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Applied EQ #36: Seeing Others Clearly

The last few posts we have been talking about the Emotional Intelligence domain called Social Awareness.  One of the important parts of Social Awareness is the ability to recognize emotions in others.  I think of this as our ability to see others clearly.  As project managers, it is important that we are able to understand others and their emotional state.  This includes our project team, executive sponsor, and all the other project stakeholders.

How do we see others clearly?  How do we understand and interpret emotions in others?  Actually, it is something that we all do to some extent or another already.  We were probably never taught a step by step method for doing it, but we all read people and their emotions all the time.

That said, I believe that it can be more difficult to read others in the workplace than in other settings.  The workplace has become a place where people are not expected or allowed to show emotions.  People mask, cover-up, or attempt to hide their true emotions.  They just don’t believe it proper to show emotions.

Consider this example from an organization I recently worked with.  The president of the company was comfortable expressing his emotions.  In fact, he was known for getting choked up and crying during presentations or heartfelt discussions.  While some in the organization simply ignored it, others felt uncomfortable and thought it was inappropriate.  Some even believed it was contrived.  Those people who were uncomfortable were not comfortable with that level of emotions in the workplace.

When someone is crying, it makes it pretty easy to determine what they are feeling.  What if the aren’t as direct about what they are feeling?  Here are some techniques we can use to determine what others are feeling.

  1. What are we feeling? Awareness of the emotions of others starts with our awareness of our own emotions.  What we are feeling when we are with someone is a great clue as to what they are feeling.  Our emotions are a guide to the emotions of others.If we feel scared, it is likely the other person feels scared.  Or, it could be that they are angry and we are responding to that anger.  If we feel happy, it is likely the other person feels happy or excited.
  2. Listen for emotion words.  Another clue to what people are feeling is how they express emotions through the words they use.  They may not always say it clearly, but if they use emotion words we use that as information to the underlying emotion.When someone uses the words irritated, hurt, or ticked off, they are talking about levels of anger.  When they talk about nervous, concerned, or worried, they are talking about being scared.When we are listening with empathy, we may want to say the emotion words back to them.  For example, we might say “you sound angry” or, “you sound scared”.  This can often prompt someone to open up and share what they are feeling.
  3. Face Off.  Another way to determine what others are feeling is to look at their face.  As discussed previously, the face is the window to the soul.  It is difficult to fake the emotions on our faces.The chart below shows the 6 emotional families and how they will appear on our faces.
    Faces_of_emotions_v4Look for congruence between what people say, what their faces show, and their body language.  I remember an incident with a project team member who was clearly upset.  When I said that she sounded angry, she sat with her arms crossed and said in a defiant tone, “I am not angry!”  The inconsistency between her stated emotions and her body language was a tip off that her emotional rules said that anger was not appropriate.  Even though she was very angry, she was not going to express it.

The key to improving our social awareness and ability to see others clearly is to practice.  Like a muscle, we need to use it or we will lose it.  Start today with the interactions you have with your project stakeholders.  In your one-on-one meetings, take the time to reflect back what you think the other person is feeling.  In meetings with groups, keep a tally of what people are feeling.  Check it out with the individuals later to see if your observations are correct.

In our next post, we are going to look at the impact of our own filters and biases on seeing others clearly.