How to Relax (When You’re a Type-A Stress-Case)

How to Relax (When You’re a Type-A Stress-Case)

How to Relax (When You're a Type-A Stress-Case)

It's Hard to Relax When You're a Superstar

[social_warfare]

Here at Growing Self our therapy and life coaching clients are generally successful, high-achieving people on a path of personal growth. Because of this, I have a soft spot for the superstars, and I know that being a go-getting, productive, conscientious, high-achieving, intelligent, successful person has many, many benefits. You get things done, you're on top of it, and you are probably extremely successful in many areas of life.

And… it's probably hard for you to relax.

How to Relax When You're an Over-Achiever

Because you are so conscientious and successful you probably do everything you're supposed to. You take vacations, you exercise, you have a healthy diet, and you practice self-care. But it still might feel hard to let yourself truly relax. Even when you're having fun you are thinking about the next thing, and doing “nothing” (as in the Dutch practice of Niksen) feels like a waste of time compared to all the important or goal-directed things you could (probably feel like you should) be doing.

Believe it or not, learning how to relax is a very important life-skill. Just like learning how to manage your emotions, making it a priority to exercise and sleep, managing your finances, having satisfying relationships, practicing good self care, and eating healthy foods, learning how to relax — how to truly relax — is a skill set that is acquired through education and practice.

Real relaxation, the kind that restores you and allows you to be more productive, more creative, more resilient, and happier, is much more than about taking a bath once in a while. Real relaxation requires a high degree of self awareness and commitment, as well as the development of specific internal skills. (Ha! You can always recognize a fellow Type-A over-achiever when they describe relaxation skills as a project — hello my friend.)

Yes, I know from both professional experience in working with extremely successful, high-achieving people as well as from my own personal experience, that being a Type-A superstar has a very real dark side including exhaustion, agitation, anxiety and overwork. Burnout is an experience that many hard working and conscientious people can succumb to if not careful. Without vital relaxation skills, you can start to experience a lack of motivation, tiredness, emotional numbness, and loss of joy and creativity in your day to day life. FYI, “Burnout” is real: It's finally gotten recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the ICD!

The Keys to Authentic Relaxation

Today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is just for you, my high-achieving compadre. We'll be discussing:

  • The mind-body connection that makes you feel stressed out even when you're relaxing
  • New ideas to help you prioritize your self-care and relaxation
  • The real source of stress (it's not what you think… except when it is)
  • Why “relaxing” behaviors (massages, hot baths, vacations) won't help you truly de-stress
  • How to combat the stressful thinking styles that will interfere with true relaxation
  • The skills and strategies that will actually help you reduce stress, relax, and restore your mind, body and soul.

I hope this discussion helps you achieve the rest and relaxation that you deserve, and that it helps you (paradoxically) become even more productive, creative, forward-thinking and successful as a result!

From me to you,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

[social_warfare]

Listen to the Podcast

How to Relax (When You're a Type-A Stress-Case)

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Damian Jurado and Richard Swift, “Hello Sunshine”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Build Confidence and Charisma

Build Confidence and Charisma

Build Confidence and Charisma

How to Be Interesting & Fun To Talk To

[social_warfare]

Build Confidence and Charisma

One of the most ubiquitous of our pandemic-life experiences has been the isolation of being at home all the time and having less opportunities to socialize with others. But… (knock on wood) the end may be in sight. If you're feeling a little rusty or nervous when it comes to talking to people and chatting up new friends and old, it's time for a refresher course on how to communicate with confidence and charisma. 

My guest on today's episode of the podcast knows all about how to be interesting and fun to talk to, especially under pressure. Kristen Carney is a stand-up comedian, comedy writer, online dating coach and “conversation coach” who's specialty is helping people be comfortable with others, be interesting and fun to talk to, develop an easy rapport with others, and be more confident about themselves — especially in conversation.

In this episode, you’ll learn how to carry more charismatic conversations with people to make not just great first impressions, but lay the foundation for an enduring positive new relationship. You’ll discover the power of self-confidence and self-awareness in your interactions with others, as well as some “pro tips” for easy things you can do to instantly set others at ease, be perceived as more likable and interesting.

Tune in to the full episode to learn how to build confidence and charisma!

In This Masterclass with Kristen, You Will . . .

  • Learn about how and why Kristen became a comedian.
  • Discover the power of becoming confident about yourself.
  • Find out how to embrace your shortcomings and make light of it.
  • Realize that judgment also comes from within yourself.
  • Understand how your mood affects others.
  • Learn how to get past the judgment of others and yourself.
  • Discover ways you can become a better conversationalist.

I hope that this conversation helps prepare you to get back into the ring with confidence and charisma, as you begin rebuilding your social life and network of friendships.

You can listen to this episode right here on GrowingSelf.com (the player is at the bottom of the post), and you'll find a full transcript of these episode down there as well. You can also listen to “Build Confidence and Charisma” on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you like to listen. Don't forget to subscribe!

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Build Confidence and Charisma: Episode Highlights

#1: How to Talk to Random People

As a comedian, Kristen shares the anxiety that comes with standing up on stage and having the spotlight on you. Unlike other performances such as dancing, you’ll never know what kind of reaction you will get and how things will go along. In a sense, the feeling is almost like talking to a random person or being on a first date.

You only have the first few seconds to make a good impression. So if you’re dealing with social anxiety around dating or making new friends, how do you cope? Here are Kristen's tips:

  1. Remember, it’s natural for people to judge you. “You can’t control that, that’s going to happen regardless,” Kirsten says.
  2. Don’t put too much weight on whether a person likes you or not. When you focus less on being judged, people will be less likely to sense that negative energy.
  3. Enter situations smiling. Because people can sense the energy you are giving off, it’s always better to look genuinely warm and welcoming.

I didn’t want to fake-smile, of course. I just worked on the joy that is inside of me.” Kristen says that it took therapy for her to unlearn and let go of the discomfort she felt about herself, in order to build her confidence in these situations. (Listen to the full story of her personal growth therapy process in this episode).

#2: Develop Self-Awareness

How do you feel when you're around others? Kristen reminds us that even in situations where you don’t strike up a conversation, people will still sense the energy you are giving off. It doesn’t help if you physically look unwelcoming. People will naturally observe how you look and make assumptions from that as well.

Because of that it’s crucial to have self-awareness, and understand how your inner experience may be impacting others — wither you know it or not. Sometimes, although you may not be conscious of it, you become stuck in negative emotions. Kristen shares that when she’s annoyed or moody, for example, at a grocery store, it is very evident.

Kristen shares how it can affect others. “You know sometimes, I forget, this person is being a jerk, and then I realize well maybe, I’m putting out that energy of being a jerk.” 

After becoming aware of your energy in situations like that, you can still readjust. When you begin to unload all that negative energy, you also start to radiate welcoming energy towards others. Only becoming aware of this is doable for anyone and adds to your personal growth. 

#3. Embrace Your Shortcomings

Maybe your goal is to create chemistry on your first date, or perhaps to appear more attractive to an acquaintance, co-worker or new friend. However, we often overfocus too much on creating chemistry and getting people to like us that we bring ourselves down instead of becoming happier.

In these cases, we tend to have feelings of inferiority and insecurity, which is entirely understandable. However, to have more charismatic conversations, it’s crucial for you to embrace yourself.

I’ve realized that what I have to offer is unique and is great in and of itself without having to be like them,” Kristen comments about being surrounded by more educated, “decorated” colleagues. 

Here are some great tips that she’s learned from her personal experiences:

  • Stop trying to be anyone else. If a person doesn’t like you for who you are, then so be it. It’s easier said than done, but once you get to that level, the pressure of fitting in “instantly melts away.”
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. You may not like politics or literature, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make you any less of a person.
  • Remember what you have to offer is unique. You might have ways of doing or learning things that are different compared to others. Whatever you are interested in and however you do things is unique in itself.

In fact, as a comedian, Kristen usually makes jokes about her shortcomings. However, she has to catch herself when it comes from a place of insecurity. 

However, when you’re feeling good about yourself, you can use self-deprecating humor to call out your shortcomings. This doesn’t apply to just in-person conversations, as you can use this to be an exciting texter as well. In any case, it’s always better to keep it light and do this in small doses.

Ways to Be A Better Conversationalist

Other than being more comfortable in your skin, there is an art to having charismatic conversations. Kristen has a coaching program that helps people get past barriers like low self-esteem and teaches them great tips on what to do in social situations. Here are some of them:

  1. Become aware of your surroundings. Another way to start or continue a conversation is to pick up on things around you. For example, you can comment on a particular smell.
  2. Know your point of view and have a strong opinion. We are taught not to offend, but we can still hold our own opinion without being a jerk. Having an opinion allows for banter.
  3. Make connections between one thing or another. When you connect things, no matter how random it may be, you can create stories and witty conversations.

You don’t want to be shallow necessarily, but you want to be playful and short so that it doesn’t feel like work so that it feels fun,” Kristen says. You want to set the stage when you’re first drawing someone in and have fun doing so. The more in-depth conversations come later on once you’ve established a great connection.

Resources

  • Growing Self – our website has dozens of helpful articles written by several experts on communication, chemistry, and friendship.
  • Kristen and Chill – check out Kristen’s website, where you can find great resources on online-dating banter and having better conversations.
  • The Banter Coach – connect with Kristen on Instagram.

Kristen Carney has shared some practical and insightful tips on how to hold charismatic conversations. What did you connect and relate to the most? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to us now to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness!

 

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Build Confidence and Charisma

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

Music Credits: “Light Shines” by Atlantic Thrills

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Build Confidence and Charisma: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love Happiness And Success podcast.

 

[Light Shines by Atlantic Thrills plays]

 

Lisa: That's Atlantic Thrills, this song is Light Shines. I thought it was a perfect song for us today. Because today we're talking about how to get your light to shine, particularly when you're out in the world talking to other people. Something that I think we've all maybe fallen out of practice with. I don't know what I'm going to do with myself, when we're back out meeting and greeting people in person. It's going to be like that, “Wait, what do I do with my hands again?” kind of moment. As I record this, we're still all sort of sitting in quarantine. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

 

I think that's something I've heard a lot about from clients, and people leaving comments on the blog and Instagram these days, is our relationships and our connections with other people are feeling more important than ever before. I think, we appreciate that much more than things that we feel we are losing or being threatened. I think that all of us have been feeling a little more isolated and compartmentalized than before. It is that much more important to figure out how to create really meaningful, valuable, good feeling connections with other people. And that's true for romantic relationships that are intimate partnerships, but also even friendships or connections with family—the people that are most important to us, and, and also figuring out ways to build those connections with others. 

How To Be Interesting

At the core of it, and I know we talk a lot about this on the podcast, is that the real fabric of our relationship is connection and attachment, emotional safety. I think being able to be truly authentic with others and have relationships that are characterized by caring, and a mutual appreciation, and all of these things. It is also true that especially when we are creating relationships—newer relationships, being they friendships, romantic relationships, how we show up in the very beginning can determine whether or not we have the opportunity to go deeper with people. First impressions do kind of matter. And not that it's you only get one chance, and then it's over, because that is way too much pressure for any of us to take on board. But it is worth considering. What is our leading edge when we first meet someone? If you are single and dating, how that first date goes is going to determine whether or not you have the opportunity for a second. 

 

I think that when we talk about romantic relationships or things related to couples, it is very easy to go into the deep stuff around communication and how we show love and respect. Those things are all incredibly important. It can be easy to get so into the weeds of that, that we lose sight of the fact that there also needs to be fun in a relationship, like to be a good friend to your partner, to be enjoyable to hang out with, to spend time together, doing light things that aren't the most serious things in the world. That’s really the bulk of how we spend our days with our spouse or partners, even our kids. 

 

And then also certainly with friendships. There is a time and a place to go into the deep stuff and to be vulnerable and to have those very authentic heart to hearts. Honestly, I think that it's true that if you can't do that at all with “friends”, it may not be the depth of the relationship that you want to have and. There's a lot of the rest of the time that we spend with friends that is devoted to just fun and companionship and being easy and light and just enjoyable. Again, it's like, the deep stuff is important. Chemistry does matter, that people feel a spark when they're with you, that people want to hang out with you. Like the song we were just listening to, there's a line in there that I love, “like a moth to the flame,” right. 

Confidence and Charisma

And so, I think that as we are discussing all different topics related to your love, happiness and success, it is worthwhile to be talking about how to build up your confidence in these interpersonal moments, and also your charisma, your chemistry, because you can be intentionally more charismatic, more fun to talk to, more fun to be with, make people feel chemistry when they're around you. This is not an impossible thing, even if you maybe are sort of—as I am, honestly, as many people—are kind of naturally inclined towards introversion. That is okay, that's good, that gives you depth and meaning. I think introverts are fascinating to talk to you personally. How do you put your best foot forward? Be your best self, particularly with people who don't yet know you? We have to do that to some degree to give ourselves the chance to get to know people more deeply. We don't do a cannonball into the deep end of the pool with intimacy, there's an on ramp. Being intentional about how you're coming across in the beginning is the on ramp. 

 

And so that is what we're talking about today on the show is how to increase your confidence, your charisma, your chemistry with others. And if this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'm so glad that you found this. I'm Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. I'm a psychologist, marriage, family therapist, life coach. And I spend a lot of time really, I would say the bulk of it, helping people with matters of the heart. And we talk about all kinds of things on this show, we talk about career and personal stuff, and growth and all good things. 

 

But really, I think, what I have clients talking to me about most of all, and what we do most of all, in our practice is it's really related to how do I feel more connected to other people? How do I have more genuinely satisfying relationships with others. Let's take a look at my patterns and relationships and kind of think about how those are going, so that I can make positive changes. 

That's again what we're doing today on the show. So I have lots planned for us around this topic of confidence and charisma. That is not all. 

 

If you're interested in learning more about this topic, I would invite you to go to the blog at growing self.com. If you go to the blog page, there's actually a search bar there and you can type in any topic that you're interested in. If this conversation we'll have today sparks more interest in learning about communication, chemistry, friendship, dating, go to the blog of growingself.com. Type any of those words into the search bar and you will see not only more podcast episodes from me, but loads of really helpful articles written, some by myself,but some by other people on our team at Growing Self. I get to work with all kinds of very smart, talented therapists and coaches who have a lot to offer you all for free on the blog at growingself.com. So don't let your journey of growth stop here in this moment with this podcast. We're going to keep going. 

 

But in service of our topic today, confidence charisma, I am actually enlisting the support of a true expert in this area. She's not a therapist, but she has some pretty unique life experiences that have really helped her understand the art and science of being engaging and being interesting and being not just fun, but funny to talk to. Kristen Carney is my guest today, and I'm so excited to introduce her to you. 

 

Kristen is an extremely interesting person. She is a stand-up comedian, who has another career really in helping people figure out how to communicate with confidence and clarity, be successful when it comes to things like bantering in the context of dating, and she has done so many interesting things. She is the co-host of the Ask Women podcast, and she has been on Loveline with Dr. Drew, the Adam Carolla Show, she's had her own podcast, and she is on Comedy Central. Are you still on Comedy Central? 

 

Kristen Carney: I wrote for them a long, long time ago. 

 

Lisa: That’s so cool! I think is kind of something.

 

Kristen: I'll take it, I'll take it.

 

Lisa: Yes. She's here today to speak with us and to share her insights on how you too, can be more interesting to talk to.

 

Kristen: Well, thank you so much for having me. The pressure to talk about being interesting when you're talking, for me to be interesting when I'm talking goes through the roof. It's like, be interesting, and then I'm on a podcast, maybe perhaps not sounding interesting when I talk about this stuff because it is really formulaic in a sense. So it turns out to be a conversation that sounds very self help-y, rather than super fun and entertaining, which is what I want people to be, right.

 

Lisa: Well, I apologize if my glowing introduction, but you're just about like, it's Kristen Carney, the most interesting and entertaining person in the world to talk to and you're like, “Ah, crap.”

 

Kristen: Yes, I'd like to set the bar low so that I can exceed it. I can blow people away because they had such little expectation. But I'll live up to your intro, I promise. 

 

Lisa: Well, actually, if we can even just start there. And I hope that this is okay to ask you about. So one of the things that I have been so interested to learn more about you and kind of your story and your background. So you had/have a career as a stand-up  comedian. Is that right?

 

Kristen: Yes, and no. Yes, I've done stand up for the better part of 10 to 12 years. It hasn't always been paying or on television. But it's been a consistent thing through my life, which has led me to different aspects of comedy and writing and performing and podcasting. And so it's really the common thread that's linked to all of the things that I do together. It all stems from stand-up comedy. Everything in my life stems from stand-up comedy. 

 

Ever since I was 12 years old and didn't do stand-up comedy, comedy was the through line through everything for me. I was class clown. I was bullied pretty badly. So it was a coping mechanism. My dad was really funny. And I didn't know how to pursue a career being funny, but I knew, “Ookay, I have a sense of humor. I'm very perceptive. I can see things. I'm observational, and I can make clever commentary. How do I make that a career?” 

