Emotional Literacy

I had several interesting conversations last week with folks who are in leadership roles, both at profit and non-profit organizations. All are wonderfully competent human beings and well intentioned, most are challenged by their jobs, and some are very frustrated with the toll of the negativity of the lingering–but hopefully ending–recession.

It is somewhat ironic that economists, who are stereotypically tilted towards the left-brain, were the first to tell us 1) that a recession is mostly an emotional experience and 2) that the technical definitions of a recession are often too complex to decipher. I applaud the economists for continuing to state this fact.

In my conversations with the organizational leaders, I often ask what has really changed about them individually. Do they weigh more? Are they less smarter? From a day-to-day perspective, there really is only one thing about us that changes–our emotions. The rest, at least over short stretches of time, remains basically the same. Now I get that someone who is unemployed has fewer dollars or someone who is employed is doing more now for perhaps lesser wages, but these are external dimensions  that still don’t change who we are. They do, however, significantly impact our emotional state.

It is for this reason that I am continuing to argue for emotional literacy amongst us.  Every Monday in the Fall, people who don’t care about football get to hear about who won and who lost at work because people are talking about it. These non-fans build their sports literacy this way. In the same manner, no matter what our starting point is, we can have dialogues that build emotional literacy. This is something we can all do by asking questions about each other, and our lives, with sincerity.  Being sad, angry, happy, joyful, hopeful, loving, and envious are core emotions we humans have felt forever, and everyday, and each one of them has a different impact on our ability to perform. Being emotionally illiterate is a tremendous disservice to your gifts and talents, and to those around you. Have one conversation this week with someone at work with the intent of identifying how they feel.

Thanks to Aline Tavernier for the image.
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