This article was based on episode 132 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase individual full episode guides at themodernmanager.com/shop.
We experience emotions every second, yet most of the time, we’re completely unaware of how we’re feeling. This means we’re missing out on critical information that could help us be more productive, strategic, and empathetic. Just as importantly, we’re surprisingly poor at reading others’ emotions, leaving us to make assumptions and inaccurate interpretations. All in all, most of us could use a good lesson in emotions - both at work and in life.
That’s why I read the book Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett. His research on and recommendations for developing emotional management skills can help us better understand ourselves and our colleagues, while also helping us build more robust relationships and navigate the daily emotional ups and downs.
DOES ANYONE CARE HOW YOU’RE FEELING?
At the start of almost any meeting in America, someone will ask, “How are you?”. Then, as if on auto autopilot, will come a response of ‘fine’ or ‘busy’ or ‘pretty well’. I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely given those answers when I’m not actually feeling fine or busy or pretty well. But I say them anyways because it seems as if those are really the only acceptable ones.
Part of the problem is that when we ask, how are you doing, we don’t really want to know. We’ve twisted that question into a pleasantry rather than a relationship building interaction. Now, during a pandemic that has caused us to feel more isolated and disconnected than ever, it’s time to revisit this social norm, which will serve us well in the future, too. We really do need to be asking ourselves and our colleagues, “How are you?” and mean it.
RULER: THE 5 STEP PROCESS TO HEALTHY EMOTION MANAGEMENT
Marc Brackett, author of Permission to Feel, uses the acronym RULER as a model for how we can think through and manage our emotions.
R - Recognize. It begins by simply taking notice of your (or the other person’s) emotional state. Emotions are information and by ignoring them, we lose the opportunity to use that information in ways that is helpful to us.
Marc Brackett developed the Mood Meter as a tool based on research by James Russell. The premise is that human emotions have two core properties—energy and pleasantness. The Mood Meter maps 100 emotions based on these two dimensions.
Before diving into the nuances of any particular emotion, the Recognize phase only asks us to determine which quadrant we are experiencing.
Yellow: high pleasantness + high energy. Emotions such as joy, excitement, optimistic, cheerful, proud, inspired.
Green: high pleasantness + low energy. Emotions such as relaxed, calm, grateful, serene, cozy, satisfied.
Red: low pleasantness + high energy. Emotions such as annoyed, frightened, angry, livid, shocked, stressed, repulsed.
Blue: low pleasantness + low energy. Emotions such as depressed, lethargic, bored, hopeless, tired, disappointed.
Simply gauging which quadrant we or others are feeling will lead us down the path of exploration to uncover the reason for these emotions and the specific emotion.
U - Understand. What is the cause of the emotional state? Why this emotion and why now?
The reasons for our emotions vary widely, from what happened a few hours ago, to what just happened to what we think will happen in the future. They are influenced by memories and past experiences as well as current experience.
Marc explains that we need to be an emotion scientist rather than an emotion judge. As we ask questions to uncover the root cause of the emotion, it’s important to do so without passing judgement on the emotion or the reason. The better we are at finding the root cause, the better we are able to deal with it because the support you and others need is based both on the emotion and the cause of it..
L - Label. For all the words in the english language, we use very few of them to describe how we feel on a regular basis. Yet, the simple act of naming what we feel gives you a sense of control. The more precise you are, the better you are able to express and have others understand what you are experiencing and what you need.
For example, there is a difference between angry, frustrated, annoyed, and disappointed. If we mesh them all together as “mad”, it’s not particularly insightful. The same is true for “stressed”. How many times have I felt stressed since the pandemic began? Marc notes that stress is often misused as a term. When we dig a little deeper, we discover that what we're really feeling is
Anxiety - Fear due to a lack of control or uncertainty.
Pressure - Feeling something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance.
Overwhelm - Being overtaken to the point of being disheartened or lost.
Exhausted - Really, really tired.
Worried - Concerned about what is happening or will happen.
Stress - Having too many demands and not enough resources to meet them
As you can see, each of these is slightly different but in meaningful ways.
E - Express. Even though we experience emotions constantly, many people believe we should not show them, especially in a professional setting. This leads to multiple, equally unhealthy and unproductive outcomes. Perhaps we suppress our emotions. Perhaps we reach a limit and fall prey to them. Perhaps we don’t realize the intensity of our feelings and how they impact our behavior. Or perhaps we are afraid of how others will react to our feelings.
Sharing emotions is a two-way street. We have to share and others have to receive. When this works, it deepens the relationship, but when it doesn’t, it can end up feeling worse for both parties.
The ability to express emotions, even in appropriate ways, is not equally available to everyone. Gender, class, race, culture, power, and context all impact whether someone feels they have permission to share and how those feelings will be received.
For example, if a woman raises her voice, she may be called shrill. If a man does so, he may be seen as taking charge. These stereotypes or expectations are unfair, putting a greater emotional tax on some people, specifically people of color and other historically marginalized groups. As managers, we need to create an environment in which everyone has permission to feel and to express those feelings.
R - Regulate. While emotions happen to us, we also have the ability to influence and control our emotional state to help us maintain a state. A person who struggles with regulation may overreact in unhelpful ways or, at the other extreme, suppress their emotions, which is equally unhealthy.
While there are limitless strategies for emotional regulation, any given strategy may only work for certain emotions. Plus, what works for me may not work for you. Luckily, we’re naturally good at finding strategies to help us regulate. Approaches such as deep breathing to combat anxiety, avoiding an irritating person, crying, talking to a friend and splashing water on your face to wake you up are all regulating strategies..
The actual strategy is less important than doing the work to find the right tactics for ourselves.
USE EMOTIONS PRODUCTIVELY
As we become more aware of our emotions, we are better able to use healthy regulation tools to help us enjoy the positive feelings longer and reduce the havoc the negative ones can cause.
When we approach emotions as scientists, we’re able to better understand and connect with our colleagues. We can’t rely on behavior alone to tell us what others’ are feeling. Behavior, body language, tone of voice, and language can all give us clues, but our interpretation isn’t always accurate. To truly tap into the power of emotions, we must be open and honest with ourselves and others.
Get the full episode guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase an individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.
This article was based on episode 132 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.