Positively Emotionally Mindful

Last week at Learning Live, I was quite keen on hearing the talk on Being Brilliant, by Andy Whittaker. His business partner, Andy Cope, has studied positive psychology at PhD level, and so I was quite curious what the talk would help share. Most of my readers are aware I have a keen interest in this topic, and there are a good many practitioners developing this skill, so I enjoy hearing how people describe this field, and what insights they share.

I enjoyed Andy Whittaker’s style. On his Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “frustrated comic”. This came through in his talk, and gave it a lot of levity, and I thought he balanced it quite well in it not becoming a comedy act. He shared some useful insight into how positive psychology is about helping people live happy lives. Remember, traditional psychology is about helping people move from a position of feeling sad to ‘normal’, and positive psychology is about helping people move from ‘normal’ to ‘vibrant’.

Andy shared that in Andy Cope’s research he found that only 2% of people are capable of being happy and vibrant. The rest of us are caught up in life’s regular slog, and we have natural ebbs and flows that mean we experience good or bad days. Whittaker also talked about those people around us who are ‘mood hoovers’. I’ve heard this expression before, and it describes the kind of person that responds to most questions with a healthy dose of cynicism and negativity which leaves you feeling drained and your own mood being lowered. With this, I also found it helpful when he talked about people who are at times ‘too happy’ and don’t know how to keep a bottle on their enthusiasm they’re experiencing.

As I’ve been thinking about it some more, there’s some more aspects which I think are important, and lend itself to thinking about this are of self-development and self-awareness quite keenly.

I recall being on the Emotional Skills and Competence course last year, and how we spoke about the importance of having positive relationships in our lives. By recognising emotions in others, in particular micro-expressions, we can allow ourselves to moderate our own feelings and emotions, and respond in a way which helps us to get the best out of others. As we get to know others more intimately, we may also start to recognise which particular events trigger a certain emotion in the other person, and either we change our behaviour to ensure we don’t do those things (if it elicits a negative response) or we purposefully act in a way to bring out an emotion (if it elicits a positive response).

Remember, all emotions are useful, and they all help us to live a healthy life. Emotions themselves aren’t positive or negative, it’s our reaction to and experience of our own emotions which we interpret as being either positive or negative. For example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise in my wife by buying her an unexpected gift and her response is to give me a kiss. In another example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise by telling her something unexpected which annoys her and she becomes angry with me. (Both fictional I hasten to add!) The emotion of surprise is the same, but the trigger that lead to a subsequent action was different.

In Whittaker’s talk, when he talked about how people can sometimes be unaware of their impact on others, this for me is where we can learn to be skillful by understanding what it means to be emotionally intelligent. We use the information available to us to help us to determine what the other person is likely to be feeling, and then respond in a way which gets the best out of them. Some may argue we do this naturally. I would argue, only some people do this naturally. For many others, it is about learning how to recognise a set of emotions, interpret them, and decide on a course of action.

The final piece for me, which adds to the level of self-awareness we have, is in how we practise the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, and being aware of all the things your being can intake. Your surroundings, your thoughts, other people, the sounds, the quiet, your breathing, your movements, and so much more. When we can be mindful, truly mindful, we open ourselves to the possibility of opportunities which become immediately present. At the coffee shop, in a queue waiting to be served, where does our attention go, and where does our attitude focus? Do we urge the barrista to be more efficient? Do we see the people talking round a table? Are the food options the ones you want? Is the background music your style? Are you feeling hot or cold? In being mindful about such things, we are more likely to make a better informed decision for what is best for you, and you are more likely to feel positive about the outcome.

Mindfulness for me, then, helps us to understand that we are responsible for our actions. These actions are based on active decisions we have made, and therefore we can either be positive about them or regret them. If we regret them, then this dwells on the mind, and keeps us in a place which is not helpful, and may be harmful to the psyche if prolonged. If we are positive about them, we will be more likely to be positive about other interactions we make as our day continues.

In thinking about these three topics/subjects/ways of thinking, it’s helping me to remain conscious of the many things we learn in the L&D profession, and how we can either be purposeful in our understanding of them, or we blindly take the accepted wisdom.

