Category Archives: Emotional Intelligence

Workplace “film room”

athletefilmAs I’ve written about extensively, I enjoy my work with professional athletes as it allows me to draw many parallels to working professionals. Both are paid to perform to their best ability with the former being so in a microcosm of the performance time compared to the workplace where projects can take months if not years. One of the attributes of successful athletes and teams is film time. I am always impressed at the volume of video made during a game that is then spliced up per athlete or per play and processed for feedback. It is one thing for coaches or teammates to lament about their version of why something went well or not well, and another thing when the play can be viewed in film in hindsight processed objectively like evidence in legal court room.  The same is done for opponents to help athletes prepare for who they will be playing against. The film room is a powerful learning forum.

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Change the Narrative

soccer1During a college soccer game I recently attended as a sport neuropschologist working for team X, I watched a player from team X kick the ball directly to an opposing player. I quickly scanned the entire field and both coaches/benches. There were multiple interpretations of that play. For the player who made the errand kick, his narrative appeared to be “oh crap. What did I just do?” For his teammates, it could have been anything from “no big deal” to “what an idiot!” to “Can’t believe he just did that.” For the X teammates on the bench, it ranged from “Common, get it back!” to “Coach needs to take him out.” For the X coaches, it could have been “Are you kidding me?” to “We practice those passes every day!” The X home team fans had a sudden gasp of sounds while opposing fans cheered! For the opposing player who got the pass, it was likely “Oh man! This is awesome!” For the opposing teammates, it was a sudden infusion of positive energy and for the opposing coaches I could hear “Let’s go!” chants as they starting running down the sidelines. So what’s the point here? One play by one player caused a vast array of interpretations and narratives. That play is permanently etched in history. However, the narratives of that play will live for much longer, consciously and subconsciously, more so on team X.

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“What” vs “How” Leaders

how.pngRecently, I observed a head coach of a team yell at a player “What are you doing? Stay focused!”  Her player had not being paying attention and the player she was guarding ran by her with the ball and scored. A day later in a business meeting, I observed a CEO tell one of his executives “These numbers are not good. Just go get it done!” Both the coach and CEO, leaders, were right in “what” they said. I call them “What” leaders, not to be confused with “how” leaders.

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Strategize like a Disruptor

fancyroom
Jerry Seinfeld has a show on Netflix “Comedians in cars getting coffee” where he has conversations with successful comedians. In a recent show with Dave Chapelle, he visited Dave’s high school in an under-privileged part of New York where a recent donation of $17 million dollars led to a significant upgrade to their performance arts theater. Both comics marveled at the facility as it looked like a state-of-art venue that resembled any high-end theater in a major city. Seinfeld asked a fascinating question on stage in awe of what he was seeing: How can someone great come out a place like this? As a coach of dozens of executives and CEOs of organizations, I can tell you it is a question eerily similar what they ask themselves anytime a disruptive competitor shows up in the market, seemingly from nowhere started in a garage with some broke folks: Why did this not come from our highly-funded innovation centers and inspiring off-site exotic locations where have our retreats?

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EQ Tapering is key to Performance

meetings8As some on you know I work with professional athletes. I have drawn parallels between athletic performance and workplace performance for many years. The former presents a microcosm in one event of how workplace professionals perform per quarter or year or whenever they are ‘measured’ for their performance against business goals. One athlete I am working with had a tournament that started on a Friday. From a neuropsychology perspective, I helped her understand that her tournament actually starts 24-48 hours prior to Friday. Those 1-2 days are crucial emotionally and intellectually. On those two days, and this is covered in my books, it it critical to (1) do activities that you enjoy and (2) avoid activities/people that can make you unhappy. This “EQ Taper” allows athletes to fill their “EQ Tank” given that when Friday comes along, and knowing the inherent nature of competition is one of anxiety as mistakes can be severely consequential, so that the brain has enough front-loaded positivity (dopamine) to make it more difficult to get it to make poor decisions and perform poorly.

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Brain Hostage

neural pathwaysIt is tough to aim at a moving target. It is tough being a parent to growing children. One moment you might be baby-talking and just like that, you might be using complete sentences, and not much later, you might be discussing politics and the meaning of life with them. As a parent, it is a ton easier to see the intellectual growth in children because it is accompanied with physical growth and major milestones such as walking, talking, first day at school, graduating high school, college and getting married. It is a ton harder to see our own growth because the milestones are not so obvious as adults and often associated with those of our loved ones more so than our own. It is normal to not recognize that we have changed too. The things that made us happy in our 30s might be different that those that make us happy in our 50s. That lack of recognition of our growth, and the causes of that growth from positive and negative experiences, can limit our understanding of how our brain is processing current experiences.

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Brain Language

brain4There has been considerable debate on what comes first in response to any stimulus, thought or emotion? Some argue that how you feel dictates how you think. If I am sad then this emotion will cater to more somber memories and thoughts, and vice versa if I am happy. Others argue that if you choose to think certain thoughts, you can change your emotions from whatever they are to what you want/need them to be for any given situation. I wonder if we have been debating a moot point. Feelings or emotions are labels we have been using to describe what thoughts are being narrated by the brain. New neuroscience is strongly suggesting that emotions and thoughts are in fact the same, neurologically. How we feel can only be described by thought. If you have labeled an emotion you are feeling as sad, then you are in fact using thought to come up with the ‘sad’ label. Your thoughts, neuropathways, are dependent on stored memories, not on objective labels, to make those labels. What is sad to one person might be just mundane to one and traumatic to another. I presented this argument in my first book in 1995, Clearing Your Path, coining the ‘Theory of Emotional Relativity’ concept. Why is it important to re-examine our labels and emotional language? Because the center of out labeling machine, our brain, is an inherently biased and flawed organ. It uses only experiences stored in it, not objective rationale, to label.

