Express Yourself!

Have you ever wondered what is the function of having a rich emotional vocabulary and hence being able to express our feelings easily based on our life experiences?

The Costs Of Societal Conditioning

The average person seems to verbally express about 8 emotional words that they are familiar with. It seems that we almost owe it to our teachers and parents for either teaching it well or not doing enough to nourish our emotional health because our younger years of 1-12 were critical years when we learnt to be angry, calm, happy and tense and a whole host of other emotions. Why such an assertion?

Men especially may have grown up with certain messages that they were pummeled with unconsciously by default just by being Male. By now, many of these issues don’t register. For e.g. do you recall and still have strong beliefs that Men don’t cry so “be strong” or uttered these assertions like Don’t be a woman or Only women whine. Simple as these stereotypes are, we don’t need to go too deep to realize that we are already inhibited by societal expectations about how a male should and should not behave. Some of the repercussions of these messages manifests in men not expressing themselves when they are vulnerable, distressed or even joyful and happy. They seem restricted to go back to the inner child, the part that all of us have and are yearning to go back to. Have you also noticed how some leaders are so alpha male, having foolish perceptions that they have to be tough, serious and strong rather than vulnerable open and expressive sometimes.

Hence many males go about their lives having feelings but masking them from society. Even when something is funny, they may grin on the outside but laugh inside hence living double lives in one body. Our wives, girlfriends and colleagues sometimes wonder if we are just a physical body with a faded emotional system or one that refuses to blend in with the emotional climate of happiness where others are staying in. Do men sometimes fail to just allow themselves to be and that is feel what they are feeling and express and share what’s going on inside? If men allow this to happen, they enhance communication, connection, affection and hence invite themselves to experience a whole range of feelings, emotions and experiences which make life worth living. Much too often, expressive men can be perceived as more feminine by the typical alpha male and because of this association, they rather just recoil back into their own shell and retreat in silence. I think it is really about time that men realize that some of their conditioning have resulted in loneliness and helplessness. Check, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to nurturing authentic men.

What’s So Important About Expressing Feelings?

Putting feelings into words makes sadness and anger less intense. That’s why even talking to a therapist – or even a sympathetic bartender – often makes people feel better. They said talking about negative feelings activates a part of the brain responsible for impulse control. What they found is that when people attached a word like angry to an angry-looking face, the response in the amygdala portion of the brain that handles fear, panic and other strong emotions decreased. “This region of the brain seems to be involved in putting on the brakes,” or dampen down the responses in the basic emotional circuits in the brain said University of California, LA, researcher Matthew Lieberman, whose study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

When we don’t express feelings, or use feeling words, the brain tries to figure out the source of the troubling thought and why it exists and when it can’t quite figure what it really feels, a mental-emotional puzzle presents itself as it tries to figure out which specific emotion directly relates to the event. When the labeling is accurate, the brain actually relaxes and has a buffer effect on fear, panic and anger. “By simply putting the name to an emotion, the person doesn’t feel like they’ve come to any new insight. And yet we see this dampening response anyway” says Lieberman.

Back To Basics

Exercise 1: Brainstorming Emotions
Try brainstorming a list of emotions and stay with it for as long as you can. On average, you should try to think of 25. If you have exhausted all thoughts, try to Google/Yahoo for a list of emotions and check which ones you are familiar with. Attempt to form complete sentences with these emotions based on your past experience.

For example, I felt very angry with my brother for locking me in a cupboard and not responding to my screams as it was getting difficult to breathe in it.

Exercise 2: Write About How You Feel
Writing may be a useful way to explore your feelings. I have personally found that when I was upset with someone and did not feel like speaking to them, I’d write an email and save it for later. It would immediate reduce a large amount of tension, perhaps the act of having let it out of my system and releasing what exactly was the cause and consequences of the other person’s actions.