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The link between emotions and behaviours

It’s not often I can point to a learning event and on reflection think to myself, but damn that changed my life. There have been two such occasions thus far. The first was attending a facilitation skills training course with Roffey Park. That course taught me a lot about group dynamics, about how I interact with them, and how much I enjoy group based solutions. The second was my MBTI Step I training. I left that training thinking I could rule the world (I still think this) armed with just this tool. It offered me an easy way to recognise behaviours in myself, in others and different ways I can use the tool to provide different ways of working.

This year, I attended a course called Emotional Skills and Competencies with DPG Plc. It was a three day training course, and I wrote about my immediate reflections after each day (Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3). Now some time has passed, and I’ve been able to reflect back on the course, I’m convinced that this training, or future forms of it, will form the cornerstone of what we know as emotional intelligence training. The training focused on helping to understand the work by Dr Paul Ekman. Readers of this blog will know I hold this guy in very high regard. His work and research has helped to identify seven universally recognisable emotions – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, anger and contempt.

We learned how to recognise the ‘microexpressions’ that accompany each emotion on a person’s face. This was really interesting, and we got plenty of practice, as well as practising making the facial expressions ourselves. In line with this, we also spent time reflecting on what happens within us when we feel these specific emotions. This was a great form of self awareness. We learned that there is an emotional timeline we all go through. From the moment something triggers an emotion in us, and the moment we become aware of it, 1/25th of a second passes. Once we become aware, is the point at which we can start to think about how we deal with this emotion.

The other piece I’ve been reflecting heavily on is the research into body language. The hardest thing, and at the same time the most attractive thing, about body language is finding some universal truths that exist. Outside of the microexpressions we display on our faces, there are no other universal body language signs. There a lot, and I mean a lot of ‘experts’ in the field who would like us to believe that they have the answers to underlying motivations and desires based on a person’s body language. Unfortunately most are just not basing their work on research. They’re basing it on lay observations which most of us could make if we took the time to study it better. And, importantly, most are basing it solely on the context of the culture they are in.

I came across this excellent journal article by Dr Ekman (Emotional and Conversational Nonverbal Signals) which perfectly describes how we can understand body language. He explains there are three forms of body language we can look for: emblems, illustrators and manipulators.

Emblems are those body language signals which have specific cultural significance. For example, a thumbs up signal may be assumed to mean ordinarily ‘yes’, or ‘I’m good’, or ‘well done’. However, when deep sea diving it means that you need to go up to the surface. Even before you take the deep sea diving difference into account, you can see how the one signal can mean different things in everyday context.

Illustrators are those which help to support the verbal message. In most cases this is where we use our hands to be expressive in some way. For example, “I first stopped at the shop, then went to the car, then realised I forgot something.” While doing this someone may count off on their fingers in order to illustrate the number of times something occurred, or they may use their hands to indicate moving from one point to the other in a recurring fashion.

Manipulators are those where the person is using one part of the body to touch another part in a habitual way. For example, while talking about something I may cover my mouth with my hand without realising. Or I may have a habit of stroking my ear when talking about a particular topic. We can’t infer what this movements may mean, just that they are a habitual thing the person does.

When you look at those three ‘channels’ of communication, it really helps to make clear that context makes all the difference when you notice the way someone is acting. The key thing that helps to provide the context, is gaining a clear understanding of the person’s ‘base line’. That is, what does normal behaviour look like for them? When you notice a significant change in what they are doing is where you know something has caused them to shift. And where you notice behaviours like this, is where careful conversation can take place to help uncover what’s going on there.

For me, I’ve been taking all of the above into account and can look at what’s happening both within me and then with others. There is a lot to be done to help share this out, and it’s quite early days for this training to be as mainstream as going through psychometric training, but I have no doubt it will get there. As I alluded to above, this is one of those courses where I have been able to take the learning and apply it directly to the work I do. I am more confident in how I understand working with others, and the take home point for me is that it provides the foundation for all I understand about emotional intelligence and conversations.

