Applied EQ4PM #4: 4 Emotional Red Flags

Previously we talked about a framework for applying Emotional Intelligence to Project Management. The EQ framework begins with emotional Self Awareness, which means, understanding what is going on with us.

Some of us may find it very easy to know what is going on with us emotionally. For others, it will not be so simple. I went from being completely unaware to becoming very aware of my emotional state. In the process, I learned about good emotions and bad emotions. And I learned about recognizing problems before they started, based on my emotional state. I learned to recognize emotional red flags for myself and for others.

These red flags helped me to identify underlying emotional problems. Once I recognized them, I was able to choose a more responsible behavior. The key, and most important part for me, was to recognize these emotional red flags. Here are 4 emotional red flags:

#1 Inappropriate Humor

I used to consider myself very funny and believed it to be a strength. We would all probably agree that humor is good, especially on projects. What I found was that I was using inappropriate humor. The reason is that I was afraid of making my point directly, so I used a joke to do it. As an example, consider when someone would show up late to a project team meeting. Instead of confronting the issue directly, I would make a joke like “looks like the trains didn’t wait for you today”. I was angry that they did not show up on time. But my use of humor was indirect and not effective at addressing the behavior of my team member.

My humor was masking my true feelings of anger or fear. Now when I make a joke, I ask myself what was behind it. Was I singling someone out and trying to make fun of them? Was I just trying to get attention? Was I scared and trying to take the attention off me?

#2 Use of Sarcasm

Closely related to inappropriate humor is sarcasm. Perhaps it is just humor taken to an extreme. We use sarcasm for the same reasons as inappropriate humor; we don’t want to say something directly. Sarcasm is when we say to your boss “everyone thinks the new expense approval policy is a GREAT idea” and then you tack on, “just kidding”. The “just kidding” is the exclamation point that makes sarcasm and inappropriate humor easy to spot. If you are saying “just kidding”, you are saying “don’t get mad at me for telling the truth”.

#3 Passive Aggressive Behavior
Passive aggressive behavior can be very subtle. A few good examples of passive aggressive behavior are showing up late for meetings and failing to ask for approval in advance. As project managers, we all know there are too many meetings. It can be difficult to be on time for all of them. But when you show up late, you are sending a signal to the other people attending that meeting.
Of course we all will be late sometimes. It happens. If it happens once in a great while, that is no big deal. Or, if we call to let others know or provide some sort of advance notice, that is not a big deal. It is when we have a pattern of this behavior that it indicates there is usually something else going on.
Failing to ask for approval in advance is similar. We all know the old adage, it is better to ask for forgiveness than approval. That saying likely came from a passive aggressive person. It might very well be true. But that adage can also be construed to mean, “do whatever you want”. Certainly as project managers we need to show initiative. This means that sometimes we are going to need to act in the absence of clear authority.
However, we also need to aware of what is really going on. Is there some underlying reason for acting this way? For example, is it unclear what we are responsible for? If so, we should get clarification from our manager so that our lines of responsibility and authority are clear. If we show a pattern of not getting approval from our leaders, or acting as if it is not required, we are likely acting passive-aggressively.
What is underneath passive-aggressiveness? Anger. It sounds ugly, but it is true. When we act passive-aggressively, we are angry and we resent authority figures. So we respond in ways that look like we are complying but aren’t. We show up late. We turn in deliverables late. We act in the absence of authority.

#4 Hostility

Hostility is perhaps the least subtle of all these red flags. Hostility is in your face. Examples of hostility would include blowing up with anger in a meeting, walking out, using your physical presence to intimidate others, muttering under your breath, and making threats. Hostility is about being angry and acting out. It is not about being responsible with your anger. Do you recognize any of these red flags in your behavior? What is going on for you when you are behaving in these ways? Are you scared, angry or sad? By watching for these red flags, and then understanding the emotional causes, we can choose to act more responsibility. Our teams and stakeholders will definitely appreciate that, and we will be better project managers because of it.