Exercise 3: Self-disclosure
Try expressing yourself in public or in a group of people you know. This can be about an opinion about anything especially if you are used to keeping it to yourself. People who express themselves are generally happier, less tense and have less to hide. They are comfortable with themselves and have less hang-ups about what others think about them, in essence stronger self-acceptance. This allows such people to have better self-esteem, self-worth and confidence about their thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. When we express ourselves either through writing or speaking, we affirm what we think and feel. Minimizing or suppressing has the effect of bottling up and not clarifying what we are going through inside. It starts to look like a flooded drain with murky water, silt, dirt and leaves start to build and block passages for flow to happen.

Being Authentic

By Granville D’Souza, DBA

We live in a world where we are starving for authentic parents, leaders, mentors, friends and teachers. We strive to be our authentic selves but with time, we sometimes find it difficult to say what we mean because the message we see and hear ever so often has been to fit in and follow. Due to our conditioned responses over time, many of us are not willing to take an honest look at ourselves, speak our truth and say what we really mean in a respectful and considered manner. This resistance is based on a few factors- fear of embarrassment, being singled out, family programming, cultural and societal programming, etc

On the flipside, this article addresses a different concern and that is what authenticity isn’t about.

Authenticity vs Brutal Frankness

I have been prompted to write about this because of how I notice people using authenticity as an excuse for being blunt and downright rude. Basically being a bad excuse for lacking self control. You don’t have to get in someone’s face when you are authentic. I don’t hold the final key to what authenticity is but I do know it does involve sincerity, the truth, compassion and a willingness to come out of our protective shield that has been built up over the years that blocks us from truly going back to our essence. The Webster dictionary states that authenticity is the quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine.

Trustworthiness is more clearly understood because we express these words to each other almost on a daily basis and hence have come to understand this as being consistent in one’s words and actions, fulfilling promises or being reliable. I guess the problem arises when authenticity is understood to be saying exactly what comes to one’s mind without reservation, without compunction, sensitivity and empathy because it just seems the right thing to do or say but without careful thought. I actually think this is quite easy to do… i.e. just get used to rattling off what you think to be right. You don’t have to edit, backspace or delete any words. Just say it as it is without reservation, just spill out exactly what appears in the head whether it’s been battered by a mixture of toxic and accumulated feelings of anger, disgust or irritation.

Let’s take the example of a leader who has noticed one of his staff slacking off lately, coming in late and slipping into an indifferent attitude. At stages of one’s career cycle, there are possibilities where people do retrogress and effective leaders recognize that their charges can fit into any one of these 4 categories. It could be that the staff has an 1) attitude problem, 2) aptitude problem, 3) competence problem or 4) a personal problem. The challenges in numbers 2-4 require careful consideration and inquiry with an attitude of care and concern. With the right mix of empathy and understanding, change does frequently take place.

Authenticity In Your Face!

In fact, authenticity is a quality that one should not identify in themselves and proclaim to the world how much they possess. It’s a quality that others attribute to you. Hence, someone who tries to teach authenticity better mirror it consistently and understand that his/her definition will be modelled through their own behaviors. Very recently, I experienced someone (X) attempting to tell another person (Y) how the latter’s life seemed topsy-turvy and attributed it to his own behaviors and attitude. This was done by helping the person notice past experiences, behaviors, and recognizing past/present language patterns.

What appalled me is the manner in which it was handled, i.e. straight in the face, running down, chiding and condemning with an air of arrogance, sending the impression the person was incorrigible and that the challenges were almost insurmountable. The barrage of damaging remarks were relentless. However, the rationale given for such straight-in-the-face-no-nonsense feedback was one of intentionality and authenticity. The danger lies in us holding on to such an arrogant and distorted definition of authenticity and believing that telling it as we see it and saying all there is to say in a no-holds- barred approach while putting putting empathy on pause mode is exactly what authenticity is all about. Yes, the truth will set us free but at what cost do we adopt such a despicable, insensitive approach. The very same victimizers will lay claim that ‘they just care enough’ to reveal all your blind spots.