 

And so I actually originally went into the creative side of advertising, to be a copywriter, because I thought, “Well, I can write a funny commercial,” or something. I never envisioned myself doing stand-up comedy. And it wasn't until I was in the advertising school that I was at in Chicago that I delved into stand up, because they actually made us take a stand-up class to see how we could write jokes, and then put that into commercials and advertising. And so that's how I ended up getting into stand up. 

 

So my whole life has just been influenced by comedy. But it hasn't always necessarily been directly me being on stage for 3000 people or something like that. I have done stand-up on TV, but I don't pursue it the way most people pursue stand-up. I almost put it in the background and let that lead me. 

Personal Growth

Lisa: Yes. Well, that's great. I wanted to ask about that because it seems relevant, but I mean, I can only imagine. To me, it feels like the third ring of hell to imagine like standing up in front of a room full of maybe slightly drunk people holding a microphone and they're all sort of looking at you expectantly, ready to be entertained. First of all, the amount of pressure and anxiety that you must feel in those moments, and yet I'm projecting here. Also the level of empathy that there are people among us who feel similarly in the context of a party or a first date, not just like, “What do I say?” What does that actually feel like? 

 

Kristen: For some people, it's a rush. It turns them into essentially like meth heads, like they need to get that next hit of being onstage. And then for some people like me, the rush is there, but the rush is weighed down by the anxiety that I do have before going on stage. I grew up dancing. And so I always loved being onstage. I was never nervous to dance on stage. It was a different experience. I always felt a rush 100% of the time. Whereas stand up, it's so dependent on you, and you never know the context or the scenario or what's going to happen. Whereas when you're going on stage to perform with a group dancing, it's all pretty planned out. You know exactly what you're doing and what's next, where stand-up is much more unpredictable. So the anxiety for me, could actually be crippling, and I had to find ways to cope with it. 

 

And really, part of the reason I don't do stand-up as much as I would really naturally desire is due to that anxiety. I never like to play the female card, like, “Oh, it's hard being a woman in comedy.” But it is kind of hard for—if you're not funny, especially like me, I mean, if you're funny, it's great. But when you're a woman, especially not funny, then trying to do stand up, it's even worse. 

 

You have a perception about you from the audience, that as a woman, you need to instantly break down. You need to win them over within 10 to 15 seconds. If you don't get them within those first 10 to 15, 30 seconds, even, it's pretty much over. That anticipation for me was always hard, because I don't look like I would do stand-up. I don't look very nice. I don't look like the typical prototype of what a comedian looks like. So I would always have to fight against that. I would overthink and over judge myself, “Does this shirt say the wrong thing about me? Is this going to make me unlikable? This side of my face is less likeable than the side of my face. What if this side of the crowd doesn’t like me? So yes, tons of anxiety for me. 

 

But once I'm actually on stage, and things are going well, it is that meth hit where you're like—not that I would know, not that I'm for meth, no judgement. But hey, this pandemic's getting long, you never know. But once that ship is sailing, and you're flowing, it's like, “Man, this is great. Nothing better in the world.” But to get to that point, sometimes it just doesn't feel like it's worth all the pre-pain that comes along with. Especially not just the pre pain of being on that moment of stepping on stage, but just functioning in an industry like that, it's very difficult. You have to be very social, and you have to really know how to work it and network and get chummy with people. I'm pretty introverted. I'm very extroverted, in certain senses, like to the extreme. But on a day-to-day basis, I'm very introverted. And so that always was very hard for me to upkeep these relationships and meeting people. 

 

So, yes, there's nothing I love more in this world besides comedy. Well, I love sleep. Sleep is probably number one. But number two, comedy and so, yes, that that has just been a consistent source of decision making, I guess in my life. But I've never been directly completely committed to just stand-up comedy. 

 

Lisa: Well I can understand why. I mean, because just the mental and emotional anguish and also like, even though there are moments when it feels good, and you're in the flow, and you're doing it like I'm also hearing that there's a lot of self-awareness that it's not totally in your nature to be the that that it requires. 

 

Kristen: Yes, yes, I'm very in my head and I'm very self-aware and over analytical and over judgmental of myself and hard on myself. So it is always been, I think, it's crippled me, definitely. But it's also shaped me in a sense that it's given me character, a sense of humor, because I don't go through everyday life feeling great and happy all the time because I'm so in my head. And I use that for my comedy, and I use that for my jokes, my point of view on the world and all that stuff. 

 

So I try to be grateful for it. But that's also me just trying to sound positive, because I'm on podcasts that's very positive. If I was on a podcast just for comedy, I'd be like, “I hate it, I want to, I want to never get out of bed and just pour alcohol into my mouth all day long every day.” But I can't right now, so. 

 

Lisa: Well, Kristen, this is the Love Happiness & Success podcast. So we keep it extremely real. And it is also 100% fun. 

 

Kristen: Good because all I want to do really is say, “Screw it. I'm staying in bed.” But then you just dig yourself a deeper hole. And so it's not worth it. It’s only going to be harder to get out of that hole. 

 

Lisa: So true. What I think is amazing, and what I was super excited to talk with you about is how it seems like you've really taken so much of what I'm imagining you've learned from these experiences as someone who like so many of us, tend to be self-critical to overthink things or judge yourself harshly? And then going into I think that the highest stress situation, and overthinking introvert could possibly be in which is in this, an entertainer kind of role. That what you've done is really kind of figure out how do I help people that are maybe kind of like me, figure out how to manage some of the anxiety. Not just feel maybe more confident or comfortable in these situations, but also have an idea of what to say, or what to be that will help them feel more confident about, like, making a first good impression, or like you were saying a couple minutes ago, like I have 10 to 15 seconds for these people to decide. 

 

I think that it's kind of a crappy reality. I would like to believe that we live in a world where humans can be more compassionate with each other and understand that it takes a long time to know somebody fully. While I think we all know that that's true, in practice, particularly when it's a new relationship, or when you're dating, when you're first out, like even making friends, like people do judge others pretty quickly. And it's also a reality.

How to Talk to Random People

 

Kristen: It is, it is. You can't control that, that's going to happen regardless. So you can put yourself in the best position possible. And then also not put too much stock into whether they like you or not. Having just this confidence, that's an unending confidence, it’s not affected. Of course, we're human beings. And if you want someone to really like you, and they don't really seem to like you, it's a bummer. But not putting much weight on it. Because when you do put weight on it, it shines through in your interaction. You can do everything right, but if you're in your head thinking these things, people are like dogs in a sense, well, in certain ways. I mean, not because they sniff their own poo, but because they can smell, they can sniff, they can sense. 

 

So people will pick that up. And so the less you are focused on that, the less people will feel that and you'll give yourself a better opportunity to be perceived the way that you want to be perceived, or in the correct way. So, with making a first impression, I actually went through this. And it was mind blowing to me because it was so simple. But when I was doing stand-up, I was trying to meet people, I was new to the scene, and I had a therapist and I just said, “I'm very upset because I'm a really good person and I'm very nice. But people react to me very—it seems very negative. It doesn't seem like they embrace me. I don't really feel welcome. And so I had to work on that for a while, but I realized I was carrying around a lot of negative energy and a lot of discomfort within myself. 

 

And so I did start working on entering situations, smiling. Just smiling. It's so simple and confident people smile. So you don't want to be arrogant. You don't want to be like, “I'm great. And I'm going to smile all the time because I'm perfect.” Just the way you've been looked at me when I said that, when I said, I smile, you smiled so genuinely. And there's such a warmth to that. And so I didn't want to fake smile, of course. I just worked on embracing the joy that actually is inside of me before going into these situations, and you have to be a little bit aware so that you actually do it. You don't want to be in your head, but you want to be aware enough where you are actively putting out a good energy. 

 

So I would smile, I would just smile naturally, if someone came up to my friend and I was standing there with a friend, I didn't stand there, like, looking off to the side or crossing my arms or like, when is someone going to introduce me. When the person would walk up, I'd smile too and I'd say hello. And it would instantly be a comfort level that didn't exist before. And so that was just mind boggling or mind blowing to me, because it felt like such an insurmountable mountain to climb to get people to like me from the get-go. 

 

And when I just started smiling, it made such a difference. My face specifically, it's very angular, it could be a little witchy at certain angles. I've got dark hair, right? So it's like you have to compensate for people because people innately want to judge that. We've been conditioned to maybe associate a long face with a witch or something. That's not their fault. And so, I've tried to accommodate them, in the sense, not tell them that, but do what I need to do to offset the programming that's already in their head about me, and someone who looks like me.

 

Lisa: That is so important. Let's just unpack this a little bit. There's this just awareness that people—we all do can just like, extrapolate meaning about who people are just from the basic way that their face looks. You're not saying this out loud because you're probably too polite, but that phrase like resting bitchface.

 

Kristen: Oh, I have a resting bitch face. I have resting C-U-N-T face, really. That’s how extreme mine is. I go past the… 

 

Lisa: Well. And now for my podcast listeners who don't have the benefit of seeing the video right now, you're also very, very pretty, too. 

 

Kristen: I'll take it, I'll take it. 

 

Lisa: No, really, you are.There can be this like that, perhaps we are all sort of projecting things that we're not completely conscious of that maybe people are sort of absorbing. They see a pretty girl who looks aloof. Just not because you intend to be aloof, but because of the way your face is literally constructed. And they sort of take that in as and start making assumptions. 

 

So you're saying that it was huge to just like, be aware of what people do, and then really intentionally, I think you use the phrase, counteract that programming. So that you go in with a smile, and you're being very aware of your body language, so that you have some—I mean, I hate to use the word control, because we can't control everything that's going on inside of other people. But you can like, tip the scales a little bit in your favor, is what I'm saying.

 

Kristen: Yes, absolutely.

 

Lisa: Yes.

 

Kristen: Yes. It was really helpful. I mean, it really changed a lot for me. It changed the relationships I was making. It changed the perceptions people had of me. I had stories that people told me when they first met me, they didn't know me, they didn't speak to me, they didn't think I was a B-I-T-C-H, or a bitch because of anything I did. They just saw me and thought, “Oh, that girl looks like a bitch.” And they wrote me off, and that was it. Come to find out once we actually strike up a relationship somehow, they're like, “You're nothing like I expected.” And so if I'd known that from the beginning, when I first met them, and was able to make conscious decisions of how I was holding myself or the energy I was putting out. 

 

I don't know if you get into this kind of stuff, but chakras and like the energy that is pouring out of your body that people sense, I noticed that if I just felt either annoyed or kind of moody, or if I pulled into a parking lot, at a grocery store to run into get groceries and the parking lot was full and then I'd walk in the grocery store with that energy of like, yeah, like “Get out of my way.” People would react to me, like that. They would feel that energy. 

 

Sometimes I forget, and I'm like, “This person is being a jerk.” And then I kind of realized, again, “Maybe I'm putting out that energy of being a jerk,” and then I readjust. But yes, it's life changing, it was life changing for me, really. 

 

Lisa: Thank you so much for sharing that. how much for sharing that. And I love it because it's so like, doable. I also hear exactly what you're saying, too. That it's very easy for all of us, and I certainly do this too, it's we're kind of unconsciously marinating in the broth of our own feelings, or being focused on something or annoyed with something and not fully aware of how we feel to be around. People can pick up our mood states through how we look and sort of how we're vibrating almost and that can really impact people too. 

 

So particularly if you're going into a high impact social situation, or a situation where you would like to meet new people or dating or make new relationships to be real conscious of that ongoing relationships, too, honestly. But like, especially in the beginning, before people have like compiled—I have had 150 set of experiences with Kristen and most of the time, she's lovely, and nice and pleasant and today, she's not really herself. But if somebody was just meeting you for the first time, and they didn't know that you were lovely and nice, they would take that sort of annoyed, irritated Kristen as being the truth about you, right?

 

Kristen: And that sticks. That's what sticks. So if you can alter that, then you're in a great position.

Social Anxiety

Lisa: Yes. Okay, can we pull back up just a little bit, because what you're talking about is so important in terms of that self-awareness. But what I often see happening like with clients, either therapy coaching clients, and I know that certainly I myself have been in this space, it's like, the way we are thinking about situations, even before we go into them are sort of like our inner dialogue around like, well, “They don't, they won't like me, because they'll think I'm weird. I'm different from that, or I'm not quite as good as XYZ for all these reasons.” 

 

People, I think, who struggle sometimes to feel confident in social situations, can really have a lot of that inner dialogue, that anticipatory like, that will prevent them from going into these situations in the first place. Or when they do, they already, like they're expecting something bad to happen. So they're not smiling, and they're not feeling great. I know that this is a very big complex topic. I mean, there are psychologists who specialize in social anxiety is like a thing. So there's a lot here, but I'm wondering, what you have found, from your experiences personally, in your coaching work over the years that has helped you offset some of that? I think it's such a common experience. 

 

Kristen: It is, and so what I can refer to is my own experience. The first thing that comes up in my head when you ask that is, I remember living in Chicago. I had just started doing stand-up  comedy. And all the kids or all the people who were doing comedy in the scene, were highly educated from Ivy League schools. They were high achievers in a way. They seem to—I don't know, I would kind of guessed that a lot of them came from money so that they were able to pursue something like comedy because they could. 

 

Whereas, I was not an Ivy League student, or in an Ivy League college. I was nowhere near even an A student. I was like a B- student. I didn't know anything about politics and big conversational things. I just knew who I was and what I like to talk about, and I felt so nervous and scared around them. And I couldn't be myself and I couldn't speak. I would just be completely quiet. It would almost feel like in my brain, a light switch would turn to the off position. I would have nothing to say, nothing to offer, no sense of humor. I knew it was in there, but it would just shrink, it would go away and I would clam up. 

 

I look back on that. I've come so far because I've realized that what I have to offer is unique and is great in and of itself without having to be like them. So the first thing that I recommend is becoming comfortable. And it's way easier said than done to just all of a sudden become comfortable with yourself, right? But when you stop trying to be anyone else, but yourself, instantly, a lot of pressure will melt away. When I was younger, I started to try to become them so that I could fit in. And the more I tried to become them, the less funny I would be, the more people wouldn't like me. It felt inauthentic. It felt fake. People could feel that. 

 

I would learn things just so that this person would maybe like me better, or that person would like me better. And I stopped doing that, I stopped comparing myself to anyone else. I started embracing who I am. And if I don't love to read about 18th century literature, I just don't. And that's okay. I never will. I'd make jokes about not reading essentially, like I read but I don't really read, And for so long, it was like, “What a loser, you don't read, you don't add up to everyone else.” But then I realized I get my knowledge in the way that I like to get my knowledge. I like to learn things the way I like to learn things. I love movies. 

 

I started to just embrace my shortcomings, and stop comparing myself to other people. And so when I would go into social situations, I started to feel great, not great, I'm not perfect by any means. But I started to feel just more at ease. “This is who I am. This is what I like, if you don't like it, if it's not good enough, I'm not interested in you either.” And it would hurt. It's not like I'm unendingly confident, I struggle a lot with confidence, always. But I just became more comfortable in my skin so when I would go into these situations, social situations, I knew what I had to say. what I had to offer was different than anyone else there. And that in itself was awesome, and was unique and cool. I would start feeling less anxiety. 

 

I've never necessarily had social anxiety. It's interesting because when I'm in a social setting, in a group way, with people that I'm relatively comfortable with, I turn it on. I don't know what happens. But I become like Robin Williams or something, like “I’m d, the d and funny and that.” And I really become myself. But there are certain people and certain circumstances, of course, that I would dim my light. And so that's happening way less. My light doesn't really dim anymore for the people that I'm around. And so that's kind of very long winded way to basically say, become comfortable with who you are. It's a lot easier said than done.

 

Lisa: Yes. Right? I mean, it's a process. I think that we can all totally relate to that to being around people that were worried about being judged by. I know, I've certainly been in that experience too. How hard it can be to kind of like, no, even though I'm not into these things, or they know something about music or bands or whatever that I don't know—it doesn't mean that I'm not a good and worthwhile person. I think that that's the theme for this year’s is that self-acceptance is really that core, so that you're sort of having that inner voice inside of yourself is like, “You are good. You are just as good as they are. It's all okay, you don't have to be anything else. You bring value.”

 

Also I love the other part of what you said, which is that if you do encounter someone who is judging you by their own weird yardstick that they're carrying around, it doesn't have anything to do with you. Good riddance, who would want to be friends with or in a relationship with somebody who's that judgy? That's not fun. Right?

 

Kristen: No. That’s the most empowering part of getting older is not caring. Cool, great. Awesome. You're cool. You have a million Instagram followers. I don't care. I don't care. And it's this book The Subtle Art Of Not an F. Okay, I didn't read the whole book. And speaking of not reading, I did listen to most of it on tape. If I ever go deaf, though, it's because I listened to so many books, that's going to be my thing. Like I do listen to books, I don't read them. But I do listen. And that was just reiterating the whole idea of just not caring that much, caring about the right things and forgetting about the wrong things. 

 

You said something that I wanted to respond to but it's, it's escaping me right now. Oh, I know what it was. You mentioned about maybe not knowing the certain music or all about music or something. What I recommend doing is embracing literally out loud your shortcomings. Calling them out. A confident person can self-deprecate because they’re secure enough that if they point out something that makes them vulnerable, they're cool. That's okay. 