Day 3 of ESaC

Vulnerability. I did not expect to feel so exposed and vulnerable in a training session. And yet there’s something in the clue of the title of the course which suggests this was going to happen. We’re studying Emotional Skills and Competencies, based on the work of Dr Paul Ekman, who has provided us with a way of readily identifying universal emotions.

Day 3 was all about practising the skills and competencies we were learning about. We took our time to understand the PEER model. Practising and preparing, engagement, exploration and resolution. This model helps you to prepare for encounters which are likely to be highly emotionally charged. Remember, the whole purpose of ESaC is about identifying in yourself when you are feeling emotions, recognising them in others and having better, positive relationships as a result.

In the ‘P’ stage it’s about getting yourself ready for the encounter. The term used was ‘clean down’. How will you give yourself the time, and space, to mentally ready yourself. In ‘engagement’ we’re concerned with how the other person is responding to us, and what we can do to make that more effective. In ‘exploring’ we’re doing exactly that, exploring what new developments you see arising. And in ‘resolution’ we should be looking to see what can we do collaboratively that creates the ideal outcome.

We took our time to think of common situations where we can apply this model, in order that we can practise ESaC so we don’t lose that learning. I was glad to see we were given the time to do this, as it’s often just given five minutes at the end of a training session. We then had to conclude by practising a role play. You know the kind, think of a situation, describe it to the other person, see what happens with the conversation. I couldn’t shake a conversation from my head I thought I should have and decided to go with it. I couldn’t have guessed I was so unprepared for the conversation and where it would take me emotionally.

I’m glad we did the exercise as it raised the importance of getting the PEER model right. Crucially, for me, it highlighted just how triggers create that ‘spark before the flame’, and how you choose to react is very much in your hands. I’ve come away from the training feeling very motivated to learn more about these triggers I experience, and how they affect me.

I hope you’ve found the review of the 3 day course useful. For any questions do get in touch, or just leave a comment below.

Day 1 of ESaC

I’m attending a three day course called Emotional Skills and Competencies. It’s run by DPG Plc, whom I came into contact with via Mr Mike Collins whom I met at the first L&D Connect unconference. This is my how I’ve found day one.

The course focuses on helping you to understand emotions in you and others. It is completely built on the work by Dr Paul Ekman. Followers of this blog will know I hold Dr Ekman in high regard in the field of psychology, body language and insight into human behaviours. That, for me, automatically puts this course a par above anything on emotional intelligence that is in the open market.

Essentially, Dr Ekman has provided us over 40 years of research and development into what emotions humans feel, how they are displayed facially and physiologically, and what process we automatically goes through whenever we feel an emotion. Dr Ekman has found there are seven universally recognised emotions – sadness, surprise, contempt, happy, anger, fear and disgust. When we feel one of these, there are distinct facial and physiological reactions that accompany each one. We’re hard wired to react in these ways, and we can’t escape it.

It’s been useful to spend today understanding these emotions, and how there are other descriptors which we may associate with each emotion. For example, With ‘fear’ we may also feel anxiety or apprehension, with ‘sadness’ we may feel gloomy or despair. Through understanding the emotions we are able to increase our self awareness, and recognise the ‘spark before the flash’.

We’re starting to learn that when working with others, before you can start to ‘read’ them using these techniques, you have to create a base line from which you understand what is ‘normal’ for that person. From that point, once you start to observe reactions from them, you are able to determine what change that person is going through, and how you should best respond to them. Ultimately, what this course is trying to help us to achieve is how to have more productive and constructive relationships.

As we’ve been going through the course, two things come to mind. This is a must attend course for anyone who deals with other people on a regular basis. Learning about emotional competencies in this way is a sure fire way of helping everyone to understand how to recognise emotional reactions they are feeling, others are feeling and therefore how to work better with others. This isn’t restricted to HR, L&D, OD, Coaching professionals. This is anyone in the business world who regularly has to present, influence, facilitate or lead others.

The second thing is this is proper learning and development. We’re getting first class training from Phil Willcox and Aaron Garner, who have been trained by Paul Ekman International. Where discussions are meandering into other realms of hearsay and myths, we’re being given quite clear guidance on what scientific research has proven and what it hasn’t.

More tomorrow.