Authenticity and Emotional Intelligence

What I notice in certain leaders is their genuine interest in others and how their behaviors are congruent with their intentions. When their charges are in distress, I have observed them patiently sorting through the underlying issues through an empathic process of inquiry rather than selfishly engaged in callous attacks, albeit doing it on the pretext of giving feedback. It sometimes looks more like a bashing session than the intended effect of raising one’s esteem and self-confidence. Authentic leaders are able to demonstrate 4 key EQ competencies in their approach, i.e. self awareness, empathy, managing their emotional state (practicing self-control) and being a source of motivation. In navigating through their charges’ issues, they skilfully blend these competencies while having their intended purpose at the back of their mind.

Who Lays Claim To Authenticity?

No leader should look into a mirror and say, “I am authentic.” A person cannot choose to behave in a certain way and believe it’s authentic because then it’s not. I have noticed people saying, “I am telling you everything you need to know about yourself and even though I am being utterly frank, I am just being authentic”. Someone who is authentic practices emotional intelligence with a genuine concern and care without the need for recognition and notice. They do it with the best of intentions with an awareness and sensitivity in their approach.

Authenticity is largely defined by what other people see and feel about you. If authenticity were purely an innate quality, there would be little you could do to manage it and, therefore, little you could do to make yourself more effective as a leader. However, while it resides deep inside us, our daily efforts at being real, respectful, intentional, caring, compassionate, sensitive and wanting to make a difference will bring out the very best in our quest to be authentic. It takes chipping at the edges to carve out your essence. It requires nurturing, a daily recognition of who you have been and who you haven’t, what you have done or otherwise and a constant vigilance of your daily choices. Authenticity is not a quality we acquire overnight but is nurtured over our life time.

I don’t pretend to have the final word on the subject, of course. Sociologists, philosophers, and social scientists have debated the concept of authenticity for centuries and it continues to shed light about how we come across to others by going back to our truth and innocence, a part of us that we seldom examine nowadays.

The Impact Of Leadership With Emotional Intelligence

Special Report
The Graduate
(Jan – Mar 2013 Issue)

Maya Angelou, an American author and poet, once said this, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Lilian Wu takes a closer look at how this ties in with the new wave of leadership with Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quotient (EQ).

» See Pg 10-12 (PDF, 7mb).

Gift of Healing: Expressing Empathy in Daily Life

Today’s Manager Magazine (Oct – Nov 2012 Issue)
By Granville D’Souza, DBA

The art of relationships depends on empathy. The ability to develop strong people skills allows us to recognise and react appropriately to situations. People with good empathy make good team players, dependable spouses and colleagues, and reliable business partners and managers.

» Full article (PDF, 1.28mb).

Adopting The Right State For The Right Stage

Today’s Manager Magazine (Aug – Sep 2012 Issue)
By Granville D’Souza, DBA

State management refers to the thoughts, feelings, energy levels, and cognitive functioning which is the ability and inability to use one’s mind to recollect, store, and use information effectively that translate into outer and observable behaviours.

» Full article (PDF, 829kb).

How Optimists and Pessimists Think and Behave

Today’s Manager Magazine (Jun – Jul 2012 Issue)
By Granville D’Souza, DBA

Certain people can put their troubles neatly into a box and go about their lives even when one part of it, their job or love life, is suffering. Optimists, however, should not be seen as blindly being positive in the face of crisis. They are able to deal with them as they happen. They adjust their thinking and look for possibilities and a way forward. Conversely, pessimists take every setback as a potential catastrophe.

» Full article (PDF, 919kb).

Enhance Emotional Literacy

By Granville D’Souza, DBA

Our ability to be emotionally aware depends largely on how we have been taught to deal with feelings. Many of us hold painful feelings in a low light. This intolerant attitude toward painful feelings, such as anxiety and stress, can actually make them far worse. We vilify ourselves for feeling “bad” and we often fight these painful emotions rather than working through them. We withdraw into passive shells and avoid situations that make us nervous.

» Full article on JustHR Asia.