There are times when emotional competence trumps emotional intelligence.

A few years ago I called a man whom the FBI suspected of having contact with a hostile intelligence officer from another country. The man’s voice had the warbly sound of an older man and he was clearly rattled by the phone call. My job was twofold: to determine whether he knew the real identity of the foreign spy, and 2) determine whether his contact was legitimate.

He agreed to meet me the next day for coffee. He was very wary at first, but I firmly shook his hand and gently encouraged him to tell me his story.

By taking the time to empathize with his emotions, I gained his trust , respect, and eventually, his cooperation.

Emotional competence is having the savvy to recognize, understand, express, and manage emotions effectively. It has far greater application for executives and entrepreneurs than emotional intelligence, which is the starting point.

A recent article in the Economist reminded anyone who has negotiated a major deal, managed a team, or delivered unpleasant news that emotion is an integral aspect of daily corporate life.

Let’s take a look at 4 simple hacks to sharpen your emotional competence:

1. RECOGNIZE EMOTIONS

The gentleman that I called was scared—he grew up in a country where a visit from the secret police usually meant death or imprisonment.

I recognized where his fear was coming from; I was in a position of power so instead of compounding the negative emotion by threatening him, I allayed his fear by speaking gently and with compassion.

Recognizing an emotion (whether our own or that of others) may sound simple but it is not because our emotional intelligence abilities were not naturally developed as children. We were not born knowing the names of our emotions.

Emotions are not consciously controlled—the part of the brain that deals with emotions is the limbic system which is survival driven. This explains why an emotional response can be straightforward and very powerful.

TIP:

  • Recognize that your initial reaction may often be the honest emotion you are feeling.
  • Understand it may be a survival-driven response related to a memory where you either felt threatened or safe.
  • Notice your emotional responses may not have anything to do with your current situation, but you can overcome them with logic and being aware of your reactions.

2. UNDERSTAND EMOTIONS

Mental toughness is the ability to control your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success.

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One of the most highly developed skills of an FBI agent is the ability to understand our emotions because they drive our thinking and behavior.

Emotional competence is the ability to predict your response so you are not surprised by your reaction to a wrinkle in a major deal, a team reorganization, or an unplanned event. If you can predict your response, you can plan how to land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.

TIP:

  • Understand how and why you reacted to a similar situation in the past.
  • Learn what worked, and what did not—be honest with yourself.
  • Figure out how you can replicate the positive outcomes and minimize the negative ones.
  • Recognize similar situations when they arise so you can prepare for your response.

3. LABEL EMOTIONS

In his book, Your Brain at Work, David Rock explains that honestly labeling your emotion is a great way to control it, whether its good and bad. It’s stupid to pretend a negative emotion doesn’t exist, or attempt to avoid it.

Instead, be mentally tough and learn how to control it.

Labeling is being able to accurately identify an emotion when it arises. This prevents it from taking over because when you name it, you move out of the emotional limbic brain system. It then moves into the thinking, cerebral brain.

TIP:

  • Describe an emotion in a word or two, and it will help to reduce the emotion.
  • However, if you open up a dialogue about an emotion, it will only increase its intensity.

4. MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS

There is stress that motivates, promotes well-being, and enables you to perform well. Even though it is positive, you can’t stay in that state forever because you will eventually feel burnout.

Negative emotions produce a uncomfortable feeling because it feels like you’re fighting for survival all the time. Eventually you’ll experience health problems.

Learning to manage your emotions is the magic bullet in emotional competence. If you can name the emotion you are experiencing, you can contain it.

TIP:

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When I am stressed or anxious, what is my go-to strategy?
  • Is my go-to strategy effective?
  • If so, why? If not, why not?
  • How can I develop a wider set of strategies when stressed or anxious?

Emotional competence is an incredibly important skill across all aspects of business and life. How do you sharpen up yours?

© 2016 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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