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According to the Institute of Health and Human Potential, Emotional Intelligence is "the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others."

Identifying and managing emotions comes in handy when you are under pressure. Think:

  • Giving and/or receiving feedback.
  • Meeting aggressive deadlines.
  • Dealing with challenging people.
  • Not having the necessary tools or resources.
  • Dealing with things in a constant state of flux.
  • Working through setbacks and failure.

Those all sound familiar right? Like a majority of the situations, you are in at work and home on a daily basis, maybe? In previous articles, we have talked about how Social and Self Awareness is part of your emotional intelligence. We would be remiss in not discussing potential blockers to building your Social and Self Awareness, and ultimately, Emotional Intelligence. While there are many blockers to Social and Self Awareness, most fall into some common buckets: Perception, Cultural, Emotional, and Bias Barriers. Identifying these barriers in your day-to-day life and working to overcome them leads to Self-Management, which (surprise) is another aspect of Emotional Intelligence. 

Perception barriers

Perception is defined as a way of regarding, understanding or interpreting something; a mental impression. When it comes to Emotional Intelligence, Perception Barriers can be either your own personal perception or the perception of someone else. Believe it or not, your own perception of yourself could be a blocker due to a lack of feedback to build a full picture. Many of us have this mental image of how we are perceived and act in the day-to-day world. Sadly for many, that mental image is slightly skewed positively or negatively. 

An effective way to get a better view of how you are perceived is to ask a trusted friend or coworker. Asking for feedback is hard to do but necessary for getting a better picture of your areas of excellence or improvement when it comes to Emotional Intelligence. Receiving feedback is also an exercise in emotional intelligence. It takes a concerted effort to not take negative feedback personally and respond emotionally. It is best to dispassionately take in the feedback, mull it over again after the initial emotional response has worn off, and then decide if you want to act on it. 

Another fantastic way to get feedback is to participate in a 360-degree feedback program. I was lucky enough to participate in one of these with feedback from coworkers, clients, and my manager. Feedback was returned anonymously with suggestions for how to improve. This turned out to be one of the best tools I was given toward getting a better perspective of how I was being perceived at work. Many of these can be found online. 

Often, Perception Barriers are borne out of one or both parties approaching a topic with a narrow viewpoint. This could mean not thinking about it from someone else's perspective or not taking that minute to check in on the human before diving into the super-important topic on your mind. These kinds of blockers can often be overcome by simply putting yourself in another's shoes or considering a topic from another point of view. 

Cultural barriers

Cultural Barriers are the things that become norms in workplaces or in different countries. The culture of one company might be openness and everyone jumping in with ideas, whereas the next company might value following the chain of command. One culture might show respect by showing deference to a leader; another might engage in lively discussions that sound almost argumentative. Being able to read these cues and adjust is known as Cultural Intelligence. 

The first step in addressing Cultural Barriers is to do a little research. Learn about the culture of the company you are joining or learn about the culture of the country you are visiting. This will often allow you to avoid common blunders or at least arm yourself with questions to avoid them. Research also helps you drop assumptions about culture, company, client, whoever you are working with, and so on. Practice different approaches to Cultural Barriers and note what worked and what did not--ideally by getting feedback from others--then repeat. You will have ups and downs but should see overall progress. 

Emotional barriers

Emotional Barriers are barriers that are mostly internal. Fear of mistakes, pride, fear of failure and not feeling worthy are examples of Emotional Barriers. Identifying and addressing Emotional Barriers requires a decent amount of self-reflection and self-awareness, which can often make Emotional Barriers harder to overcome but not insurmountable with a little effort and sometimes a little professional help. 

The fear of mistakes can paralyze some people. I spent a lot of time when I was younger trying hard not to 'step out of line.' Trying to do everything right with zero mistakes was exhausting, stressful, and took a huge toll on me. When I started accepting that I was not perfect and that I could, in fact, be wrong or make a mistake and SURVIVE it changed how I interacted with myself and everyone around me. It became okay to screw up if you could either fix it or learn from it to not make that same mistake again. My motto now is that I will make a mistake, and I will not repeat it but find new and interesting ways to mess up next time. 

