Thursday, November 15, 2007

Developing Emotionally, Part 3

William Responds to Melissa:

Melissa, my secret is this: I have learned to really enjoy interaction on the emotional level. Perhaps "being emotional" was an innate need, but before and during high school I only had 2 close friends (ever), and I was very controlled–I didn't let anything out (if I could help it). Then I had a life-changing experience: I went to a summer program for high-ability science students, and the program director wanted to develop our little personalities as well as our big brains! So he included a simulation–we were stranded (in groups of 8) on a desert island, and had to solve all sorts of problems, which grew more and more personal. I was lucky enough to land in a very supportive group where we related to each other on a very personal and emotional level...and I was hooked! I realized that personal interaction needed to be a part of my life.

This experience really was life changing. For example, it resulted in my changing my college goal to a small liberal arts college instead of the US Naval Academy. And it resulted in my adding a second major to my academic program, Psychology as well as Computer Science. But the experience itself was relatively simple: 16 4-hour sessions over a period of 8 weeks.

Since that time, I have participated in a number of self-development groups, of all flavors. I have worked to develop my consulting skills and my counseling skills (quite related!). And this stuff is learnable: it just requires practice. Perhaps I had an innate ability for empathy–I get it from my mother! But when I was in college, I participated in a basic training session for drug counselors (lay people, not professionals), and the model they used involved practicing empathy. For several hours a day. That's what got me started in that direction. And believe it or not, practicing this stuff really can help to improve your ability to detect and "process" signals that other people are sending out. At least, that has been my experience.

Today, I really enjoy relating to people as people. I find it most satisfying when I am in a situation where it is "permissible" to relate on an emotional level. (I admire Jerry W., who seems to be able to establish this permission in almost any situation!)

So, I guess my secret was participating in a number of self- development exercises in "safe" situations, where I could take more and more risks and learn to enjoy being more open. I have done this at various times over the past years, and even PSL counts in this direction, because it shows you your emotional limits and helps you to realize what you might need to work on.

Like I said, I don't know if this helps, but it is my story...

Forest Responds to William's Story:

I am so grateful that you shared this story with everyone. It was wonderful to read, and allowed me to feel a number of things that I had recently closed off again.

I identify with how you are most comfortable when you can relate emotionally in a situation. I used to struggle more than I do now in balancing my desire to relate emotionally, with what those around me were comfortable with–or, perhaps it is what I perceived the situation to allow. In the 'professional' world, I have perceived that emotions are frowned upon, and that people are to keep them out of the office. My inclination is to balance emotion with the rest, but I tended to lock them up in many situations.

At my first AYE conference, I learned that the emotional aspect is necessary to connect with people. And notably, that it was okay. During that experience I allowed myself to be more open in connecting with people and to be myself emotionally. I prefer to operate in an environment like that, so I give myself permission to create environments in my life where I am able to (work included). I feel like my true self when I am able to, almost like the mask comes off. I have found the AYE and PSL communities to be extremely supportive and safe in this realm. Which is why I keep going back... I can be myself, and I can recharge my energy to continue to be myself in my day-to-day life.

And William Replies to Forest:

Thanks very much for the affirmative feedback. It is music to my ears, balsam for my soul, etc.! [The writers among you are cringing at the cliches, I'm sure... :-) ]

Theoretically, the workplace is devoid of emoitions. But in real life, that's never the case. And in fact, emotions often have a much higher effect on productivity than almost anything else. I really enjoyed my 5-year stint as an internal consultant, because one big part of consulting skills is being aware of your own emotions and (trying to) understand what is triggering them. It is almost always something in the current situation. Identifying that cause can often lead to a breakthrough in consulting. My favorite book about this is "Flawless Consulting" by Peter Block, which has a prominent place on my bookshelf, right near "The Psychology of Computer Programming." And acting as a consultant, you (often) have permission to name or surface those underlying emotions in one way or another. In fact, sometimes that is your #1 job.

Many management trainings also concentrate on identifying your emotional reactions and using those in the workplace. It is often more OK to be yourself than we realize. In fact, sometimes openness is what is needed to break a "logjam". But I agree, for many people this is very unexpected, and it is a risk to be the first to try it.

Perhaps you can give yourself permission to establish yourself as a "whole person" in your new job, able to relate to your new colleagues and employees as a real and open person. I must admit, I am not currently doing that in my job! So I don't claim it's easy. But perhaps it can be done. (Then again, on the other hand, I just recently read an article from a German psychologist that claimed that being open and authentic is career suicide, and that the guys who get ahead are the ones who manipulate the best! In my cynical moments, I believe this might be true, but I prefer to ignore it...)

Jerry Comments

If this is what "getting ahead" requires, I would question whether it's really "ahead" at all. You might make more money, and have more authority to order people around (which they'll ignore as best they can), but you're really falling back. And, for a consultant, "ahead" and "up" are not synonyms anyway.

In any case, whatever direction you want to travel, studying your emotional system and practicing to improve your understanding of it—those are keys for most consultants to improve their effectiveness. The emotional system is your priority analyzer. Without it, you don't know what's important. And with it, if you don't know how to understand it, you'll act like a robot who doesn't understand the difference between the important and the trivial.

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