 

So self-deprecation is a very good tool to use in small doses. Of course, you don't want to become Eeyore, just constantly, [mumbles]. But every so often, if you really don't know something, or you're really uncomfortable, calling out the elephant in the room, self-deprecating about it. I also recommend self-deprecating about the positive, so that you're able to call out that elephant in the room, but in a way that's not taking you down from you're starting at zero with someone and taking you down to negative 100. You're starting at zero with someone and you're actually going up to +25 by self-deprecating. And so, you self-deprecating about the good thing. 

 

I recommend making a list of things that are actually really great qualities about yourself that you could pick on in a way to humanize yourself.It's like the humblebrag kind of thing. But if you every single day have to make your bed or something that's a positive quality that you could totally pick on yourself. If you're—I use this example, once before that I liked, with men that I was working with. But this one guy, he's like 38, roughly. Kind of rediscovering himself. He said he was traveling all the time, he was taking singing lessons, he was learning to ski or just stuff that he's never done before. And he was doing tons of awesome stuff. So I said, “Self-deprecate about that and say, ‘I'm basically like a 50 year old divorced woman.’” So turn these things that are great about yourself as a way to self-deprecate you, you become very down to earth to someone. But meanwhile, also showing that you have confidence because it takes confidence to do that. But of course, the right situation has to arise to use these self-deprecation tools. But they're always there for you.

 

Lisa: What a wonderful, like, multipurpose little Swiss Army Knife of the communication technique. It accomplishes so many things at the same time. It's like showing confidence, it's showing wit, but it's also kind of like making yourself more relatable. I would imagine too, making other people who may be experiencing their own inner demons, “Oh, no, this person is so much more interesting than I am,” like that they feel more comfortable and safe with you, too. 

 

Kristen: Yes, I used to do that as a teenager who I—I hate to say the word bullied but I was pretty bullied. 

 

Lisa: Yes, I understand.

 

Kristen: I learned to self-deprecate to make people comfortable with me. To me, I felt like it made myself more likeable. It was also a defense mechanism because I thought if I point out my flaws first, I'll get to them before other people do, which is something I was so accustomed to people pointing out my flaws, telling me what was wrong with me. So it was a defense mechanism, but if used properly and in small doses, yes, it's a really good tool. So.

Charismatic Conversations

Lisa: I know that we don't have that much more time with you because it was a hard stop. I guess I'm also wondering that maybe in our last couple of minutes, if you wouldn't mind sharing, if there are any, and I know that you have like you have a coaching practice, you have a whole program based around this, I'm sure it's very involved. 

 

But like part of what I love about your work and what I was interested in speaking with you again, is that in addition to kind of helping people feel comfortable in themselves and kind of know how to handle themselves in certain social situations. I think that there is an art and a craft and things that you can learn for how to be perceived more positively around. Things to say, like there is such a thing as charismatic communication. Again, I know we don't have a ton of time, but I'm curious to know if there's like even one or two things that you can share about things that usually work if you would like to make a positive impression. We talked about smiling and sort of energy. But what else? 

 

Kristen: Absolutely, oh my gosh, there's so many places I could go with this. But to narrow it down, for time’s sake, one thing I always recommend is being very aware of your surroundings. When you're aware of your surroundings, what you're doing is, just becoming cognizant. Is it warm in here? Is the line very long? Is there a weird smell? The reason I recommend that is because that's a shared experience with someone else who is in the room with you. They're experiencing the same thing. They may not be aware that they're experiencing the same thing but if you pointed out, oh, my God, instant connection. “Yes, it is really smelly in here. Did you smell that?” “I smelled that.” “Oh, my God, are you wearing deodorant?” “No, it's not me.” All of a sudden, it can turn into a fun playful exchange, if you simply start out just aware of your surroundings. So that's one thing. 

 

The other thing that I recommend is knowing your point of view and having opinions and strong opinions. Not to be a jerk, but to give you a place to go from in conversation. Conversation will fall flat if you don't have a point of view on something, if you don't have an opinion on something. It's really the foundation of the banter work that I teach. We start out working on opinions and how to unearth the ones that are buried deep down, because we're taught to be polite, we're taught to not offend, we're taught to be amiable. And of course, I want people to be nice and lovely. 

 

But for men, specifically, when they're dating, if they don't have these strong opinions, they end up being thrown into the friendzone, or feeling a little bit like the beta male, like not the strong masculine type that women may be looking for. So knowing your opinions, and knowing how to deliver them properly, is something that we usually get into in the coursework that I do. 

 

Finally, the last thing that I would recommend, it takes a long time to explain, so I'm going to try to say it in about 20 seconds. When you want to be witty and you want to be clever, simply really all it comes down to is making a connection between one thing and another. And so yes, it's so hard to summarize. But basically, starting to draw lines, like little invisible lines between things is where you'll start to bring out humor. 

 

So for example, I'm just randomly pulling stuff out. If I'm in the airport, and there's a vending machine with the headphones, things like that. Usually people walk by, they don't make a judgement on that. So it's like, “Okay, a vending machine full of headphones, whatever, next.” Taking these little minute things and actually applying connections to them. So say I didn't have my headphones and I had a 14 hour flight coming up. I would say something about the vending machine being like my hero, that vending machine must be wearing a cape, it just saved me, just saved my life. That's not mind blowingly funny, but that's an example of making connections to bring out humor.

 

Those three things set you up to be pretty good verbally, but also physically in terms of the way you present yourself are important as well. I don't know if I just made sense with what I said there. 

 

Lisa: No, no, it's like the physical pieces and energetic pieces are like all the foundation. Then it's like the shared experience, what's going on, making connections between different things. Also you use the word playful, too. I would imagine that just having that kind of intention in the way you communicate and having strong opinions. 

 

Kristen: Yes, playful is key, especially in dating, the beginning of conversation of conversing or connecting. You don't want to be shallow necessarily, but you want to be playful and short, so that it doesn't feel like work, so that it feels fun, it feels like you're at an amusement park. And then eventually you can get to the heavier stuff. But when you're drawing someone in, short and sweet and fun and playful, is how you set the stage for  better things to come.

 

Lisa: That's an interesting conversation. I wish I had more time with you and I'm sure that my listeners are like “Wait. No, no. Don’t let Kristen go yet.” So where will they go if they wanted to learn more about you and your work these days?

 

Kristen: So my website is called kristenandchill.com. It's a play on “Netflix and Chill”, which is about hooking up because I've really just helped mainly with the dating stuff and guys trying to get the chicks. But they can also find me @thebantercoach on Instagram. I just started that Instagram page. I’m starting to build it up and get content on there. So if they want to hit me up or ask me questions, The Banter Coach on Instagram.

 

Lisa: Thank you so much. We'll be sure to link to those in the post for this and thank you again for your time.

 

Kristen: Yes, thank you for having me. You’re so lovely. So sweet to talk to you. 

 

Lisa: Talk to you soon. Okay. Bye. 

 

Kristen: Bye.

 

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3 Stress Management Techniques for Chaotic Times

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3 Stress Management Techniques for Chaotic Times

Self-Care for Stress Management

Between COVID-19 and political upheaval, the past year has been chaotic for many. Many of my career and life-coaching clients, even those in other countries, have discussed feeling more stressed and anxious overall. There have been many uncertainties with some businesses laying off workers or closing altogether, people losing family members to COVID, and parents navigating work-from-home situations while trying not to lose their minds due to their young children’s school-from-home situations.  

The stress response in our body exists to address an imminent threat (aka the fight-or-flight response). This response is great when there is an immediate issue, such as a bear chasing you. It causes a release of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, in our body and sends the blood to our extremities, so that we can either run away from the bear—or fight it (though I don’t typically recommend fighting bears).

However, when the stress is chronic or long-term, our bodies stay in high-gear and cortisol levels stay elevated in our body which can cause negative long-term effects. Long-term stress has been identified in studies as a contributing factor in everything from heart disease to cancers. 

Below are a few tips for stress management and, if at all possible, I encourage you to practice these things before you are super stressed. It’s harder to use a new skill for the first time if you’re already in an intense situation and much easier if you’ve already been using the skill before you really need it. 

1. Deep Breathing

We tend to be a nation of chest breathers in our fast-paced society. When stressed, our breathing becomes even more rapid and shallow. Again, the stress response causes blood to go to our extremities, thus away from our brain. This is why people don’t think as clearly when they’re overly stressed. 

Taking a minute to do several slow, deep breaths where you breathe in air all the way down to your abdomen, literally bringing in more oxygen to your body—including your brain. 

Try putting your hand on your belly and slowly inhale through your nose to a count of 4, then exhale just as slowly through your mouth to a count of 4. Your belly should push your hand out as you inhale if you are breathing all the way to your abdomen instead of your chest. Repeat this slow breath two more times to feel immediately more centered and grounded. 

Tip: You can do this anywhere, even in traffic, and will notice a difference.

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

 

2. Sleep

This one is actually the most important on the whole list. If you don’t have good sleep, the rest of this list won’t matter. Sleep is the period when your body restores and repairs itself. If you start with only one thing as far as stress management, start with protecting your sleep and going to bed at a reasonable time so that your body can cycle through to the deep stages of sleep which is where the magic happens. 

If you have difficulty falling asleep, start a consistent bedtime routine (a cup of tea, reading from a book, warm bath, etc) about an hour prior to your desired bedtime and keep that bedtime the same if possible. 

Some of my clients even set an alarm on their phone, in the beginning, to remind them to start their nighttime routine. In time, your body will automatically begin to wind down at a certain time—it’s like muscle memory. Your body will thank you for doing this and as a bonus, you’ll start out the next day feeling refreshed and energized if you’ve given yourself adequate time to recharge.

3. Meditation

Many of my clients are new to meditation when I begin working with them, but this one is life-changing. Meditation is simply the act of being present in the moment and resets your body from a state of stress to one of relaxation. 

If you think about it, the present moment is where all the good stuff in your life happens anyway, so you want to be there as much as possible. If you catch yourself worrying about something, it’s a red flag that you’re in the past or future rather than the present moment (unless a bear is chasing you and then you have bigger concerns to worry about). Meditating helps you to train your brain to stay in the present moment. 

Additionally, if you have issues with sleeping, such as insomnia or frequent waking, you can also use meditation at bedtime to help you relax so that you go into deeper stages of sleep.

Meditation doesn’t need to be done sitting cross-legged on a special cushion. You can meditate while walking, washing dishes, or doing yoga. 5-10 minutes is all you need, though some of my clients prefer to do it first thing in the morning and also at night before bed. 

MRI’s have shown the impact of meditation on the brain and there are some fascinating research studies on this. If you prefer music or guided meditation, there are numerous free apps available such as Insight Timer or Calm, and YouTube has free meditations on every subject available.

I’m a personal fan of binaural beat meditations, designed to bring your brain into different wavelengths such as theta or gamma, and I use Brainsync which is not free but worth the money in my opinion.

Bonus Stress Management Tip: Laughter

Laughter really is the best medicine and has been shown to release your body’s feel-good neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, which act as natural pain killers and antidepressants. 

Spend time at night watching your favorite comedy series or movie (and never the news before bed!) or talk to some funny friends or family members. Try to keep your sense of humor even when times are tough and it can help shift your perspective to find silver linings of difficult situations. 

Dark humor can work too—I’ve worked with some first responders who said it was the only thing that prevented them from having a total breakdown. 

In Summary: Stress Management is Essential to a Healthy Life

Play around with these techniques and see what works best for you. Keep in mind that self-care and stress management are essential for living a healthy life. It’s like the flight attendant telling you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first—by caring for yourself, you have more to give the world around you. 

During stressful times, it’s more important than ever to protect your emotional and mental well-being. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, go breathe, sleep, meditate, and laugh your way to a better place. Your loved ones will thank you. 

Warm Wishes, 
Dr. Kristi

Dr. Kristi Helvig, PhD, LP, CPC

Dr. Kristi Helvig, Ph.D., LP, BCC is both a licensed psychologist and a board-certified coach, and she specializes in career and executive coaching. She can help you get clarity, overcome old obstacles, and climb the mountain to success — no matter how you define it.

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

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How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

Personal Growth:

Why You Are The Greatest Gift

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is often the most important (and most often overlooked) “x-factor” when it comes to creating the life you want in many different domains. If you've been feeling stuck lately, though it may not seem directly related, focusing on improving emotional intelligence can lead to dramatic changes.

As an online marriage counselor, I know that the success of a relationship or marriage, for example, often depends on the emotional intelligence of both partners more than just about anything else. Any of the online career counselors on our team would tell you that how easy or difficult you find it to get ahead in your career often has roots in emotional intelligence.

Similarly, any of our life coaches or therapists highlight the fact that your sense of happiness and satisfaction with your life typically has much more to do with your emotional intelligence than it does your specific circumstances.

Similarly, we know that your emotional resilience, ability to solve problems, or persevere in the face of obstacles is directly related to your emotional intelligence skills. If you can understand yourself, manage your feelings, and be sensitive to those of others, all things are possible.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Since emotional intelligence is such a crucially important factor in, basically, everything related to creating love, happiness and success, it's something we often talk about in our therapy and coaching sessions here at Growing Self. We often find that, by focusing on emotional intelligence training, the things our clients hope to achieve begin to happen.

Good, evidence-based marriage counseling or relationship coaching nearly always includes an emotional intelligence training component. When couples learn how to manage their feelings and be sensitive to those of their partners, their relationships feel less fraught. Focusing on emotional intelligence skills training in therapy or life coaching helps our clients feel better able to stay even-keeled, no matter what life throws at them.

Our career counselors nearly always incorporate at lease some emotional intelligence training in order to help their clients navigate challenging professional situations confidently. And, most importantly, no matter what situation you're in, when you work on increasing your emotional intelligence skills you will  feel better able to make progress towards your most precious personal goals — in literally any life domain.

This is powerful, important stuff! So, today, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I'm going to be teaching you some simple strategies to increase your emotional intelligence too.

Strategies to Improve Emotional Intelligence

In this episode, I talk about the foundations of emotional intelligence and offer some simple (not easy, but simple) ideas for how to increase it ASAP.  Tune in to the full episode to learn actionable strategies in building your emotional intelligence, including:

  • Find out why fostering emotional intelligence starts with you.
  • Discover how you can fit the four components of emotional intelligence together.
  • Learn how you can figure out your feelings.
  • Understand the importance of gaining outside feedback in identifying emotional blindspots.
  • Learn different forms of emotional intelligence assessments.
  • Recognize the importance of insights of other people in your emotions, such as an online emotional intelligence coach.
  • Become aware of the importance of self-regulation in different aspects of life.

By the end of this episode I hope you have some clear takeaways to help you grow in this all-important area. You can listen to “How to Increase Emotional Intelligence” on Spotify, or on Apple Podcasts. (Don't forget to subscribe the the show while you're there!)

If you're more of a reader you can scroll down to find some of the key takeaways, and access the full transcript of this emotional intelligence podcast. There's a player at the bottom too.

Thank you for exploring the all important topic of how to improve emotional intelligence with me today!

With gratitude,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence: Episode Highlights

The Role of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. You can't improve emotional intelligence without having a good relationship with yourself first. It all starts with you.

What are the characteristics of a person with high emotional intelligence?

  • They feel happier and more optimistic.
  • They can effectively navigate moments when they don't feel okay.
  • They take guidance from their emotions and use their experiences to foster a deeper connection with their values and needs.

Moreover, organizational psychology research shows that it plays a massive role in creating leadership characteristics and positive organizational environments.

“Your success in your career, as well as your satisfaction in your career, is much more highly dependent on your level of emotional intelligence than it is your skill set or what you know, with very few exceptions.”

As a result, people with the highest emotional intelligence reap more successful outcomes by working effectively. This characteristic also makes them feel more satisfied with their jobs.

Four Components of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is not one of these things that you either have or you don't. While it is more innate with some people, you can develop and figure it out.

Before knowing how to develop your emotional intelligence, it's first essential to understand its components.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management and regulation
  3. Social awareness
  4. Effective and healthy management of relationships

First Component: Developing Self-Awareness

Remember: “The heart of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions.” It is the foundation of how you can respond effectively to various situations and stay in a good place.

People with high emotional intelligence have the basic understanding that all life events are neutral. Without this level of awareness, you may tend to believe your feelings are linked to a particular situation.

So when trying to identify and figure out how your feel, ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I having this feeling?
  • How does it make sense?
  • What is it attached to?

How Lack of Self-Awareness Manifests in Low Emotional Intelligence

The second foundation of emotional intelligence is figuring out how you work.

  1. For instance, some people don’t have the language for emotions. They are often unaware of their emotions. But upon seeking therapy and coaching on emotional intelligence, they show up as highly anxious. Hence, they either make very emotional decisions or respond to situations without the emotional components. 
  2. On the other side of the coin, some people are highly emotional and tend to be reactive. They tend to lash out or make emotional decisions without fully understanding the whole picture. Because of these emotionally charged reactions, they may be unable to identify how they really think and feel.

It’s important to know and acknowledge that not all feelings are helpful, healthy, productive, or even worth listening to.

It's essential to get outside feedback. Only then can you reach the point of being able to name these emotional experiences, and this is where emotional intelligence coaching comes in.

