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Take It From a Futurist: Don't Be Afraid to Bring Your Emotions to Work

Cornerstone Editors

Editor's Note: We would never dream of trying to predict the future—that's why we left it up to the futurists. In this series, we interview experts in HR, recruiting and the future of work to get their take on what's next.

As the mindfulness movement infiltrates every aspect of modern-day life, there is now a growing interest and need for emotional intelligence (EQ) in the workplace. While the thought of conducting business with emotions may still cause some to cringe, it has become "essential learning" for leaders and executives as they harness their insight and turn it into inspired action, says Harvard psychologist and business consultant Susan David.

David has built a compelling case for managing our inner world in order to be better employees, managers and leaders at the office. Her bestselling book, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life grabbed accolades from The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Harvard Business Review, among others, when it published in 2016.

"Emotional agility is a process that enables us to navigate life's twists and turns with self- acceptance, clear-sightedness and an open mind," says David, whose 20 years of research on emotionally-agile people has led her to her conclusions. "The process isn't about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts. It's about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to ignite change in your life."

So what does it mean to be emotionally intelligent and how does it translate into a more productive and perhaps even more pleasant work environment? We asked David to explain and offer some recommendations.

Being Vulnerable

The old adage "stay positive" and what it implies—hide your emotional truth no matter what—is finally losing its grip on society, and for good reason. David says being unhappy is an authentic human experience: "A sense of disaffection or dissatisfaction or concern is your inner self telling you that you are moving away from something of value to you. To deny this type of emotion in the service of positivity means you're choosing not to learn something important."

In other words, it's like you're cutting off a key piece of data.

David's work provides readers with a roadmap for overcoming the obstacles and stressors that hold them back. If leaders are able to achieve self-awareness, organizations will experience greater success.

Ultimately, this requires leaders to establish and maintain a company culture that empowers every member of the team to feel safe in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.

We've all been there, clouded by our difficult emotions during a critical juncture, which David refers to as "oceanic feelings of distress." In this moment, she says it's important to acknowledge and address the feelings by labeling them, which creates a finite experience with boundaries. Doing this puts space between you and the feelings so you can figure out an appropriate action based on your values.

According to her research, how we handle these scenarios is the biggest predictor of our success and effectiveness in every aspect of our lives.

How to Thrive

Thanks to technology and globalization, organizations are coping with unprecedented complexity. To adapt and flourish in changing circumstances, she says, is to be agile and resilient. And unless the people at the helm are emotionally agile, the business will be left behind.

To help others thrive while living their truth, David designed an action-oriented roadmap featuring four key concepts:

Showing Up: Instead of ignoring difficult thoughts and emotions or overemphasizing "positive thinking," face your thoughts, emotions and behaviors willingly, with curiosity and kindness.

Stepping Out: Detach from and observe your thoughts and emotions to see them for what they are—just thoughts, just emotions. Essentially, learning to see yourself as the chessboard, filled with possibilities, rather than as any one piece on the board that's confined to preordained moves.

Walking Your Why: Your core values provide the compass that keeps you moving in the right direction. Rather than being abstract ideas, these values are the true path to willpower, resilience and effectiveness.

Moving On: Small deliberate tweaks to your mindset, motivation, and habits – in ways that are infused with your values, can make a powerful difference in your life. The idea is to find the balance between challenge and competence, so that you're neither complacent nor overwhelmed. You're excited, enthusiastic, invigorated.

Are you ready to transform your most difficult feelings into energy and creativity? David's free quiz might help you assess your emotional agility and start transforming how you deal with your emotions in the workplace.

Photo: Creative Commons

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