The human side of the IT equation is more critical than ever before. Whether we are talking about engaging with the organisation, managing vendors effectively, achieving high customer service ratings, or building partner relationships, it all comes down to the universal trait of being able to deal with human interactions.
If we were to pinpoint the one item that makes these interactions difficult, we could easily argue that it is the ability to deal with emotions. And if we are looking at managing emotions in interactions with others in an effective way, we know that we must deal with our own emotions first.
Once we have dealt with our own emotions, then we have the opportunity to make a difference when engaging with the emotions of others.
The rule to remember is that as a person’s emotional state increases, their level of logical thinking tends to decrease. Different parts of our brain regulate emotions and logical thinking.
The following tips will help you stay engaged with your logical brain as opposed to your emotional brain.
1. Be aware of your mental and emotional states
Awareness is the starting point of being effective here. If you do not realise that you are in an emotional state, there is not much you can do about it.
Without awareness, we can very easily wind up being on auto-pilot when it comes to our emotional state. We have all experienced this when you have one of those situations where you say something in the heat of the moment, then a short time later when the logical side of your brain re-engages you wish you’d never said it.
2. Realise that people are not reacting to you
A very helpful tip to keep in mind when looking at keeping your emotions in check is to remember people are not reacting to you. We walk around thinking that the way people speak or interact with us is because of us.
But think about it this way: have you ever had two different people respond to you in different ways in the same situation? What people are typically responding to is their own “little voice” in their heard.
You know that little voice – the one that says, “I like them”, “I don’t like them”, “I agree”, “I disagree”, “They like me”, “They don’t like me”, etc.
Their little voice is typically reacting to whatever is going on for them in the moment, whether it be work issues, personal life issues, or even if they’ve just spilled their morning coffee!
3. Ask yourself a question
How do we bring ourselves out of an emotional state if we are caught up in a reaction? One of the quickest ways to do this is pulling your brain back to its logical side and this can be done by asking yourself a question that is based in logic.
The question that I use for myself is, “Is what I am saying or doing appropriate?”
This forces me to analyse (think logically) the level of appropriateness of my actions and pulls me back to being rational. Of course it may not be an instant return to logic; very often there is a transition where my little voice will say something like, “It’s appropriate because they deserve it.”
4. Ask questions of others
In the same way you use a question to bring yourself back from an emotional state, it also works well with others. Has anyone ever asked you, “Can I ask you a personal question?”
When they do, when they ask the question that follows, we don’t react the same way as if they didn’t ask that question first. Used effectively, questions can place the brain in a mode of waiting in logic to receive a question, similar to a wicket keeper waiting for a cricket ball or a soccer goalie waiting for an incoming kick.
5. Recognise trigger words and phrases
Selection of proper language can make a big difference in whether an emotional reaction is triggered or not. Using words or statements such as “You need to” or “Why did you” are likely to trigger emotions.
The guideline to remember here is to focus on the behaviour or situation you would like to discuss and not a person’s personality or attitude.
6. Mind your non-verbal communication
Most of the impact of our communication comes from the non-verbal component (body language and our voice). We have all been taught to be careful what we say, but we also need to mind how we say it.
Our non-verbal communication is based on our emotional state, as a result of our thought or state of mind while we are communicating. Which brings us back to our first tip: Be aware of your mental and emotional states as it will also lead to the non-verbal components of your communication.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Lou is currently the practice leader for IT culture and talent development at DDLS.