Emotional Intelligence Assessment

There are many ways to increase your emotional intelligence, such as taking online EI training in quiz form. But this is dependent on self-reporting, so there’s no way to know how valid and reliable it is.

A more robust way of emotional intelligence assessment is the 360 assessment called the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI). It is often used in workplaces and organizations. Here, both you and your peers will rate yourself on emotional intelligence competencies.

Having your peers also assess your emotional intelligence is important. According to research, there is a huge discrepancy between your perception of your own levels of emotional intelligence and how they perceive your EI. Many people have the tendency to perceive themselves as being more emotionally intelligent than they actually are.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence through CBT

In addition to outside feedback and partnership, you can also improve your emotional intelligence through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises. Here are some helpful strategies to do this:

  1. Mindfulness skills: This is the ability to be in the present moment. It is how you can notice what is happening in your inner experience without getting lost in the thoughts.
  2. Feelings wheel: This is something you can print out and use as a reference when you feel a particular emotion. It will help you parse out more granular nuances of feelings toward developing a vocabulary for your internal experience.
  3. Having a vocabulary for your feelings: Our experience is defined by language. Hence, you cannot identify a feeling within yourself if you don’t have a name for it.

You can learn cognitive strategies to increase emotional intelligence through evidence-based life coaching, through cognitive behavioral therapy, and through online cognitive behavioral classes like our Happiness Class.

Second Component: Self-Management and Regulation

Self-management and regulation are not just about knowing how to feel that but also about changing how you feel to a large degree. However, note that this does NOT mean that you are obliterating or pushing away your emotions — this is not about feeling happy all the time.

Here is the difference between emotionally intelligent people and people with low emotional intelligence skills:

  • High emotional intelligence: They are comfortable with feeling unhappy, and they're able to embrace dark emotions without needing to feel differently.
  • Low emotional intelligence: They will frantically scramble away from any negative emotions.

These dark emotions are something you can take wisdom and guidance from. However, this is all an experiential growth process that has many different layers. It will involve developing cognition behaviors and applying specific practices that will help make you feel better. Read, “It's okay to cry” for more on this topic.

The mind-emotion connection and body-mind connection are intrinsic in this process. Hence, regulating yourself links back to everything that is a part of you; it all goes back to having a mastery of your emotions.

Third Component: Social Awareness

“You cannot have empathy for another human unless you yourself understand what emotions feel like.”

As humans, we’re created from the time we’re born through mirroring. It means you have to reflect on what's happening with others to fully understand them. It's about noticing people's energetic changes, understanding what makes them tick, and respecting boundaries.

In essence, social awareness is setting yourself aside to understand what other people need. It means recognizing that there’s much more going on under the surface of everyone with whom we interact.

Fourth Component: Relationship Management

Finally, the cherry on top of emotional intelligence is relationship management. It refers to communicating with other people in a meaningful, safe, effective, and respectful way. It’s about being collaborative in solving problems and being responsive.

The issue is many people feel worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. Nonetheless, know that people will feel your good intentions regardless of what you say. Most importantly, being able to regulate yourself is the critical component to being able to communicate well. Knowing how to create a positive interaction with your relationships is the core of relationship management.

Resources

If you feel like you could benefit from private emotional intelligence training to support your success in your relationships, career, or overall wellness — we're here for you. Schedule your first, free consultation with an emotional intelligence coach on our team to get started.

Emotional intelligence is a foundational skill that will help you navigate life wiser and better. What were your favorite insights? Feel free to share your thoughts (or a follow up question for Dr. Lisa) by leaving a comment down below.

Did you like this episode? Subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to get more actionable advice in your feed every Monday!

 

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How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence: Podcast Transcript

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Dr Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. And you're listening to the Love, Happiness & Success podcast.

 

That's the band Poly Action with a song Ten Hundred Years, which is really a deceptively kind-of-like bouncy and light sounding song, but is actually about something quite dark. If you listen to the lyrics, they're really singing about someone, talking about someone who does not have strong emotional intelligence skills and who has alienated a lot of people throughout their lives and is now feeling kinda not-so-great about that. 

 

And I thought, dark as it may be, that was really kind of a nice intro to what we're going to be talking about today. We are going to be talking about emotional intelligence—not just what it is. But I'm going to be giving you some actionable ideas and strategies so that you can begin building your emotional intelligence. Because it is such a foundational skill that impacts so many different areas of your life. It's really important for you to increase your emotional intelligence—if you need to. And that's what we're doing today on the show. So thank you so much for being here with me and joining me today for another hopefully interesting episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. 

 

So I have lots planned for us today. But before we jump in, I just wanted to say thank you! I have not looked on our iTunes page for the podcast in a while and I just did this morning and saw that there are so many nice reviews of the show. If you have left a comment or review of the show, I just wanted to personally reach out and say thank you not just because it's made me feel really good. But also because every time you rate or review the show, wherever you listen, it increases the chances that somebody else just like you is gonna tumble on this. 

 

As you know, the show is not being made with mercenary intentions. We're not doing advertising, we're not promoting it, really other than what we're doing. Just kind of putting it in the air throwing little bottles in the ocean. And so your support of the show, your reviewing it, rating it or sharing this episode or others with your friends or family that you think could benefit from listening or even on social media is the only way this gets around. So, thank you so much. I do these because I want them to be genuinely meaningful and helpful to people and you're dispersing the little seeds is really how that happens. So, we are a team. And I just wanted to thank you for that. So anyway, enough of that. 

Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

Let's jump into our topic today and talk about how you can increase your emotional intelligence. Because as I mentioned previously, this is incredibly important. I talk about so many different things on the show. And we talk about relationships, we talk about career, we talk about self esteem and being happy. In some form or fashion, all of these things really link back to fundamental emotional intelligence skills. Emotional intelligence can touch every single part of your life, for better or for worse. People who are strong in emotional intelligence tend to have satisfying relationships and good friendships. But this isn't just about relationships with others.

 

We think about emotional intelligence as being able to kind of understand other people, and that's certainly a piece of it. But, it's really about having a good relationship with yourself. And that first foundational piece of emotional intelligence is understanding yourself. If you don't understand yourself and have insight into how you feel and what makes you tick, it is virtually impossible to have—awareness of other people and how they feel and what makes them tick. And it all starts with you. 

 

So, while emotional intelligence can certainly benefit your relationships, it also benefits a lot of other things about your life personally, including your mood. People who are high in emotional intelligence tend to feel happier and more optimistic than people who don't. And when they do have moments when they don't feel okay, they're able to manage them more effectively, they're able to take guidance from their emotions and kind of use these experiences to get more deeply connected to their needs or values. As we've discussed on past podcasts—if you've listened to the one that I did, not too long ago, about doing shadow work or kind of cracking in under the hood to understand things that may be happening more in your subconscious mind, those are actually all emotional intelligence skills, believe it or not. Knowing yourself on deeper levels is that first foundational piece. 

 

And the other thing—you may have heard this before, but in case this is new, I want to say it here is that emotional intelligence is not just related to aspects of your personal life. Well, it certainly does have a positive impact on your relationships, and also the way you feel on the inside. It helps you handle stress better, it helps you communicate better with others. But when we look at research related to organizational psychology, and aspects of career development, even like leadership characteristics, and what makes organizations positive environments or as opposed to negative or toxic work situations—there is a huge role that emotional intelligence plays. 

Emotional Intelligence Coaching

Believe it or not, most coaches who really specialize in emotional intelligence, often apply this to sort of more career development or career coaching pursuits. Because what we know from research is that your success in your career as well as your satisfaction in your career, is much more highly dependent on your level of emotional intelligence, than it is your skill set, or what you know, with very few exceptions. We spend so much time particularly in professional roles, going to school and earning degrees and going to graduate school and going to professional school. We acquire all of this knowledge about these topics or industries, like we know how to do things. 

 

And when you really, look at outcomes of you know, who is successful and who wasn't, it is actually not the person who knows the most. It is the people who are highest in emotional intelligence, who are able to work effectively with a team, be able to handle stress without freaking out or screaming at people or throwing a chair out the window, or having some crazy outburst. People who are able to communicate respectfully and solve problems collaboratively and contribute to kind of a nice organizational culture and environment. Those are the people who not just get ahead and get promoted or sort of advanced in their jobs are able to grow businesses and build teams. They're also the ones who feel more pleasure and satisfaction with their jobs because of their emotional intelligence skills. 

 

So it's kind of weird, isn't it? I think our culture encourages us to spend so much time and energy going to school and acquiring knowledge. And almost nothing in terms of developing the emotional intelligence skills that are actually the most salient to our career success. It's kind of weird—but anyway. But that's why we're here right talking about it. And just kudos to you for listening to this podcast and demonstrating an interest in learning about this. And clearly, you already know how important it is. 

What is Emotional Intelligence

So emotional intelligence impacts all areas of life. The good thing here is that emotional intelligence is not one of these things that you either have or you don't. Certainly some people are more innately kind-of smooshy empathetic, psychologically-minded people, right? Just because maybe you didn't get that personality when the personality cards were dealt when you were born. Or if you weren't raised in a family of origin that really taught you what to do with emotions and prioritized emotions, talked about feelings. It's very easy to arrive into adulthood without having a strong skill set in that area, because, again, it isn't taught in school typically. Unless now I think MBA programs at Harvard and Yale are actually making a point of teaching emotional intelligence because it's so strong. But for the rest of us, we have to figure it out on our own. If we didn't get that through our family of origin experiences. Very few people do, and it can be developed, it can be.

 

I am going to tell you the process of how to develop emotional intelligence skills, as well as some concrete things that you can begin doing and practicing in order to develop these skills inside of yourself.  In order to understand these different things to do, let me give you an overview of how this all works together. 

Four Components of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is actually not one thing, it is divided into four different kinds of domains of emotional intelligence, that all work together. The four parts of emotional intelligence are: first of all, self-awareness, meaning that you understand yourself. Then, the next part is being able to manage and regulate yourself. 

 

Once you have that in place, then you can build on that and create the two other pieces of emotional intelligence, which are social awareness. Being aware of what's going on inside of other people and how they're feeling. Then being able to manage those relationships in such a way to be effective, and healthy, and emotionally intelligent. So with that in mind, let's take a closer look at these one at a time. 

 

First of all, the very first foundational piece of developing emotional intelligence is first of all, developing self awareness. How to increase your emotional intelligence really starts with you. Because the heart of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions. When you're able to do this, it gives you so much information about yourself, but also about the world. It is the foundation of being able to respond effectively to different situations, whether it is with other people, or whether it's just inside of yourself so that you can stay in a good place. Ideally, people who are strong in emotional intelligence, are able to, first of all, understand how they feel, “This is the emotion that I have. This is the name of this emotion. This is what it feels like in my body. This is why I feel the way I do. This is the story that I'm telling myself right now that is creating the feelings that I'm having.”

 

Good awareness of not just feelings, but like “What just triggered that? What is the inner narrative that I'm indulging about this? What is that little voice in my head telling me about the situation that's making me feel one way or the other? What is the core belief that I am viewing whatever life experience I'm having through?” Or “What is the value or the judgment that I'm making about this situation?” Without this level of awareness, it is very easy to go through life, believing that you feel a certain way because of something that is happening. 

 

People who are high in emotional intelligence understand that in very basic ways, all life events are neutral. A tree falls in the woods. It doesn't matter to anybody. Until and unless someone has decided what that life event means and sort of run it through the machine of “This is what I think about that. This is a good thing. This is a bad thing.” They evaluate it. They create some kind of judgment around it. It is linked to a core belief about what should be happening and did the tree falling in the woods did that? Was that a good thing? Or was that a bad thing? There's a lot of internal processing that happens automatically and below the level of our conscious mind, that creates feelings in the first place. 

 

That key piece of emotional intelligence is figuring out, “I am having a feeling right now. Why? Why am I having this feeling? How does it make sense?” And again, we're not looking at why you are having the feeling, in a judgmental way, but just in a very open, honest, compassionate “Yes. Why are you having that feeling? What is it attached to? What does this mean to you?” Because with that information, you can take this to the next level and do something different with it, if you would like to. 

 

The other piece of emotional intelligence on the self awareness level, is gaining that insight into how you work. Also for some people, they have to pull it back even further. There are some people—I have met them personally—who operate in the world without being aware of the fact that they are having emotions at all. They do not have language for emotions. They might feel very basic. Happy, sad, angry, and that's it. As such, they often will tell you that they're feeling nothing. They're feeling kind of blank, they're feeling sort of numb, that may be their subjective experience. But when you sit with them—as a therapist, or a coach who's working around emotional intelligence—they're showing up as being highly anxious. They're making oftentimes, either very emotional decisions and not knowing that or they're responding to situations without the emotional component, that would lead them to be able to handle these situations really well.

 

For example, someone who's really cut off from the way they feel will oftentimes have limited empathy for other people and how they're feeling. They may make a rational decision about how to handle X, Y, Z. But because it involves other people, while that decision was highly rational, and made perfect sense, when you look at it from a hard black-and-white-numbers kind of intellectual view, it was the absolutely wrong decision, because it did not take into consideration relationships or the impact on other people. There are negative consequences for their doing this. 

 

You see this happening a lot in families, honestly, like a parent who is really cut off from their own emotions may be interacting with a child in a way that feels very rational and factual, but is, in fact, extremely destructive to their relationship with a child and is creating really adverse consequences for the kid’s emotional well being. It's damaging the fabric of their relationship. That kind of thing can also happen within couples a lot. So that's something to be aware of. 

 

Then on the other side of this—this is interesting, this surprised me when I began really digging into emotional intelligence and how it showed up and what it means. You will also see the opposite. There are people who are highly emotional, they feel big things. If you ask them, they will tell you all about how they're feeling right now. But because these feelings are so big, and they are not questioned or sort of mindfully handled, these people tend to be quite reactive, and will sometimes even lash out or make emotional decisions without fully understanding the whole picture of “Why am I feeling this way? What is triggering me right now? What do I need to do in order to sort of slow down? Who do I want to be right now?” 

 

Interestingly, because these emotional reactions can be so big and so fast, they actually have the effect of obscuring the actual authentic truth of what this person thinks and what they really feel. It's very interesting—and I say this as a therapist—when you can kind of sit down with somebody, and who's feeling something really big and unpack it. Like it’ll really be like, “Okay, what's going on here? What is that related to? What's it for?” Kind of dig in, oftentimes, the feeling contains either important information, or the feeling is not useful sometimes.

 

I think we live in a culture that has told us that everything you think and feel is fantastic, that we really need to be prioritizing feelings all the time. I'm here to tell you, not all feelings are helpful, or healthy or productive or even worth listening to. It takes a ton of personal growth work and self awareness and emotional intelligence work to be able to differentiate, what is a feeling that I should take guidance from, that I can trust that is actually telling me something important that I should listen to? Versus what is a feeling that is linked towards something old, something unhealthy, a match-to-flame kind of reaction that is actually not in my best interest, to indulge and being able to have that level of self awareness.

 

I could go on and on and on. But the first phase of emotional intelligence work is figuring all that out inside of yourself. I just would like to share that in my experience, is very difficult to do and here's why. We all have blind spots. We don't know what we don't know. We have habitual reactions. We have automatic ways of thinking and feeling and behaving and the stories we tell ourselves. It just feels true. It just feels like “This is what it feels like to be me.” It's not until you get some kind of outside feedback around and “Wait a minute, is that true? Is that the only way to think about this situation? Did that just happen? Or is that what you're telling yourself just happened?” I feel like it's very difficult to challenge these things that feel so automatic without another person sometimes or without some kind of growth experience giving you feedback that “Here's how you're showing up. And you actually do have options.” I think sometimes it can even be helpful for people to be challenged to even just define the emotion or the feeling. 

 

Just a little personal disclosure here. When I was in my—this was so embarrassing—when I was in my early 20s I, having grown up in southwestern Virginia, which is the tobacco belt, I was a smoker. I hate to say that out loud, it feels so in congruent with who I am now but it's true. I was addicted to cigarettes. It was terrible. I will never forget this one—I finally got into therapy for it because I just could not figure out how to quit smoking. I just tried everything I knew how to do, it didn't work and was like “I need to do something else.” So anyway. 

I went and I saw a therapist who was a very nice lady, we talked about all kinds of things. But there was one moment where we were sitting with my inner experience of wanting a cigarette. That is the narrative that I told myself, when I have this feeling, “This is what it is. This is me wanting/believing that I need a cigarette right now.” To my great surprise, through experientially unpacking this moment, very mindfully with my therapist, I realized that I felt this feeling sort of like in the pit of my stomach, like my solar plexus and this is what my shoulders were doing when I had this experience. It felt like this sort of cold, gnawing feeling. Through this process that she led me to, I had this revelation, that what I was actually feeling in those moments, the name for that feeling is anxiety. I had no idea. 

 

It sounds so amazing to think about right now. But I think that that's really true for a lot of people and certainly people that I work with. They're having these internal experiences that they do not have names for, they don't know what it is, and their emotional experiences. That when they're able to identify them and be like, “Oh, I am feeling anxious right now. This is how I feel when I feel anxious.” It sounds so simple, but it opens up all of these different doors because you have many more options when you are aware that you are having an emotion and why you are having an emotion and all the different things contributing to it. 

