“Hmm… I think I could have handled that better”. Do you ever think that after a situation or conversation? You’re not alone.
So often, in the moment, we can say or do things we wouldn’t if we had the time and space to think about it.
Knowing that about ourselves – aka self-awareness – is a foundational skill for any leader. And when we recognise, understand, and manage our emotions, we have a much better chance of navigating the emotions of others too, so we’re less reactive in the moment.
But skills like self-awareness are rarely built when we share our workspace with the family cat. Working from home means we are ‘in our heads’ more than we used to be, and the opportunities to build and maintain our self-awareness and emotional management skills have shrunk. But the need for these key leadership skills has not.
We might think we’re great communicators, but without being able to practise and refine those skills with others, that communication muscle weakens, and we find ourselves more reactive to difficult situations than we would like to be.
Since lockdowns sent us to work from our kitchen table, and ‘normal’ never quite went back to looking the way it used to, we may have forgotten that we tend to avoid conflict wherever possible, or that we go straight to ‘solution mode’ and start telling people what to do. We forget to begin with curiosity and seek to understand the situation and the possible solutions from the other person’s perspective.
There is no quick fix or instant self-awareness inducing experience, but there are things we can do to increase our self-awareness and our ability to connect, even when we’re working from home, and interactions with colleagues are mediated by screens and inboxes.
Start with these three things if you want to build your self-awareness and emotional management:
Invest in a good work preference tool
It is almost impossible to improve things if we can’t articulate them. Work or communication preference tools give you a language for understanding how you work and communicate.
Trying a tool like Team Management Profile (TMP), Hermann, Working Genius or Life Styles Inventory (LSI) is a great place to start.
But talking through the findings with a specialist is where these tools get really useful – it’ll help you identify what you want to work on to build your emotional intelligence and leadership skills.
Invite others in
Share aspects of your profile findings with your family and colleagues. I often see people gain incredible insights about themselves from people who have known them forever when they share their profile with them.
Others see us very differently to the way we see ourselves, and understanding that external perspective is another piece in the self-awareness puzzle.
If you lead a team, this is also a great chance to get vulnerable with them by sharing aspects of your profile that help you open up a conversation about how you are all working together and communicating remotely.
When a client said to their team: “I’ve just realised that because I’m a creative thinker I’m probably driving some of you mad with my lack of detail on projects”, it opened up a conversation about how communication and delegation could work better. It also brought some relief for team members, who were able to acknowledge how that trait could make things tricky at times.
Just think how important it can be for someone in your team to hear you are taking the time to know yourself better, so you can lead better. If that’s not an invitation to invest time and energy in their own self-awareness, I don’t know what is.
Practise responding instead of reacting
We react rather than responding thoughtfully in difficult situations because we aren’t aware of the way we are behaving in the moment. That might look like going from 0 to 100 in a flash, or avoiding difficult conversations altogether.
The knowing yourself piece gives you the opportunity to recognise when you do this, and choose a different response.
So, if you realise that conversations with a particular colleague always have you getting defensive (“you don’t understand”) or shouty (“I don’t see you doing anything”) or retreating completely (“do whatever you want”), take the time to plan how you’d like to react in those tricky interactions instead. When emotions arise again, you can take a deep breath, and choose a response you’re proud of, rather than just reacting.
There is no doubt that working from home has upsides for many of us, and it is a great opportunity to craft the work life we want.
Building and maintaining our emotional intelligence can be challenging any time, but there are real opportunities to build your awareness and communication muscles even when you’re working remotely. And keeping your team members (and yourself) connected and motivated never goes out of style.