“Teresa, that makes no sense at all”.
First came the ‘sudden drop’ feeling in my stomach, next the heat in my body started to rise and lastly, I froze in place.
My body went into complete hijack mode.
I was s-i-l-e-n-c-e-d.
Angry, embarrassed, afraid.
How dare he?
Squirming in my chair, feeling ‘personally attacked’, I responded with silent fuming.
On a somewhat better day, perhaps a weak rebuttal would escape my quivering lips.
Have you ever encountered a situation where you needed to collect yourself quickly after a stressful event or comment and were unable to do so?
Often, always in hindsight, I would berate myself for not speaking up, for not remaining calm under pressure, or better yet, for not having asked an intelligent follow-up question.
The ability to practise responsive leadership is a core theme in developing emotional resilience, a skill that’s at the heart of success.
What is emotional resilience?
The best definition comes from my training in HeartMath:
–Resilience can be thought of as the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, adversity, trauma, or tragedy.
I think of emotional resilience as how quickly I can maintain composure before I react. Knowing how to manage a triggering emotional reaction is the difference maker between practising responsive vs reactive leadership.
In my group coaching work with senior professional women, up-levelling to responsive (I refer to it as transcendent) leadership is a core premise of the work we do together.
When women develop the ability to recognize the emotions first in themselves and then in others, they can use this newfound awareness to manage and adapt appropriately.
Respond vs React.
It is one of the most valued strategies in successful executive leadership.
Why is it so important?
Emotional resilience is a key peak performance skill. It’s not nice to have. It’s a must-have.
Not only is it key to managing a crisis, it’s also a smart relationship strategy, builds authority, and sets women apart from the rest.
Given that one of the core determinants of workplace burnout is perceived unfairness and lack of control, I believe emotional resilience/agility is a critical skill all women who work in high pressure careers, specifically male dominated, must learn and practise.
When under perceived attack, our thinking is compromised, and without emotional resilience, the likelihood of workplace stress, overwhelm, and dissatisfaction is high.
Emotions are our primary source of energy and when it comes to the business of emotions, we either get hijacked by them or we partner with them.
Honing our emotional agility ups our response to managing them.
Think back to the last time you experienced an adverse emotional response. What happened?
Likely, your emotional dragon awakened and went into overdrive. Fear, anger, doubt, hostility arose. Your body responded with tingles, butterflies, anxiety.
Fight or Flight. We know this…
These are protective feelings and designed to keep us safe.
However, left unchecked, we run the risk of falling into cognitive rigidity, which is when we become hooked in deeply ingrained ways of thinking.
We are unable to access mental flexibility. Perspective. Reason. Fact from Fiction.
Instead, the flood of cortisol being released in our body runs the show.
Like it did for me, in that example above. If I had been emotionally agile, I would have paused, and then calmly asked, “How, specifically, does it not make sense?”
Agility is the answer: the capacity to respond to events in a flexible way, to be able to move quickly between different ideas without becoming overcome with self-consciousness.
When you are emotionally resilient, not only do you bounce back and recoup faster after a challenging conversation, but you can also neutralize or prevent some of the ongoing mental (and physical) wear and tear.
Left unattended, it can lead to anxiety, stress, poor relationships, missed opportunities, workplace burnout, and so many other negative outcomes.
How do I develop emotional resilience?
First, go easy on yourself.
Understand that unlearning and relearning is the norm. This is an “in the moment” daily practice.
The next time you face a crisis that ignites emotion, remember you are “in practise”.
Here’s a quick cheat-sheet for you:
Stop. Take a deep breath
Investigate. Notice the feeling of attack. Where in the body is it showing up? Name the emotion. Is it anger, embarrassment, fear.
Ask: what is the emotion triggering in you? For example: not good enough, didn’t prepare appropriately, imposter syndrome, etc.
Allow the moment to be what it is and withhold judgement of yourself and the other person. I like to repeat, “I’m okay. Resist nothing”.
Get curious. What question can I ask that will separate fact from fiction?
Using this 5-step process provides you the space to be intentional and focused on the next step versus over focusing on the negative emotions.
Where can I find out more information?
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Remember, be kind. Accepting the moment without judgement is so crucial to responsive leadership, and ultimately success. When we hold onto emotional rigidity, our thinking becomes rigid and can ignite criticism, anger, and defensiveness.
This is not about lying down and “taking it” or getting up and “shouting from the rooftops”.
It’s about working within the moment and becoming bulletproof.