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Learn a New Emotional Language

languageStating the obvious, labels and language provide us with the necessary code for comprehension of just about everything. Language has evolved as our evolution and maturation has. Every year dozens of new words are added to both a formal dictionary and our colloquial vernacular. In college, I never “googled” anything nor as I kid did I “binge watch” any show, for example. I’ve been writing for well over a decade now on Emotions, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Neuroscience. Our understanding of these has dramatically improved in the last ten years alone, more so arguably than previous centuries combined. We know now that our human body is over 90% fluid, filled with all kinds of chemicals whose total composition is dictated in large part by instant reactions to constantly-changing stimuli from key glands in our body. A certain combination of chemicals (hormones) forces our neurothpathways (thought pattern) to go a certain direction to decipher the stimuli and other combinations go to different places for the same reason. We have been using a bronze-age language to describe these feelings, such as anger, sad, happy, glad, frustrated, joyful, excited, bored, etc. These labels were at best honorable attempts to makes sense of what our glands and thoughts were doing and provided our ancestors with comprehension for decoding visible human behavior. But make no mistake, these are outdated and even inaccurate labels. It is time to learn a new language.

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Use Tragedy to Transform Business

tragedyA few weeks ago, a friend asked me to review the manuscript of his first book. He is a world-class athletic coach in his sport and finally was convinced that his approach was quite revolutionary for his sport based on the success of this athletes. The first third of the manuscript was how he became both an elite athlete himself and subsequently, a coach after the age of 30 having no experience whatsoever prior to.  After a series of failed businesses, bad luck and a few poor decisions, he had hit life’s rock-bottom becoming an alcoholic and purchasing a gun to end his life. He learned his sport because it became an alternative to misery and studied every known approach. Today, he uses that knowledge to transform lives and athletes to great performance largely by providing a model that is counter-intuitive and challenges models developed by the gurus of the sport.

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Conflicts Reflect You

conflict22Conflict between human beings is arguably as old as time itself. In personal relationships and the workplace, we have studied conflict resolution at length providing countless models and tips most of which are quite good. A different perspective on this matter is unveiling itself based on neuroscience. It is not so much on how to deal with conflict when it occurs, as much as it is why conflict would exist in the first place. The same issue or person could be a problem with one person and a non-issue to another, right? So it cannot possibly be the ‘person’ or ‘problem’ that is the issue. It has to be the emotional value ascribed to the other person or issue by the beholder. Conflict is therefore, not a deductive or rational process. It is an interpretation process which is based on how the beholder is interpreting said issue.

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Emotional Fatigue

fatigueAll athletes know that as the competitive event progresses, no matter the sport, there is clearly physical fatigue. If it’s tennis, you are certainly more tired in the third set than you are in the first set. If you play golf, you are also more tired on the back nine than you are on the front nine, and so goes all sports. The physical body has a finite amount of glycogen (energy for physical activity), and our muscles heat as they exercise dehydrating the body and wearing them out. Similarly, athletes also emotionally fatigue as both a symptom of the physical fatigue where aches send messages to the brain as well as the neurological fatigue of having to focus on the competition. The same logic applies to working professionals who show up to work at 8AM and leave at 5PM. There is emotional fatigue from the proceedings of the day that impacts their intellectual capacity. Athletes make poor decisions towards the end of a game that in hindsight (or in practice) they would never make but the combination of other fatigue with emotional fatigue dilutes good decision making.

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“Prove it” will “Kill it”

innovElon Musk, widely recognized as a successful serial entrepreneur and innovator, recently responded to a question from an audience that I found to be a pervasive innovation barrier in the workplace. The question was how he responded to investors or other leaders whose initial response to an idea is either “where has this been done before” or “can you prove it will work?” His response was that virtually all meaningful innovation would cease to exist if those who came up with the idea had to prove the idea would work before even starting.

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The Brain Graveyard

graveyardWhen we think of a graveyard, we associate it as a final resting place of our bodies. It is really final at that point. It is the end of the possibility for any idea that the deceased ever had to materialize. This is a harsh reality but it could be argued there is an even harsher truth – that ideas die in our brains long before the body does.

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Is the Elephant in the room or the brain?

elephantWe are all familiar with the phrase “elephant in the room” – an unspoken negative stimulus in a situation that everyone is aware of but with little recourse on how to handle it knowing all the while that the ‘elephant’ is compromising the integrity of the best and often obvious solution to the issue at hand. Every organization and team has a mutation of an elephant.  There are indeed some elephants in our own homes. There are many strategies out there on how to deal with, or at least work through these elephants. However, I’d like to offer a challenge to whether the elephant is in the room as an existential threat or whether it is a reflection of what our brain interprets as an insurmountable and too risky a threat.

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The most powerful Question…

GooddayLast week I spoke at my favorite conference to an audience of peers in the Human Capital space. I spoke on Happiness and presented some cutting-edge neuroscience on the topic and argued for its relevance in the workplace, not just outside it, as a key lever of human performance. I shared studies starting from about 100 years ago that began to explore the correlation between happy employees and workplace productivity. There is indisputable evidence showing both correlation and causation that you can google search. Yet, it is a taboo subject and as such, the workplace has abdicated that responsibility to outside its walls.  Continue reading