Emotional Intelligence Assessment

Because of how hard it is to do this on your own, this is why emotional intelligence coaching can be incredibly helpful. It’s to get that like real time feedback. But there are other ways to do it. Interviewing friends and family sometimes about what they see in you that you might not see in yourself. Doing some assessing around the kinds of results you're getting, particularly in relationships, can be another way of gaining insight into this. 

 

There are a number of emotional intelligence assessments that you can take that are like in quiz form. However, I don't know how reliable and valid they really are, because they're dependent on your self reports that you are entering information into the assessment, based on how you perceive yourself. 

 

The other thing that we know from research into emotional intelligence is that when people have the opportunity to do what is a much more robust way of assessing emotional intelligence, which is 360 assessments like the ESCI is often an emotional intelligence assessment that's often used in workplaces or organizations. There's a component where you would take an assessment and rate yourself on these emotional intelligence competencies. But then your peers, the people you work with the people who supervise you will also be rating you on how they perceive your skill set in these areas. And so that long, long story short, what research has found is that there is really a big discrepancy in the way that people perceive their own levels of emotional intelligence, and the way that they're actually perceived by others. This is true for all of us, I'm sure it's true for me, too, is that the tendency is to perceive oneself as being much more emotionally intelligent than we actually are, which is kind of crappy to think about, but it's not me, it's the research. 

 

Anyway, just with that in mind, it can be very important to have a partner in this process. So that it's easy to think “Oh, I know, everything there is to know about how I feel, and how I think, and I handle my emotions beautifully,” when there may be more there. Just saying.

 

Again, in addition to having that kind of partnership, other strategies that can help you crack into it, are any exercises that you can do related to cognitive or cognitive-behavioral therapy, or cognitive-behavioral coaching. This is also the sort of next level of not just “How do I feel?” But “What is my internal narrative? What are the beliefs? What are the thoughts? What are the judgments that are subconsciously creating these feelings?” Because when you get clarity about that, you have so many more opportunities. 

 

Another important strategy that can be quite useful when you're in this first stage of development around emotional intelligence, can be mindfulness skills. The ability to just be in the present moment, and notice what is happening in your body in terms of your inner experience, or having that kind of mindfulness meta-mind— “What am I thinking about right now?” without getting lost in the thoughts, being able to observe what is happening inside of yourself. So, a mindfulness practice can be incredibly helpful. 

 

Other things that we use around here at Growing Self with our emotional intelligence coaching clients—and you can find these on your own, but— things like a feeling wheel. You can just Google “feeling wheel”, and download a feeling wheel, print it out, tape it to your refrigerator. Every once in a while, if you're feeling mad, or you're aware of that, take a look at your feeling wheel and be like, “No. What is this really?” A feeling wheel will sort of help you parse out more granular, different nuances of feelings so that you develop a vocabulary for your internal experience. 

 

On this last point, and then we'll move on—having a vocabulary for how you are feeling is actually a critically important component of emotional intelligence because our experience is defined by language. If you don't know the name of a feeling, you cannot identify it within yourself. One of the things that you see with highly emotionally intelligent people is that they are able to say, “I'm feeling a little bit discouraged today. It's like mostly discouragement with sort of, like a smidge of frustration. But there's also this tension that I think is coming from my ambivalence about whatever.” They're able to have that kind of reflective psychologically minded experience about their own internal experience. 

 

Anyway, there's a lot of value in doing that and developing really strong emotional intelligence skills is going to require a component of that. Until you are able to do these things within yourself, and understand how you feel, there is no moving on. You have to be able to do this first, in order to be able to take this to the next level of emotional intelligence, which is step two: being able to manage yourself.

 

Once you have figured out how you feel and why that is, and what's going on inside of you, the next piece of emotional intelligence skills is knowing what to do with that in order to be able to stay in an okay place, most of the time. This aspect of self-management means that—you not just know how you feel—that you are able to change how you feel to a large degree. Not that we want to obliterate or push away our emotions, and certainly this is not about feeling happy all the time. 

Emotional Self Awareness 

One of the things we know about emotionally intelligent people is that they are very comfortable with feeling unhappy, sometimes. When they do have dark emotions, anger, pain, hurt, distress, they're able to actually embrace them very fully, and not criticize themselves for having those feelings or need themselves to feel differently. There's a lot of tolerance and being able to just sit with a feeling of being like “I am really bad right now,” without any kind of judgment or without. I think this is especially important, without the need to get away from that feeling.

 

People with low emotional intelligence skills will frantically scramble away from any kind of bad feeling, sadness, anger, anxiety. They're like, “Nope, can't feel that. What do I need to do to not feel that?” It sort of paradoxical is the strong emotional intelligence skills is “It is absolutely okay for me to feel anxious sometimes. What's going on here? What is making me feel anxious? Is it a way that I'm thinking about the situation that is not helpful? Or is there actually something here that I need to pay attention to? Is there a threat? Do I need to do something differently in order to keep myself safe here?” It's like having a relationship with darker emotions in order to be able to take wisdom and guidance from them. 

 

There is a lot happening when it comes to learning how to regulate your feelings, once you have that self-awareness. This is a process that takes usually months of emotional intelligence coaching in order to be able to acquire all the skills because it's not just like, “Tell me what to do.” It's an experiential growth process that builds on itself and little layers. It's not like five tips to become perfectly emotionally intelligent. You have to do things. You have to grow. It is a process. The entirety of the process is well beyond the scope of a podcast. 

 

But I will tell you that it could include things like anger management skills, figuring out what makes me feel mad, and “What do I need to do when I start to feel these feelings so that I can either bring myself back down to the point where I'm able to handle the situation competently and in alignment with my values and in alignment with my desire to have positive relationships with other people?” Or “What is my action plan for when I'm actually too elevated to be able to be effective in communicating right now? What do I need to do so that I can not make the situation worse with this person that I would like to have a good relationship with? Maybe I need to take some time. Calm myself down. What are the specific things that work for me to calm myself down?” 

 

For most people, it's some blend of cognitions behaviors. For many people who do emotional intelligence work, there can be a lot of acquisition of anxiety management skills. People can get very activated. Again, having the self awareness that it's happening is one thing, but when you have these skills in place, you have this comprehensive toolbox of, “Okay, I know I get anxious in these situations, here's what I need to do to prevent myself from getting as anxious. But also when I start to get anxious, here's how I handle that in a way that feels good for me. I need to do these things. I need to come back into the present moment. I need to remind myself of these things. These are my specific practices that I know if I do things, they will automatically make me feel better.” Nobody can tell you specifically what those things are. You have to create them through trial and error. 

 

Certainly there can be a menu of “Here are 100 things that often help people in managing their anxiety.” But it's not like, “Okay, let's try these three. See how they work, see what works for you.” Through that experiential process, being able to say, “Okay, these are my things.” 

 

Components of Emotional Intelligence

Also believe it or not, for many people, there is a component of emotional intelligence that goes into physical health and self care. There is no getting away from it. Our bodies and our minds and our emotions are intertwined. They are intrinsically connected. The way you think, changes the way that you feel. When you feel a certain way, it makes you think a certain way. When we are anxious, we scan our horizons looking for threats, and we tend to perceive things as threats. Our emotions are changing our cognitions and vice versa. 

 

But there's also a huge role for the whole body-mind connection. It is very well established that when you aren't getting enough sleep, you will feel anxious and irritable. When you drink too much alcohol, you will feel depressed. When you don't drink enough water, believe it or not, you will feel like things are more difficult than they actually are. Isn't that crazy? But it's true. And even things like exercise can—I mean just a little bit of exercise most days—can enormously change not just your energy levels, but your mood. And your mood changes your cognitions, also your triggers. 

 

Personally, when I am very sensitive to caffeine, if I have too much coffee in the morning, I am like “agh” and I feel that it's more difficult for me to stay in a good place emotionally if I am doing lifestyle things that are not conducive to my wellness. That taking care of your emotional health and your emotional intelligence is a piece of “What do I need to do day to day in terms of the way that I'm living, in order to be as emotionally healthy as I would like to be?” It's very difficult to manage your emotions in a healthy way, when you are doing things that are creating negative emotional states or mood states inside of you. When you drink nine cups of coffee, you will feel anxious, and then your mind will begin presenting you with anxious threatening thoughts that will then make you feel more anxious. 

 

This level of emotional intelligence is not just based on that self-awareness, but it starts to condense into very concrete things around. “This is what I need to do to regulate myself to stay okay most of the time. And when I start to not feel okay, either tolerate that and know what to do with my feelings or bring myself back into a different place.” But it's like this mastery of your emotions is basically how I would conceptualize it. This place where you know how you feel and you know what to do with yourself when you feel this way, is stages one and two of emotional intelligence creation. You cannot really move on to the higher levels of emotional intelligence until you have mastery over yourself. Because if you recall, the next layers of emotional intelligence are the social awareness piece and the relationship management piece. 

Emotional Awareness

Social awareness, I think, is really what immediately comes to mind when we think about emotional intelligence. We think about, “Oh, being able to understand how other people feel, and be able to notice feelings of other people and be able to communicate effectively with others.” I think that's what we think about with emotional intelligence. Certainly, when it comes to applied emotional intelligence, a lot of times that's where the action is. But you cannot have empathy for another human unless you yourself understand what emotions feel like. You can't recognize when someone else is starting to feel sad or frustrated, if you are not aware of what sadness or frustration feels like. 

 

Humans are created from the time we're first born through something called mirroring. We have mirror neurons. And in order to understand others, you have to be able to mirror in some ways what's happening with that. That is a neurological thing.That social awareness is being able to say, or notice “Okay, here’s what I think is going on with this person right now,” and to notice very small kinds of behaviors or changes or even energetic changes, not in the woowoo new age sense. But you know, what I'm talking about. I'm sure you've had a conversation with someone and something changed. Like they went cold, they withdrew a little bit. They had a reaction to something. That's the kind of energetic change I mean. That something's amiss in the force. So being able to notice when something's going on with other people. 

 

But I think also being able to understand what makes people tick. So the work that you did in the first phases of emotional intelligence is not just “How do I feel?” but “Why do I feel that way? What are my core beliefs? What are my values? What are the things that are important to me? What do I need, maybe that I'm not getting in this situation, and that's making me feel bad?” When you have all that you're able to apply that to others and to be able to see somebody else and think, “Okay, based on what I know about them, their personality, their life, their values, their core beliefs, what they tell themselves about what's important. This is how I imagined they might be feeling in this situation.” Not in a judgmental way. But in a compassionate, empathetic way around, “Yes, this makes sense that this person is feeling this way.” Not to be arguing with it or trying to change it necessarily, but to be understanding it for the purpose of being able to be responsive to it. This can look like a lot of different things, but emotionally intelligent people, in relationships, or even on the job, will take the time to get to know people a little bit. 

 

You need to have boundaries and that can be part of emotional intelligence, too. It’s not putting people on the spot. Also, being aware of power dynamics is huge. So, we need to be respectful of boundaries. But also asking enough questions or observing people to the degree where you're able to get a sense of “What's important to you? What is meaningful to you? What is scary to you? What is angering to you? What makes you feel good? What makes you feel bad? What is important for you, in this relationship with me, in order for you to feel good? How would you like to be treated?” Notice, as we're talking about this aspect of emotional intelligence, I'm using the word “you” a lot. That's intentional, because this part of emotional intelligence is very much setting yourself aside, and being able to experience empathetically the truth of another person, for the purpose of being able to understand them, and what they need. 

 

I think even in a more macro sense, a component of emotional intelligence is recognizing that there's much more going on under the surface of everyone that we interact with. They are feeling people, that unless and until we take into consideration how they're feeling about things, we will not be able to understand them deeply or have effective or meaningful relationships with them. So, it's not just figuring out what they're feeling—but that's important. Because it’s critical. It's very easy to make factually accurate decisions, or to do things in a way that make intellectual sense, that are absolutely the worst thing you could possibly have done in the context of a relationship or relationship that you'd like to keep.

 

Understanding others is huge. It takes time and thoughtfulness and attention in order to be able to do that. But again, it begins with you and your knowledge of yourself because at the end of the day, other people are not really that different than we are. They may have different beliefs and life experiences or a core narrative but at the end of the day, everyone wants to be loved, respected. They need to feel emotionally safe with you. They need to be able to trust you. Respectful communication. Feeling that their preferences or values matter to other people, and that we're intentionally making space for those. That's what everybody needs. That's what everybody needs, and you need it too. I think understanding the humanity of others and acting accordingly is a big part of emotional intelligence. 

Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Okay, and then once you have your self figured out, and you know how to manage yourself, and you have other people figured out, and you have a sense of who they are, and how they feel and what they need, then comes kind of the cherry on top of emotional intelligence, which is relationship management. And this is where emotional intelligence with others springs into action. Because what relationship management refers to is being able to communicate with other people in a way that is meaningful and safe and effective and respectful for them, being able to collaboratively solve problems, being able to be responsive to other people. 

 

If for example, in the last step, you know that your partner has a strong value around spending time together doing certain things. Managing that relationship will be your taking action to be able to show them that you understand—that's important—their feelings matter to you, because you change your behavior accordingly, in a way that feels good for them. That relationship management is all about how other people feel with you, and what you are doing to create those experiences of emotional safety, and trust. What are you doing to make people feel good about being with you—and not like in a fluffy, superficial sense, but an authentic sense. 

 

I also just want to tell you that many people get very hung up on communication techniques. I agree, there are ways of phrasing things that can sometimes go over better than others. There's a time and place for learning those. But what is also really true—and I say this, because I hope that it releases some of the anxiety. Many people feel worried about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. If you are empathetically connected to someone that you care about. So you understand that someone is feeling frustrated. You understand why they're feeling frustrated, and you have a commitment to helping them with that, so that they feel good with you and feel like you're connected, and that you’re going to work on it together. If you come in to any interaction with this intention, and you're able to say that out loud or show people that that is true, it doesn't matter nearly as much what you say, because people will feel your intentions. They will feel your good intentions, “This person is trying to help me right now.”

 

So being able, again, to regulate yourself, is the key component to being able to communicate well. Because you can't do this when you're feeling really triggered and when you're feeling really angry or hostile or resentful or stressed. You can't be that emotionally safe person who's able to kind of connect with someone else in a respectful way at that moment. So that piece of emotional intelligence is that “Okay, what do I need to do so that I can connect with this person right now and show up the way that I want to, so that this can be a positive interaction for both of us?” That's the core of relationship management. That is true, whether you're a parent trying to strengthen your relationship with your child, with your partner, with your boss, with the people that work for you, or with you. All of our relationships are based on understanding other people and being able to manage ourselves in such a way that we can appropriately recognize and meet the needs of others in our interactions with them.

 

This is a big topic and I know we kind of cruised through a lot of different parts of this quickly in today's podcast  but I hope that this gives you an overview of all the different components of emotional intelligence and provides you with at least some direction of what to do if you'd like to increase your emotional intelligence and I hope you do. 

 

Again, not only does it strengthen your relationships, it confers so many benefits to you too. You will feel happier. You will feel better able to manage the ups and downs of life. You will feel better able to cope with stress. You'll feel more optimistic. You'll even have more tenacity and grit. Emotionally intelligent people, because they're able to manage the feelings that come up when they're trying to achieve long term goals that are related to difficult things. Your capacity to manage your emotions directly related to your ability to get through medical school, or start a business, or do any of the difficult things that are so important to you. 

 

Again, I hope this helps. If you would like more information on the topic of emotional intelligence, or emotional intelligence coaching, there's so much for you on our website growingself.com. Thankfully, I am not nearly the only person on our team here, who has an emotional intelligence coach, and there are people on our team—honestly that are much more experienced, and really specialize in this type of work, than even I do. I do it more relationally. But we have more career-development people on our team who do a lot of emotional intelligence coaching. 

 

So if you go to growingself.com you could go to the blog page, or really any page on our website and do a general search for emotional intelligence. You will find so many articles, probably even some other podcasts that I've done with other people on our team or articles that other emotional intelligence coaches on our team have written that will provide you with even more skills and strategies and ideas to support you on this important journey. 

 

All right, my friends, good talking with you and I will be in touch with you again next week for another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. And as we close, cautionary tales from Poly Action. Thank you.

 

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Design Your Life

As a certified career counselor and life coach, I’ve had the unique opportunity to connect with folks from all around the world this year through 45-minute Zoom coaching sessions. What I love most about what I do with clients is helping them build hope by understanding their career narrative and how it’s impacting them so they can move forward with new strategies for success. 

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Work is foundational to our lived experience because our careers really impact every other aspect of our lives! Have you thought about it this way before? In fact, I bet you can’t think about a day where you haven’t thought about your career! That’s especially salient as we round out 2020. So, let’s start by having a quick check-in with yourself: how are you thinking about your career? What’s your current career narrative and how is it impacting your day-to-day life?

A Year That Changed Everything

I remember at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were adjusting to working from home and trying to understand how to be in quarantine with family members, roommates or on our own, all while attempting to find toilet paper products and hand sanitizer that had somehow vanished overnight from every store within a 50-mile radius. Our basic physiological needs – the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid – including access to things like food, water, and shelter, were drastically impacted due to a health crisis that changed the world in a matter of a few weeks. 

