Insisting you’re right causes the other person to become more entrenched and defensive. Test for shared understanding, and ask questions to clarify what you believe you’ve heard and understood.
  • Slow down. Listen to understand the other person’s point of view without trying to persuade the person with your opinions and arguments. Avoid the urge to win in-the-moment victories. Find out what the other person needs in order for them to give you what you need.
  • Use empathy tactically. It is hard for someone to see you as an opponent when they feel you know exactly what they are feeling. Remember, however, that tactically empathizing with their feelings does not mean that you think their point of view is correct. It means that you are in a place of feeling what they feel and you respect where they are.
  • Resist the desire to give your counter argument the first time you are asked, and postpone answering for as long as you can. Do this by letting the other person know that you are finally starting to understand where they are coming from, and you want to hear more about their perspective before you give yours. When you’ve been asked a few times and you know you have a good understanding of their point of view, give your opinion. However, if you hear yourself saying, “I understand you believe this, but…”—take a step back and seek more understanding.
  • When your opinion is contrary to the other person’s perspective, apologize for how your opinion might make the other person feel, and acknowledge that you could be wrong. Let the other person know you’re willing to agree to disagree on certain points. Assure them that you still want to work with them to achieve goals that you might not totally agree with, but will give each of you what you need.
  • Highlight areas where there is common ground as a starting point. Together define what is at the core of what matters most to both of you. Brainstorm some new solutions that may work for each of you. Use persuasion to co-design an outcome that, at its core, contains the things that each of you really need in the long run.

There are no assurances that every disagreement can be resolved, but truly listening to the other person’s point of view, empathizing with the person, and looking for ways to co-create an outcome gives you the opportunity to deal with disagreement without damaging the relationship and violating trust. In the end, if the disagreement is not resolved, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you gave it your best effort.

Are you ready to give it a try?