If you are in a cycle of pride leading you to believe that you need to always be right, you will have run headlong into another Emotional Barrier: accepting imperfections in yourself and others. Often the drive to always be right or seen as right comes off as overcompensation for personal insecurities. Owning those imperfections and accepting imperfections in others allows others to see you for the living, breathing, HUMAN being that you are. Not to mention, it frees others up to be themselves. That is when the real magic of emotional intelligence begins to thrive. 

Finally, the belief that we are not worthy. This is a tough one that I have not fully conquered. I must keep telling myself that I am worth being heard. If I have a question, someone else in the room has it, too, so I am not asking for just myself anymore. If I disagree with something, I do not want to regret later not voicing my opinion when there is a chance that I could be correct. There was a time I was in therapy to help with feelings of unworthiness and the therapist reminded me that the key is to remember that you are a person in the room that was brought to that room (boardroom, classroom, bedroom, you name it) for who you are and how you think. To not voice it is to deny yourself and the rest of the room the opportunity to know who you are and what you are capable of. That is one of the most powerful things I have ever been told, even if worthiness will always be a work in progress in my life. 

Bias barriers

Ever walk into a boardroom and are surprised to see that the CEO running the show is a woman? Ever hear a happy couple has adopted their second child and are thrown to find out the happy couple is two men? Sound familiar? Then you have run into a Bias Barrier. Many Bias Barriers are not things we knowingly think about, rather, they are things that are unfamiliar to us or perspectives we haven't considered before. Not examining them will hold you back on the road to Emotional Intelligence. Biases are not permanent. In fact, they are malleable, and steps can be taken to limit their impact on our thoughts and behaviors. Overcoming Bias is another area that requires Self Awareness. This can take the form of self-reflection or taking a test to find where your biases lie. Once you have identified your biases, it's time to start overcoming them. Visualize yourself facing the situation you have a bias about and flip the script in your head. Even this small action will help you to normalize the situation in your brain and remove your bias. Another option is making a concerted effort to put yourself into new circles of people with new perspectives and listening to what they have to say. This one is especially helpful if the people in your new circles have different attitudes than you. It allows you to hear different perspectives and learn from their examples. 

My toolbox

Emotional Intelligence 2.0

Great primer if you are getting started in improving Emotional Intelligence. Highly suggested for anyone just exploring this for the first time. 

How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Succinct read about recognizing your own emotions and getting feedback to find your blind spots. 

How to Outsmart Your Own Unconscious Bias

Much of the video will sound similar to the advice on Bias Barriers. When I watched it the first time, it was eye-opening to learn that I had significantly more biases than I expected. Great place to start in identifying and addressing them. 

Rising Strong

I am a huge fan of this author. Brown has a way of breaking things down to be understandable. She talks about 'the story I'm telling myself.' I took this and ran with it when approaching emotional barriers and my own fear-based reactions in relationships.

Final Thoughts

With so many barriers, it can seem daunting to work towards better Emotional Intelligence. I am not going to lie, it is. Recall these situations where the work pays off:

  • Giving and/or receiving feedback – This will help you personally and professionally.
  • Meeting aggressive deadlines – The deadlines are always closer than they appear.
  • Dealing with challenging people – Shhh…sometimes you are the challenging person; sometimes you are dealing with one. Being able to identify which is a huge accomplishment.
  • Lacking the necessary tools or resources –Being able to regulate your frustration and work through it will help reduce stress when it inevitably happens.
  • Dealing with things in a constant state of flux – In our world, is there any other state for things to be in? Nope. Addressing your own emotional state, as a result, will help you approach things with a slightly cooler head and potentially reduce the stress overall.
  • Working through setbacks and failure – We are, in fact, human. Setbacks and failures are going to happen. Enough said.

Recognizing these barriers and working to overcome them goes a long way towards creating better work and personal relationships, helps you be a better leader, and helps you tune in to yourself. In the end that is a big return on investment. 

Remember these two key things: 

  1. Self-reflection. Identifying which barriers you are facing takes an act of self-reflection. Just a couple of seconds thinking about where your head is at before, during, or after an interaction can make a dramatic difference.
  2. Be a kindergartner. When in doubt, be that kindergartner and follow the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.