In modern society, the way we meet our basic needs is through having a sustainable income (aka having some sort of a job) and the rates of unemployment skyrocketed across the board because a virus prevented us from conducting business in the ways we were used to. 

And, yet, we were doing our best to cope by baking bread, watching Tiger King, and learning how to host Zoom happy hours to connect with our people. We went on springtime walks to get fresh air, read books or did DIY projects, and watched as social media transformed into an information sharing platform and a vessel for social change, rather than a place to simply view cat videos and share photos of our weekend escapades. 

I recall checking news headlines more frequently than I ever had, even though I knew things were bleak, and watching case numbers rise seemingly exponentially day by day. Every large group gathering from concerts to weddings to places of worship were cancelled or closed to protect us from this devastating virus. Workplaces were shut down, entire industries and supply chains affected, and millions faced unemployment. Anxiety and fear were commonplace as we awaited some sort of hope to grasp onto.

One of the highlights of hope from March to May was seeing people doing what people do best in times of crisis: showing kindness, rallying together in support of our essential workers, and staying at home as much as we could to flatten the curve. John Krasinski hosted the popular YouTube series, Some Good News, during that time as well and we watched dreams come true in magical ways, participated in virtual prom, and found inklings of hope in the uncertainty.

Flash forward to the end of 2020 and those days of quarantine seem like eons ago! Since then, there has been a continued deep sense of turbulence felt with no end to this global health crisis in sight. And, now that it’s December, we’re also continuing to address systems of power and privilege, dealing with an election year, and trying to figure out what the holidays look like in the middle of a pandemic. (Thanksgiving dinner on Zoom sound familiar, anyone?) Maybe the hope we need is that we’ll get a glimmer of hope in the coming months; but hope seems to be in short supply.

I share this spiel to shine light on the layers of the 2020 experience because nothing really looks the same nowadays as it did before. We’re settling into this “new normal” and reflecting on the immense losses we’ve faced collectively while also trying to envision what we want 2021 (and beyond) to look like. 

So, how do we plan ahead when nothing is certain? As a career counselor and life coach, I argue that the answer is through a process I like to call career flow and life design. Here’s what you can do RIGHT NOW to amp up your hope and construct your pathway forward!

Using Life Design to Construct Your Career

We are in the midst of the third paradigm of career development known as life design. But it hasn’t always been this way! Don’t know much about career development? Here’s a very brief history: 

  • Vocational guidance: workers have certain traits that link them to certain jobs, where it’s assumed that our skillsets remain static over time

     

  • Career education: people should pursue certain educational opportunities to train them on how to launch their career in a certain industry, where it’s assumed that industries and jobs will remain stable
  • Life design: individuals can gain understanding of who they are and what they have to offer the world, where it’s assumed that nothing is static or stable so we must design the future ourselves

Which paradigm does your career currently exist in? If it’s vocational guidance, you probably knew that you were good at something from a young age so you pursued a pathway that lined up with that skill. If it’s career education, you probably have some sort of educational background that linked you with a certain career path. OR, if you’re like most of my clients, you thought you had an idea of your skills and pursued certain training options like we’re “supposed to”, but aren’t finding a fit in the modern world of work or are overwhelmed by the options.

What you need is career flow experiences to build your hope and life design strategies to build your future!

And, as you can imagine, finding hope and designing your life is more relevant now in 2020 than it’s ever been before because the way the world used to be is no longer the reality – at least, for now. We’re creating a “new normal” for how the world operates and it’s met by a need for creative solutions in how we think about our options.

The following tips are for those of you reading this who are currently seeking work (or know someone who is!) and who are trying to plan for the future. My hope is you can use these tools to refresh your current narratives and beliefs about careers, knowing that regardless of the struggle, you can do this and you’re not alone

Career Flow Job Searching

If you’re currently job searching and finding yourself feeling frustrated by the process, you’re not alone. It can be so debilitating to put in so much effort to fill out job application after job application with no response from any employers. Oftentimes, when I meet a new client who’s experiencing this hopelessness about their job search, I want to check in on their process that led to where they are now and help them focus on the specific aspects of their search that are stifling their progress.

To do this, we talk about career flow, which includes six competencies that help us build hope in our process. Career flow is not like psychological flow – it’s recognizing that our careers will evolve over time and our task is not to simply “go with the flow” but to “be the flow.”

To evaluate your own career flow in this moment, use the following prompts:

  • Hope
      • If I’m feeling stuck, do I believe I can solve this problem and find a job?
      • Do I believe there’s hope for my career future?
      • Can I make a difference in this situation?
  • Self-reflection
      • Can I identify what makes me happy right now?
      • Do I reflect on what’s important to me before I make important decisions?
      • How are my career circumstances influencing me right now?
  • Self-clarity
      • Have I thought about what motivates me in my career or studies?
      • Do I know what I’m good at, what I enjoy, and what is important to me?
      • Can I identify the life roles I hold, besides my career?
  • Visioning
      • Can I imagine future possibilities for myself?
      • Have I thought about what my life and career could look like in 5 years from now?
      • Do I have a clear vision for my future?
  • Goal Setting & Planning
      • Have I set any long-term goals for my future?
      • Do I have several things I’d like to accomplish on my way to seeing my long-term goals achieved?
      • Can I set specific goals for myself for the next month?
  • Implementing & Adapting 
    • Am I currently monitoring my plans and actions so my goals are met?
    • Have I evaluated the effectiveness of my plans recently if I’m not meeting my goals?
    • Do I know how to adjust my plans – even in the midst of uncertain, trying times?

 

If you answered NO to any of the questions posed above (very common!), here are some useful action steps you can take to develop your career flow:

Take the time to reflect on the outcome you’re hoping for from your job search

Are you looking for a long-term position but having no luck tracking one down? With the uncertainty in many industries, or if you’ve been in job searching mode for months on end, it might be time to find a bridge position. 

What I mean by this is landing any role that you’d be willing to do for the next few months as you continue to look for a long-term job in your field. My best advice is not to worry about what the job is itself; think about it in terms of the types of skills you have and the experiences that would be enjoyable to you.

Tap into your network and build connections 

We’ve all heard it: network, network, network! But how many of us actually know where to start on that front? Networking is important, as it’s been found that around 80% of available jobs never make it to a job board. So, think about who you’d be interested in connecting with to learn more about a job or an industry from: you have a warm network (folks who you know or who know someone you know) and a cold network (literally anyone else!). Ask for a virtual informational interview and see what you can learn!

Tailor your resume when applying for positions through job boards

Job boards are still a great place to keep your eyes on, because you never know what will be posted. Ensure that if you’re applying to a position through a job board that you’re tailoring your resume to that job and company. 

To do this, look at the keywords in the ‘required qualifications’ section – take 5 minute to list them out and include as many as possible on your resume and cover letter. The best way to do that is to use what you already have written and then switch up the keywords as necessary. 

Many employers and recruiters use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and will see how much of a match your materials are to the job search. You won’t have to worry about that if you’re able to tailor your resume!

By implementing the strategies of career flow, you’ll be more intentional about your job search and have a direction to go in. Take the time to think about what your end goal is, who you might be able to network with, and how you can tailor your current materials to any jobs you apply for. And, consider working with a career counselor if you’re feeling a bit lost on where to begin. It’s completely normal to be feeling this way and we’re here to help you build the career that you’re hoping for! We can also help you navigate a tricky job market and find your confidence in that process. 

Life Designing for the Future

I’m a firm believer that career development work requires a sense of creativity to truly access breakthroughs. The things we subconsciously believe about careers based on our experiences or the experiences of those around us really do impact how we progress in our career development. 

Let’s use the Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009 as an example. In terms of careers, many families experienced job loss or money insecurity, so a recent graduate who’s entering the world of work during that time frame might have the belief that the job market is unstable and uncertain due to a challenging and long-term job search process. This could impact their current career beliefs in 2020 when that instability and uncertainty is back in full force. So, if they’ve lost their job this year, they might find themselves in the same headspace as they did more than 10 years ago because they’re experiencing yet another tumultuous job search. 

We repeat what we don’t repair.

If you’re holding onto tough career-related experiences from your past, it’s time to see what can be healed in this current moment. Or, if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed by your career, it’s time to move from this passive suffering into active mastery and see what advice you can lend yourself in times of struggle. And the way to accomplish that is to tap into your career story and narrative and to construct your career with hope for the future, while also developing career adaptability to take you into the uncertain future!

Whatever your career or life situation is as we approach the end of the infamous year of 2020, I’m here to strategize with you about how to create a hopeful career pathway that will allow you to plan ahead and continue to dream, all while developing your career resilience in the face of uncertainty. As a career counselor and life coach, I help clients from all over the world create a hopeful career narrative that allows them to confidently move forward and build momentum through my three step coaching process of exploration, clarity, and action. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck in your career, this article was written for you and I’d love to connect to provide additional support in your own journey!

Best wishes, warmest regards,
Elise Ross, M.Ed., NCC, CCC, LPCC 

 

 

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

Elise Ross, M.Ed, CCC, NCC, LPCC, helps people get unstuck! Whether it’s a career concern, personal challenge, or the need for something new, she will partner with you to identify strategic ways to achieve your goals and be your best self.

 

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

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How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

The hardest conversations to have are the most critical conversations for a relationship…

“People almost never change without first feeling understood.”

― Douglas Stone

[social_warfare]

HOW TO HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS: “I don't want to talk about it right now.” “It's not going to change anything.” “It will just start a fight.” “I'm just going to keep my mouth shut and my head down.” “I don't want to hurt their feelings.”  We have all, myself included, used these kinds of mental excuses to avoid having difficult conversations. We all have “trigger topic” conversations we’d rather avoid — from opening up to your partner about sex, to having different opinions on politics, having an issue with someone's parenting styles, or gently pointing out subconscious bias in gender roles or racist stereotypes. These tough conversations are hard to have.

While there is something to be said for knowing when to mind your own business and respect the healthy boundaries of others, it's also true that if you're avoiding having conversations about things that are really, really important to you it will eventually damage your relationship — whether or not you address it directly.

Having unresolved, unspoken differences that feel vast, and “un-discussable” will lead to disconnection. But the sad irony is that it's often people's hope to protect their relationship that leads them to avoid difficult but necessary conversations in the first place. 

Crucial Conversations Training

Crucial conversations are essential. But once you embrace that new idea, “Yes, we do actually really need to talk about this,” then what? Unless you've already gone through communication skills training, relationship coaching, or emotional intelligence coaching, you might not know how to have a difficult conversation productively. That lack of skills and know-how is one of the biggest reasons why most people tend to tiptoe around difficult conversations, OR — on the flip side — engage too aggressively around triggering topics, both of which can damage a relationship.  

Now, more than ever, I believe that we all need to learn and intentionally practice compassionate communication skills that can help us understand each other and build bridges to the center of shared meaning. In this episode of the podcast, I'm shining a light on what it really takes to courageously engage in difficult (and necessary, and respectful, and healing) conversations with the people you care the most about.

Having Difficult Conversations

I hope that this episode leaves you with some actionable ideas for how to increase your confidence in high-stakes conversations, and provides you with strategies for increasing your emotional intelligence and communication skills in the process. You can use these strategies with your partner, kids, friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and more. I hope you do! 

In this episode:

  • Discover how refusing to have difficult conversations damages relationships.
  • Learn essential skills in having constructive and productive conversations. 
  • Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings and motivations.    
  • Identify relationships where it’s worth having these conversations and those that require clearer boundaries. 
  • Embrace the discomfort of having difficult conversations.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and knee-jerk reactions in difficult conversations. 
  • Learn to listen with compassion, respect, and empathy. 
  • Find out how to reciprocate openness and willingness to exchange ideas. 

Listen right now to “How to Have Difficult Conversations” on Spotify, or on the Podcast App, or by scrolling down to podcast player on the bottom of the page. If you're more of a reader, you can skim through the show notes and / or find a full transcript at the bottom. 

Thanks for taking the time to listen to this episode and triple-thanks if you're one of the courageously kind, heart-centered people in the world committed to having respectful, difficult conversations that heal. The world needs you!

“How to Have Difficult Conversations” Episode Highlights:

How People Usually Respond to Tough Conversations:

When faced with a difficult conversation, most people respond in two ways.

  1. The first type demands understanding from the other party, stating their beliefs but refusing to hear the other person. As a result, it becomes a one-way discussion that usually ends up in a fight.  
  2. On the other hand, some people avoid having the conversation at all. This may come from their fear of conflict or not being able to handle the situation once it blows up.

Either way, we risk damaging the relationship when we fail to approach difficult conversations healthily. 

Courage and Emotional Intelligence

These two skills are useful in having difficult conversations and achieving the best outcome. 

  1. Courage — If the other person is avoiding the topic, you have to take the initiative and broach the subject. We have to be brave and be the ones who bring difficult things out into the light with the people we love so that we can have relationships that are based on authenticity, respect, vulnerability, compassion and connection.
  2. Emotional Intelligence — If you can understand your feelings and underlying motivations, you can have more productive conversations instead of full-blown confrontations. Having high emotional intelligence means you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and assess the steps you need to take. 

Ask yourself these questions to build and strengthen your emotional intelligence:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What are the thoughts behind these feelings? 
  • What do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive and compassionate mindset? 
  • What do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak respectfully?
  • What are my intentions for this conversation? 
  • How would I like this conversation to end? 
  • Who do I need to be right now to make that happen?

That said, you don’t have to have difficult conversations with everyone. Identify key people in your life and let the rest go. When a relationship becomes toxic or abusive, set clear boundaries. Having difficult conversations is an investment in the people you want to have a future with. Thus, you need to focus on people worth doing this hard emotional work. 

Creating Connections Through Difficult Conversations

Once you’ve identified the people who are worth the emotional investment, the next step is to embrace the discomfort that comes with these conversations. Disrupting the status quo is the only way for you to grow as a person and for the relationship to evolve.

We grow through difficult moments. When the alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth, the only choice is to change. We can do hard things when we're motivated to do so.

The goal of having difficult conversations is not to have the same conclusion. Rather, it’s about appreciating the other’s point of view, going beyond your motivations, and trying to understand why they think the way they do. We need a sense of mutual understanding to look at a situation through the lens, beliefs, experiences, values, and expectations of another. 

Keeping Your Emotions in Check

Before you start a difficult conversation, you need to understand how your brain processes emotions.

When we are overwhelmed, a part of our brain tends to shut down to protect itself. This part, where empathy is housed, becomes inaccessible during emotionally charged situations and confrontations. 

Thus, you need to develop social and emotional awareness to bring yourself back into a better headspace and continue difficult conversations. At the same time, you have to be aware if the person you’re talking to is emotionally flooded as well. When you notice that either or both of you are at your limits, take a break to calm down. 

The Difficult Conversation “Pre-Game Checklist” 

Before engaging in a difficult conversation, mentally prepare yourself through clarifying your thoughts and intentions. You can try talking out loud or journaling so that you enter into the conversation without too much negative energy. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the situation? Why do I think that way?
  • Why is this important to me? 
  • How is the situation impacting me? 
  • What would I like to communicate? 
  • What is my desired outcome? What would I do if that doesn’t happen? 
  • Do I want something to change or just to feel understood?

The Importance of Empathy in Difficult Conversations

After you’ve gone through your “difficult conversation pre-game checklist,” the next step is to move past your internal narrative and run a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Here are some key points to help you in empathizing with others:

  • What are the core values of this person?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What do they need to hear from me so that they feel respected and understood, even if we have some differences? 
  • What do I need to say for them to understand that they are valuable to me?

It’s not about achieving your desired outcome but looking at the situation from their perspective and understanding why it makes sense. When you really listen to another person with compassion, respect, and empathy, they do make sense.

What to Avoid in Difficult Conversations

These are some habits you should avoid when you’re in a difficult conversation. 

  • Refrain from the fundamental attribution error. It’s when you ascribe a person’s bad choices to character defects instead of considering the unique set of circumstances that led them to that choice. 
  • Avoid going into conversations seeking only to persuade someone or change their perspective. 
  • Keep away from judgmental and self-righteous lines like, “If you only knew what I knew . . .”
  • Be aware of micro-habits like eye-rolling or scoffing.   
  • Don’t go into a space of judgment and blame. Avoid interrupting and take the time to ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand. 

If you refrain from these lines of thinking and habits, the other person will feel heard and respected. Since they feel emotionally safe in your presence, you can have more productive conversations, and they will be just as likely to extend the same grace to listen to your side.   

Remember: If you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into an openness and willingness to exchange ideas. And if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding, that will be reciprocated

More Resources

I sincerely hope that this discussion about how to have difficult conversations has provided you with not just an understanding of why tough conversations are so critical to have, but also some concrete pointers about how to have those hard conversations go well.

To continue learning and growing in this area, here are a few more resources for you:

  • We have so many articles and podcasts featuring expert advice both from myself and my amazing colleagues on the subjects of communication skills, empathy, emotional intelligence and more. Use the search bar below to enter the term you'd like to learn more about to view and access them. Here are a few of my favorites: 

I hoped this episode provided a roadmap for having difficult conversations that strengthen connection and understanding in your most important relationships. 

Wishing you and yours all the very best in these perilous times…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. Speaking of difficult conversations, I'd love to hear from YOU. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? (Least helpful?) If you try any of these ideas I'd love to hear how they went. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Have Difficult Conversations

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

How to Handle Difficult Conversations

We all have conversations we’d rather avoid — from opening up to your partner about sex to having different opinions on politics or parenting styles. The reality is, most people tend to tiptoe around difficult conversations or engage too aggressively, both of which can damage a relationship.  

In this episode, I identify what it takes to engage in difficult conversations and explain how to look inward and recognize the other person. I also emphasize that the goal of difficult conversations is not to come to the same conclusion but to reach a place of mutual understanding and respect despite your opposing views. 

Tune in to the full interview to learn how you can engage in difficult conversations effectively and compassionately.

In This Episode, You Will . . .

  • Discover how refusing to have difficult conversations damages relationships.
  • Learn essential skills in having constructive and productive conversations. 
  • Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings and motivations.    
  • Identify relationships where it’s worth having these conversations and those that require clearer boundaries. 
  • Embrace the discomfort of having difficult conversations.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and knee-jerk reactions in difficult conversations. 
  • Learn to listen with compassion, respect, and empathy. 
  • Find out how to reciprocate openness and willingness to exchange ideas. 

Episode Highlights

How People Usually Respond

When faced with a difficult conversation, most people respond in two ways.

  1. The first type demands understanding from the other party, stating their beliefs but refusing to hear the other person. As a result, it becomes a one-way discussion that usually ends up in a fight.  
  2. On the other hand, some people avoid having the conversation at all. This may come from their fear of conflict or not being able to handle the situation once it blows up.

Either way, we risk damaging the relationship when we fail to approach difficult conversations healthily. 

Courage and Emotional Intelligence

These two skills are useful in having difficult conversations and achieving the best outcome. 

  1. Courage — If the other person is avoiding the topic, you have to take the initiative and broach the subject. We have to be brave and be the ones who bring difficult things out into the light with the people we love so that we can have relationships that are based on authenticity, respect, vulnerability, and compassion and connection.
  2. Emotional Intelligence — If you can understand your feelings and underlying motivations, you can have more productive conversations instead of full-blown confrontations. Having high emotional intelligence means you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and assess the steps you need to take. 

Ask yourself these questions to build and strengthen your emotional intelligence:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What are the thoughts behind these feelings? 
  • What do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive and compassionate mindset? 
  • What do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak respectfully?
  • What are my intentions for this conversation? 
  • How would I like this conversation to end? 
  • Who do I need to be right now to make that happen?

That said, you don’t have to have difficult conversations with everyone. Identify key people in your life and let the rest go. When a relationship becomes toxic or abusive, set clear boundaries. Having difficult conversations is an investment in the people you want to have a future with. Thus, you need to focus on people worth doing this hard emotional work. 

Creating Connections Through Difficult Conversations

Once you’ve identified the people who are worth the emotional investment, the next step is to embrace the discomfort that comes with these conversations. Disrupting the status quo is the only way for you to grow as a person and for the relationship to evolve.

We grow through difficult moments. When the alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth, the only choice is to change. We can do hard things when we're motivated to do so.

The goal of having difficult conversations is not to have the same conclusion. Rather, it’s about appreciating the other’s point of view, going beyond your motivations, and trying to understand why they think the way they do. We need a sense of mutual understanding to look at a situation through the lens, beliefs, experiences, values, and expectations of another. 

Keeping Your Emotions in Check

Before you start a difficult conversation, you need to understand how your brain processes emotions.

When we are overwhelmed, a part of our brain tends to shut down to protect itself. This part, where empathy is housed, becomes inaccessible during emotionally charged situations and confrontations. 

Thus, you need to develop social and emotional awareness to bring yourself back into a better headspace and continue difficult conversations. At the same time, you have to be aware if the person you’re talking to is emotionally flooded as well. When you notice that either or both of you are at your limits, take a break to calm down. 

The Pregame Checklist 

Before engaging in a difficult conversation, mentally prepare yourself through clarifying your thoughts and intentions. You can try talking out loud or journaling so that you enter into the conversation without too much negative energy. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the situation? Why do I think that way?
  • Why is this important to me? 
  • How is the situation impacting me? 
  • What would I like to communicate? 
  • What is my desired outcome? What would I do if that doesn’t happen? 
  • Do I want something to change or just to feel understood?

The Importance of Empathy 

After you’ve gone through your pregame checklist, the next step is to move past your internal narrative and run a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Here are some key points to help you in empathizing with others:

  • What are the core values of this person?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What do they need to hear from me so that they feel respected and understood, even if we have some differences? 
  • What do I need to say for them to understand that they are valuable to me?

It’s not about achieving your desired outcome but looking at the situation from their perspective and understanding why it makes sense. When you really listen to another person with compassion, respect, and empathy, they do make sense.

What to Avoid in Difficult Conversations

These are some habits you should avoid when you’re in a difficult conversation. 

  • Refrain from the fundamental attribution error. It’s when you ascribe a person’s bad choices to character defects instead of considering the unique set of circumstances that led them to that choice. 
  • Avoid going into conversations seeking only to persuade someone or change their perspective. 
  • Keep away from judgmental and self-righteous lines like, “If you only knew what I knew . . .”
  • Be aware of micro-habits like eye-rolling or scoffing.   
  • Don’t go into a space of judgment and blame. Avoid interrupting and take the time to ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand. 

If you refrain from these lines of thinking and habits, the other person will feel heard and respected. Since they feel emotionally safe in your presence, you can have more productive conversations, and they will be just as likely to extend the same grace to listen to your side.   

If you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into an openness and willingness to exchange ideas. And if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding, that will be reciprocated

Resources

I hoped this episode provided a roadmap for having difficult conversations that strengthen connection and understanding in your most important relationships. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to our podcast to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness!

 

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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How to Have Difficult Conversations: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

 

How to Have Difficult Conversations

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

[playing Plastic and Glass by Keshco]

Dr. Lisa: The band is Keshco with a song that Plastic and Glass—I thought a nice mood setter for our topic today. Today, we are talking about how to tackle difficult conversations in such a way that they go as well as possible.

It is important for us to talk about this topic because there are a lot of difficult conversations to be had lately. Particularly as we are heading into the holiday season in the midst of a contentious political season and with so many stressors and strains and angst and very real issues that people are facing. There is tough stuff to talk about with friends, with family, with partners, with siblings, with ourselves. And how you handle a tough conversation has a lot to do with the results you get.

So today we are going to be talking about why conversations feel so hard sometimes and strategies that you can use to face those moments not just courageously, but also with confidence and a sense of competence. And understanding some basic do's and don'ts that will allow you to talk about important things we don't want to hide, but do so in a way that helps you create the ideal outcome, which I think for many of us is to strengthen your relationships, increase connection and understanding and have it be a positive thing for all involved, as opposed to an unproductive conflict, because I think we've had enough of that in our lives. Right? So that's what we're doing today.

And if today is your first time listening to the show, I'm so glad that you are here. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. My background is as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Also, I’m a licensed psychologist, and I am a board-certified life coach. And I am here with you every week to talk about different facets of the life experience and offer you ideas and strategies and support that help you create the love, happiness, and success that you deserve in all the parts of your life.

And so today's topic, we are going to be talking about a number, a number of things. We're going to be, certainly, a lot of relational issues when it comes to difficult conversations, but also I think a lot of intrapersonal issues. You know. I mean, we have to get ourselves in the right kind of headspace, an emotional space, in order to handle these moments effectively. And also, I’m going to put on my life coach hat and offer up some specific strategies as well. So hopefully you leave our time together today with a plan.

Difficult Conversations: Why They're So Important

So, jumping right in. Why do some conversations feel so hard? Think about the conversations in your life that you would maybe rather not have. Right? Think about what those are. Having conversations with your partner about some aspect of your sex life that you would like to have be different. Considering a necessary conversation with an employer or an employee around, “I don't like what is happening here and we need to figure out a way to handle this differently together in order for this relationship to continue.” Right?

Many times, there’s, you know, married couples or partner couples, particularly with children. There are so many crucial conversations to have around parenting—“You can't talk to me or the children that way, this is not going to work.” Or, I mean, my goodness, people who have very well-developed and sometimes even aggressive opinions about politics, social justice, issues around racism, and how to handle those moments in a constructive way.

It is very easy, when we're faced with these kinds of moments, to fall into a way of communicating that can be very almost ultimatum-y. “This is what I want. This is what has to happen. And you're going to hear what I have to say right now, whether you like it or not.” And that often doesn't end well. That is a quick path to a fight, in all honesty. And there's a way to handle this constructively that creates not just communication, not just collaboration, but, really, authentic connection. And that's what we're doing on this show today.

I am going to be loading you up with all kinds of resources today. So, either grab a pencil and notebook or open up a note app. Or you can also, if you haven't already, bookmark the blog at growingself.com, because a lot of the resources that I'm going to be giving you is kind of follow ups. So here's where you go to learn more, are already on the blog there. In addition to these podcasts that I make for you, I have so many people, therapists and coaches on my team with me at Growing Self who are always cranking out articles and advice and tips on our blog at growingself.com. And there's so much around how to be a better listener, tips to communicate more effectively, how to manage your emotions when you're starting to feel angry or stressed out. So, so much there. I just wanted to mention that as the go-to resource so that I don't have to say it 150 times over the course of this podcast. 

But now that we've gotten that out of the way, when we think generally about what are the things that feel particularly difficult to talk about constructively, the things that we might even want to avoid or fear talking about, those are often the things that feel the most important. Those are the things that really need to be attended to, or resolved, or at least addressed. Because without that honest and courageous reckoning, our relationships will be fractured, and distance will grow. And unfortunately, that will happen whether or not we talk about it.

Avoidance Leads To Disconnection in Relationships

Many people avoid having difficult conversations because they are afraid of conflict. They don't want to get into a fight. They don't want to have an ugly interaction with someone that turns into a throwdown and wisely so—that is not ever helpful. And they don't know how to handle the situation so that it won't turn into a yucky feeling fight. So, they try to protect their relationships by not talking about hard things.

But the other side of this is that when you don't talk about hard things that are bothering you, it will increase feelings of resentment, emotional distance. There becomes this feeling of separation and disconnection in your relationships—the relationships that you're trying to protect by not talking about things. So, either way, there is a risk to your relationship, either through unproductive conflict or through avoidance.

It happens all the time. I can't tell you how many clients I speak with, especially lately, who have perhaps a family member with a very vocal social media presence that is kind of diametrically opposed to their own political views. And say this family member is putting out lots of information that is incredibly triggering to say my client. And they feel like they can't talk about it because it will create this conflict. It will turn into a bad conflictual moment. So, they don't, and instead, they avoid their family member. They make up reasons to not go down for a visit. They mute them on social media so they don't have to see what they're saying, which actually, just between me and you, may be a helpful strategy in this day and age. But they feel like they can't talk about who they are and what's important to them and kind of know and be known.

And so there's this distance and avoidance and it will atrophy relationships in a very real way, especially for couples, too. If there's issues going on in your relationship that you're not talking about because you want to avoid the conflict. Those will breed resentment and this feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and, “Well, it'll never be different.” And all of these kind of narratives around, “Well, that's just the way they are.” That is incredibly destructive to a relationship.

So, I just mentioned all of these because when it comes to difficult conversations, the number one thing that we need, first of all, is courage. We have to be courageous and brave and be the ones that bring difficult things out into the light with the people that we love so that we can have healthier, more connected relationships—relationships that are based on authenticity and respect and vulnerability and compassion and connection. And it's hard to do. It's hard to do.

One of the reasons I have found that people often avoid confrontation. Well, first of all, what I mentioned is having, like, assumptions that it will turn into a conflict. They doubt their own competence to handle the conflict. They, and sometimes rightly so, believe that it'll just disintegrate into an argument because they don't know what to do to make it not be an argument.

So, let me talk about that for a second. There are ways of communicating with other people that will very predictably lead to an argument. For example, when you communicate with another person in such a way that is perceived as attacking or critical. The other person, just like the sun rises in the east, they will become defensive with you and they will start coming up with all the reasons why you're wrong. It is very, very, very difficult for anyone to stay in the ring and have a constructive conversation when they feel attacked. And so, one of the things that's really important to think about in these moments is how you are bringing up topics and how you might be perceived by others.

And so as so often the case in so many of our conversations here on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, one of the most important skills that you can cultivate to have constructive conversations is the skill of self-awareness, particularly as it relates to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence means understanding, first of all, how you are feeling and what is going on inside of you that is leading you to feel that particular way.

So, for example, if you are high in emotional intelligence, you have more constructive conversations because you will be self-aware of the fact that, “Ooh. I’m feeling kind of angry right now.” And “I'm feeling a little bit upset. I am feeling morally justified in telling this person exactly what I think about them for all of these different reasons.” And you will be able to have that kind of meta awareness around, “Oh, my heart is starting to pound. I can feel even a little shaky. I am having all of these thoughts about why I'm right and why they're wrong. And I know that I need to get myself into a better place before I attempt to have a productive conversation. Because if I go into it the way I'm feeling right now, the way that I'm thinking right now, it is not going to end well.”

And so, the core skills of emotional intelligence are being able to recognize: how am I feeling? What are the thoughts that are creating those feelings inside of me? And what do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive, compassionate sort of mindset? And what do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak, not just speak respectfully, but also really genuinely maintain my ability to have compassion and empathy for the human that I am attempting to connect with right now, who is important to me? And coming back to, “What are my intentions for this conversation? How would I like it to end? And who do I need to be right now in order to make that happen?”

All of those are very deliberate things that people who are good at difficult conversations do very deliberately to keep themselves calm and kind of soft and centered and emotionally safe, even, to have constructive, connecting conflict—constructive conflict, believe it or not, is the thing. 

And I would also like to add that this is hard. It takes a lot of work on yourself in order to be able to get into this place and learn how to do these things. And you don't have to do this with everyone. You might decide that there are some relationships in your life that are actually easier for you or even healthier for you to set boundaries around and go ahead and let that distance grow. As opposed to wading into this kind of emotional space with someone who is not going to reciprocate with you.

I wanted to bring that up because we're talking about having difficult conversations with people and in relational contexts that are important enough and that you care enough about to do this kind of hard work, and those are the relationships that you want to invest in. That's your family, your spouse, your child, a colleague or an employee or a boss who you really want to have a future with. These kinds of conversations, this kind of emotional work is an investment in your future—an investment in the future, in the well-being of others.

Healthy Relationships Are Mutually Respectful

And I just would like to say that it is important to use discernment in your life and in your relationships to kind of assess where do you need to invest and work harder to understand, to be compassionate and connect. And where is it actually, not just appropriate, but important to set very real and firm boundaries with people and protect yourself.

So, for example, if you are with someone who is being overtly racist to you or others or who is using abusive language or treating you badly, you can go ahead and leave. You do not have to tell them why. You can just be done saying no. “No,” is a complete sentence. You don't have to explain yourself, and you don't have to do anything to make that person feel better about it. It's your responsibility as a healthy person to protect yourself from toxic people, abusive situations, and to do what you can to protect other people who need protection from toxic, damaging, and abusive situations.

And so, I just want to say that out loud, because sometimes I will write things in the blog about how to be a better listener or how to have more empathic communication or situations like this, how to have difficult and important conversations. And we'll get a comment on the blog about “Well, what about a narcissist who does these horrible things to me.” And it’s like no, that is a person who you need to set very firm, clear limits with. That is not a situation that is likely to be mended no matter what you do. And to be able to develop kind of the judgment to know the difference.

If you would like resources on boundaries, how to set boundaries, how to have healthy boundaries and still have friends, how to set boundaries with family members, how to avoid unhealthy guilt when you've set appropriate boundaries, again, I would refer you back to the blog at growingself.com for podcasts and articles on all of those topics.

But this, this is how do we create connection through difficult conversations. So, we want to be courageous, but not indiscriminately courageous and putting ourselves into bad, bad situations. One of the things that I have found when it comes to these moments, when a relationship is worth investing in, it's important to me and I know that I have to be brave and talk about something hard, I have found a thought that helps me, and it might help you, too. So, I'll mention it. The idea that this is how we grow. We grow through difficult moments. We grow when we are challenged to grow. We grow when the other alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth. We grow, we change, we do hard things when we're motivated to do so. And so I just want to offer that as an idea to you, that embracing the discomfort of these moments and breathing through it and reminding yourself that this is what growth and connection feels like is being authentic, being vulnerable, feeling hard feelings and doing the right thing anyway. This is the path of growth.

And also, I think sometimes reminding myself, if I want to have a high-quality relationship with this person, this is what I need to do. We have to talk because I know that if I don't talk, I will withdraw. That's something that I need to remind myself of personally. And I see a lot of my clients struggling with that. The tendency to avoid and withdraw can be pretty significant and to just be very explicitly reminding yourself, “No, this is important, I have to do this. If we don't talk, we will become distant.” Those are ideas that can help you find the courage to do it.

Another idea I'd like to share that is really helpful for many of my clients, both individual clients and also a lot of the couples counseling clients that we work with, is that the goal of any of these conversations is not necessarily agreement. We do not have to agree with each other about the solution or the perspective or what is the truth with a capital T. What we do need is a sense of mutual understanding, to be able to say, “When I look at the situation through your lens, through your belief system, through your set of life experiences, through your values, through your expectations, I can understand why you would feel the way that you do. That makes sense to me.” And for you to feel the same. That even if someone doesn't come to the same conclusions that you do about the same situation, that you feel that your perspective is understood and respected as being valid because it is. That ultimately is the goal. 

If we want to take that a step further and get bonus points, we could even move in to a space of appreciation that it's not just “Yes, I can see why you would feel that way.” It is “You know what? I appreciate the values and the perspectives that lead you to feel that way. Thank you for sharing those with me.” Appreciation is even more, I think, affirming and conducive to emotional safety and constructive conversations.

And then, in addition to these ideas that can sort of help you grapple with conceptually what needs to happen in these moments of difficult conversations, a lot of my clients, either life coaching clients, relationship coaching clients, therapy clients, often find that it is much easier for them to have difficult conversations and be appropriately assertive when they've gotten really good at managing their emotions and going back to the emotional intelligence skills that we talked about in the beginning.

And so being able to have strategies in place to help you manage your emotions, understand what kinds of thinking or behaviors lead you to feel anxious or angry, and having a little toolbox of skills and strategies in place to help you feel calm is half the battle. If you can stay calm in a difficult conversation, chances are very good that it will be a productive one. Resources for you in that, I mean aside— you’re always welcome to do individual counseling or coaching. But if you have found that those are, let's say, growth opportunities for you, I would refer you to the Happiness Class on growingself.com, which is essentially an online cognitive behavioral skills training course that teaches you what are the kinds of thoughts that will make you feel angry, sad, or anxious. How do you shift those into more productive ways of thinking? What do you do with big feelings so that you don't always have to be reactive or withdraw in these moments? 

So, to kind of boost up your skill set for being able to do that, because it's really, really important when anyone gets flooded—you, me, everyone we know—gets emotionally flooded and begins experiencing intense feelings of anger, pain, fear, anxiety, what happens is that their brains, our brains, change in the way that they function, like literally. When you are flooded emotionally, you go into a fight or flight space that is very much prioritizing your personal protection. And what it looks like is that people will withdraw and not be able to talk anymore, or they go into attack mode.

Interestingly, the way that your brain changes in these moments is that the most highly evolved and most human parts of our brains—the newest parts of our brain structure, the neocortex—the part where we're able to have empathy for others, the part where our language skills are housed, the part that allows us to take a big picture perspective or do any kind of if-this-then map kind of advanced planning, our executive functioning skills. All of that in very literal ways, shuts down and becomes inaccessible to you. And so, it's incredibly important to be able to regulate your emotions during difficult conversations so that your brain doesn't turn off and you turn into some sort of like crazed defensive or hostile, like lizard brain activated person. Because that sounds crazy, but that is actually what happens.

Beware of Emotional Flooding

You see it all the time in couples counseling. A partner will say something that is clearly very triggering for their spouse, and that spouse will not— it's like they just freeze. They can't even continue in the conversation. In addition to managing your own feelings in these moments so that you don't become flooded, it is incredibly important to develop the social and emotional awareness skills to notice when the person that you're talking to is becoming flooded because they won't be able to have a constructive conversation with you if they kind of go past a point of no return.

Some people, it's pretty obvious when they become flooded. Their little faces get red. They might even start like shaking. But interestingly, men often become flooded and you would never know to look at them. They just kind of shut down. If you put a pulse monitor on their finger in that moment, it would be going at like 110 beats a minute. But to just look at them sitting in a chair, nothing has changed. You can't tell the internal experience that they're having. And that that is certainly true for many women as well. But being aware of when people are getting flooded and noticing that and having a plan in place to attend to it and help bring everybody back down is another incredibly important concrete skill to have in your toolbox when you are wading into difficult conversations. And being able to say, “You know what, I think we're both getting tense. Let's take a break. I'm glad that we started talking about this. I hope to continue the conversation with you. But I think, yeah, let's go get a lemonade. Come on. Let's go get ice cream.” Or something like that. Just kind of like shift away and let everybody calm back down again.

For more on that subject, the growingself.com blog has a fabulous article written by one of my colleagues, another family therapist named Lisa Jordan, who has written an article on emotional flooding and has even more strategies for what to do in those moments when you become flooded or when your conversation partner becomes flooded.

So, there is a lot of pre-work to do to prepare yourself to have a difficult conversation. The pre-work involves the emotional intelligence skills we've been talking about and being able to regulate yourself, keep your thoughts in a good place, have the most noble intentions in the forefront of your mind, and also have a lot of empathy for the person that you're talking with and an awareness for them. But also, I think when a conversation is really important, it's always a good idea to do a little bit of almost pregame pre-work around, “Okay. How do I feel about the situation? Why do I feel the way that I do about the situation? Why is this important for me? How is the situation impacting me?” and get really clear around what's going on inside of you and what it is that you would like to communicate to the person that you would like to communicate to.

It sounds so silly, but thinking through this stuff in advance will help you be able to not just communicate your truth effectively, but take some of the emotional energy out of it so that when you say, “I'm feeling really hurt and disappointed that we haven't had sex in three months, and I miss you, and I would like to be with you.” If you've kind of written through what's going on with you, why it's important, what you want, when you say that out loud, it will be often like just a more gentle kind of way that is more understandable to the person that you're speaking with. If you wade into a difficult conversation without getting clarity around that in advance, it is very likely that the energy and intensity that goes along with saying those kinds of things for the first time will be perceived by the other person as critical, blaming, or even hostile or attacking.

That is one of the reasons why talking about what you want to talk about in advance with a coach or a therapist can be so helpful. And that is not the only way. You can also certainly do journaling and get this clarity on your own. But if you've said it a time or two to someone, then you can go into the real conversation just from a space of calmness. And since the intensity is already less, it sets you up to be in a position to be a much more receptive listener, I think, because that's hugely important.

So, doing some pre-work around, what do I feel? Why is that? What do I want? And getting really clear, too, around what is my desired outcome when we are done talking about this, what would I like to have be different? Would I like something to change? Would I like to feel understood? Would I like to have more understanding of this other person? Would I like just to feel more connected and like we're not tiptoeing around each other or not talking about the elephant in the room? Is that my goal? It's all okay. But to get clear about that ahead of time.

Now, you think that's hard? Let's talk about what's really hard because the other critical piece of having an effective, constructive, difficult conversation means moving past what's going on with you and how you're feeling and what you would like to talk about, and what is your desired outcome, and setting that aside. And before you even get to that conversation, doing some very serious work around, what do they feel? This person that I want to talk to about these things that are bothering me, what's probably bothering them? Why do they feel the way that they feel? What are their core values? Where is this coming from? What kind of relationship do they want to have with me? What did they need to be hearing from me in order to feel respected and understood and validated and valued and that they're important to me? And what do I need to be doing, and not just saying, in order to show them that I care about them and that I love them and appreciate them, even if we have some differences.

And that, my friends, is hard work, it really is. It requires a lot of not just compassion and good intentions but also really accurate empathy to be thinking about how someone else probably feels and their thought process and in a way that allows you to make sense of it. This, I think, is particularly important in this day and age when there's so much polarization around political kinds of things. It's also very, very easy for couples to get incredibly polarized around who's right, who's wrong, what should we be doing. And it's difficult to get on to the other person's side of the table, and that is also a crucial skill and well worth your time doing some soul searching around in advance.

In my therapy and coaching sessions lately with clients, there's been a lot of discussion around either both with couples who have different perspectives and belief systems or individuals around how do I maintain a relationship with someone who has a very, very, very different belief system than I do and one that I might even find morally offensive and just absolutely wrong? That feels like an affront to what I believe people should be. How do I stay connected to this person? And I would invite you to go into a compassionate, empathetic stance that allows you to understand the noble intentions and the highest and best of the belief systems that create the outcomes that you see, even if those outcomes are in practice, sometimes really damaging, damaging to others.

So, for example, and I do not want this to turn into a political conversation at all, but I just wanted to provide you with a model just for ideas to think about. A stereotypical Republican say, kind of belief system at the highest and best says something like, “I am a hardworking, responsible person who I have tried really hard to make good choices and I have a pretty good life because of it. I believe there's a right way to live. And if people take the hard and narrow path, they usually have good outcomes. And that I believe in my belief system and I think other people should too. And I think that when I look around and see other people having bad outcomes, it's often because of their own doing. And I shouldn't have to pay for it or have government swipe half my paycheck in order to support the bad behavior and poor choices of others. I think they can do better. And I think I have the right to defend myself against people who want to take advantage of me. And if I work hard and make good choices, I should be rewarded. And I have all these other belief systems that place value around life and family.” All these other things that when you go into it, noble intentions, noble intentions. And to be thinking about how does this make sense from this person's perspective?

And on the other side, the same person on the other side of the couch, who maybe has a more progressive orientation would say, “I believe that human beings have inherent worth and that there are many different perspectives and ways of being that are all worthy of respect and appreciation. I don't think any of us have a monopoly on the way, you know, ‘the way things should be’ or who is valuable in our society and who isn't, because there is a bias and a hierarchy of value that is often based on race or socioeconomic status. There's an unequal playing field. And the people with enormous privilege have a much easier time and often take credit for things that are handed to them. They think it's about their character and their hard work, when they're actually standing on a platform already.” Progressive people would say, “I think it's the responsibility of an ethical community to provide support and assistance to those less fortunate in order to help build a large and fairer body of productive and valued members of our community. And that when we invest in people and things like education and health care, mental health and social services and firemen and police and roads and schools, everyone is lifted up. And that I'm willing to participate in that and help create that.”

So that's one little example. And me just kind of like shifting from one side of that argument to the other. But in doing so, the hope is simply to share what the internal working narrative of people is often who are on different sides of this divide. And how when you look at the same situation from each point of view, it does make sense, even if you don't agree with a belief system or the outcomes or the values. When you really listen to another person with compassion and respect and empathy, they do make sense, they always make sense. And I personally believe that we all could benefit from having intentional conversations with the goal of understanding those perspectives and seeing the good and the humanity in everyone, as opposed to reinforcing our ideas about why I'm right and you're wrong.

Same thing for relationships. And as a couple’s counselor, I can assure you that when I am working with a couple and each person on opposite sides of the couch is feeling victimized and mistreated and hurt and uncared for by their partner, when you walk into their perspective, you can understand why. You can absolutely understand why and that none of us has a monopoly on the truth. And that it's very, very easy for us as individuals to get caught up into our perspective and our way of seeing things. And there's a very well-documented bias in social psychology where when we see other people doing “bad things” or making “bad choices,” or experiencing difficulty, we view it as because of character flaws, bad choices. It's very easy to judge others.

When we make mistakes and have consequences or negative outcomes, the tendency is to say, “Well, but I was tired.” “Well, yes, but here's the situation that led me to react that way.” We have all kinds of reasons why we do the things that we do because of the context of what was going on, the circumstances that made us feel that way, all of the reasons why we did what we did. And I think it would be to everyone's benefit in this day and age to bestow the same grace to others that other people who are saying things or doing things that you disagree with have reasons and have a context and have feelings that make those actions or ideas make a lot of sense to them. And our role in difficult conversations is to learn what those are. Not have the focus on necessarily being understood, but putting the emphasis on understanding.

I know this sounds paradoxical because often the thing that motivates us to have difficult conversations in the first place is the hope that we could be understood, that we could change somebody's perspective, that we could have a different outcome for the benefit of ourselves. And while that is certainly valid and generally the motivation that leads us to have courage and wade into these conversations, I would like to offer you a perspective that is much more likely to help the situation end well and lead to all of those desired outcomes. And that is putting your attention and effort on understanding the perspective and feelings of another person. Asking open ended questions where you invite them to talk more about their perspective, without being ready to be like, “Okay, well, thank you, because that's why this is wrong.” And arguing with them or blaming someone else for the way that you feel or this one conversational strategy I often see, which is taking the sort of pedantic tone, which is that “If they knew what I knew, then they would change the way that they believe and, you know, all this stuff would stop. They would finally see the light.”

But again, like coming into that with a sort of judgmental and self-righteous idea, which is “My way of seeing things is better than yours and so, you should be more like me.” And this is true for everyone. It is true for progressives who really want to talk about diversity and inclusion, unless you're an evangelical Christian, because that is not okay, right? And on the other side of this, for people to be absolutely resistant to any ideas about social justice issues or race or culture and the very real impact on people because of that and how they, by virtue of their own privilege, are participating in those things, whether or not they know it consciously, shutting all that down. It's when we get very, very polarized and like, “No, I will not tolerate this point of view. I will not let in what you're saying.” That is when conversations just go down the tubes.

And so, to be very, again, self-aware of how when you were having a difficult conversation and feel yourself going into that sort of space of judgment or blame or criticism or “let me rebuttal your idea,” would encourage you to move into a space of listening and understanding, open ended questions that are really focused on helping the other person feel heard and respected and cared for by you so that they feel emotionally safe with you and are able to talk about who they are, what they believe, the things that are important to them, and finally be moving into a place of what kind of relationship they would like to have with you.

Practice Emotional Safety Skills

And also in that space of compassion and emotional safety that you create, it creates an environment where if you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into this openness and willingness to exchange ideas. That if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding that in a healthy relationship, that will be reciprocated. To be able to say, “Thank you so much for telling me how you feel when I see it from your point of view, I understand why that makes sense. Is it okay if I share with you how I have been viewing this and what my values are and why this sometimes feels distressing for me when these things are happening, particularly in the context of our relationship, which I care very much about, by the way.” It's hard to have someone be like, and rare, I will say, to have someone say like, “No, uh-huh. Nope. I have just told you how I feel and what's important to me, but I will not actually be reciprocating that.” That is very, very rare.

And if it actually is happening in your relationship, I would invite you to consider how mutually respectful and healthy that relationship actually is because relationships should not be one way. And if you are going into interactions with people with very not just sincere intentions, but strategies and skills like the ones we've been talking about today, you have the right to be respected and to also be heard, not necessarily agreed with, but understood. There needs to be reciprocity there.

So, there are so many other little micro-skills that I'd love to give you. And it's beyond the scope of this podcast. But go back to the blog at growingself.com and look— communication strategies and you'll find all kinds of podcasts, articles, little things that you might not even notice there. Like, are you making little faces when other people are talking? Are you rolling your eyes without even realizing it?

You would be amazed at how many times in a couple’s counseling sessions, I have to say to one partner, “What are you doing with the faces? Come on, let's stop that.” And really, they're not even aware that they're doing it, but making little faces or the eye rolls their partners being like, “Never mind, I'm done. They're not listening to me. Why even bother?”

So, it's these little micro-moments. And again, it requires so much self-awareness to stay in a good place, stay open, stay receptive, not make the faces. You know what I'm talking about. Certainly, things like interrupting, jumping to conclusions, rushing to defense. I mean, there's so much. There's so much. If you are in a relationship that is very important to you and you are trying really hard to have constructive, productive conversations, and it is just not going well over and over again, that would be an indication. It's probably time to get some professional help so you can be sitting with a relationship coach who's saying to either of you, like, “Stop with the faces, what's going on?” And help with some of the core beliefs or jumping to conclusions or helping around, like listening skills, developing empathy for each other. If that's feeling super-duper hard to do on your own, always okay to reach out for help.

And also be generous with other people who may not have had the benefit of listening to this podcast or doing the kind of personal growth work that you are so clearly invested in. Just the fact that you're listening to this right now and thinking about how to have difficult conversations with courage and competence just says so much about you and realizing that I think when you grow in this area, it becomes really obvious when you see other people struggling in these moments. You can see them becoming flooded. You can see them becoming defensive or shutting down or feeling blamed, not knowing how to calm themselves down or switch back into more noble or empathetic thoughts. So these skills are hard one, but yay to you for doing them. I know there's so much more that we could talk about on this topic and maybe I will record another podcast along these lines again in the future.

But if you have been someone who has recently emailed me or gotten in touch through Facebook or on the blog at growingself.com or Instagram with a question about how do I handle talking to my elderly white aunt about her sort of internalized racism? How do I have a very difficult conversation with my boss or my best friend about something that is really bothering me and feels like it could tank our relationship? Or how do I broach a very important subject with my partner who I love very much, but about a situation that feels kind of unsustainable for me in our relationship?

I just want you to know that I have heard your questions and considered them very carefully. And I hope that the information that I shared with you today has provided a roadmap for how you can have the kind of conversation that you want and have it go well and lead to increased connection and understanding in some of your most important relationships.

And to thank you so much for listening today, if you have questions for me or anything that I can help you with, you are welcome to get in touch with me on the blog at growingself.com. You can also track me down on Facebook, facebook.com/drlisabobby, Instagram, @drlisamariebobby.

I would love to hear from you so that I can make a podcast for you. That's all for today. And I'll be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

[playing Plastic and Glass by Keshco]

 

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