Beyond Emotional Intelligence – Workplace conflict, avoidance coping, and the mental health crisis
Adriana Vela, Certified EQ and Conflict Coach, Minute Mediation
Contrary to popular belief, emotional intelligence has nothing to do with being nice. Likewise, engaging in conflict does not equal personal failure. A person can be nice and still be clueless about the emotional impact they have on others and conflict can occur anytime, anywhere, and sometimes can’t be prevented. So why is it that workplaces go to lengths to avoid conflict and why is there such a stigma about discussions of mental health? This has been an area of research interest for the last 15 years as well as the study of human behaviours since I picked up my first psychology book at the age of 10.
Emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), has been long held as a differentiating attribute for success since the concept was popularised in 1995 by Daniel Goldman. As a certified EQ and behaviours leadership coach, I assert this is still important. But, as a researcher and ardent observer of behaviours and market trends, I say today, this is not enough to get us through times of perpetual uncertainty.
Our current eternal state of ‘Now’
Our lives today resemble a scary version of the movie ‘GroundHog’s Day’ where we’re on an endless loop of the same and no ability to plan for the future as we could before Covid. This is our ‘eternal state of now’. This state strains cognitive function and threatens our mental health because the brain is poorly equipped to process uncertain circumstances. It is no wonder we see a rise in conflicts within the workplace and externally in business or commercial dealings. The events of this year have intensified fear and anxiety, adding fuel to the fire of the mental health crisis.
“Approximately 450 million people currently suffer from some form of mental illness.” – WHO
According to The World Health Organisation (WHO), one in four people worldwide will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point. There are different coping mechanisms but one that is dangerous and unsustainable is a maladaptive mechanism called avoidance coping. This form intervenes to keep a person from thinking of or feeling things that make them uncomfortable. It does nothing to address the root cause for fear of facing the possibility that it is a form of personal failure. This belief becomes deep-seated making it difficult to accept that it is a lie we learned to tell ourselves.
Why can’t we just get along? Spoiler alert – Stress
In practice, many have acclimated to this ‘new normal’ of social distancing and mask-wearing, but science shows that the brain has other needs. According to Caroline Welch, CEO and co-founder of the Mindsight Institute, our brain is meant to detect patterns in the present which allows us to anticipate what’s likely to happen next.
As a survival mechanism, we are hard-wired to plan for the future. “Not being able to detect and predict patterns in the present frustrates our brain, in effect putting it on furlough,” says Welch. “So, when uncertainty is the only certainty, it’s highly stressful for us.” This is because the brain can’t do its job of predicting, leaving us in a state of life threat even if we are unaware of it.
‘Stress is one of the major risk factors in mental health disorders.’
Stress also fuels anxiety and depression, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s disease, and even premature death. If you have felt out of sorts and not able to focus or function well, you are not alone. These are all forms of mental health issues that deplete the brain. Deliberate steps should be taken to identify specific sources of stress that make businesses and leaders vulnerable to workplace conflict or disputes.
Early analysis and behavioral patterning from the onset of Covid led to my work in developing a workshop in April where I coined the term “Coronavirus PTSD” to raise awareness of the emotional impact of the pandemic. The second edition of it will release in November where the perimeter of behavioral analysis extends beyond emotional intelligence. Taking center stage at this event will be the critical skills needed to improve your mental health and manage conflicts more effectively and efficiently during turbulent times. Contact us here to request an early invitation to this event.
Beyond Emotional Intelligence – Conflict Science
EQ is a learned skill set that develops the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Many elements comprise EQ and each can be measured with neuroscience-based tools to assist in identifying areas of development. The next step focuses on creating an integration plan with the help of a certified EQ coach.
Perhaps a subtle silver lining from the pandemic is a resurgence of understanding how important emotional intelligence is. But, knowing is not the same as taking action so here’s what you need to do:
- LET IT GO!
Start by letting go of the stigma on mental health issues that you may be silently harboring. Let go of the mindset that mental health issues are a form of personal failure. It is not. This avoidance coping at its best. A way of thinking that keeps nearly two-thirds of people with known mental disorders from seeking help. We need to dispel these long-held beliefs that struggling means you’re a failure, simply can’t deal, or not cut out for something. This is a lie we tell ourselves when we refuse to face something uncomfortable.
- MEASURE IT!
What gets measured gets managed. Start by knowing what your EQ score is and what areas need improvement. That’s where you start. Often there is a fear of facing our true selves – another avoidance copying example. Yet doing so will empower you to identify areas of deficit and put you on a path where you can eventually conquer any kind of disruption that life dishes out.
‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’—Socrates
- SELECT THE RIGHT TOOLS!
Understanding how we do what we do and why we do what we do is very powerful. After researching many of the DIY free assessments, self-help books, and other popular assessments, I found them fraught with bias against racial and gender minorities and were easily warped by overly generalized and incomplete profile information. It’s like getting only a few pieces of a puzzle that is meant to be you which can be misleading and do more harm than good.
The only one that I found to be 100% bias-free and showed proof of reliability and accuracy is the one that I now offer to my clients through our Conflict Science SolutionsTM at Minute Mediation. To be clear, while this sounds like a shameless plug, that fact is that I have personally experienced these tools and can speak to the transformational results it provided me and millions of others across >100K companies worldwide.
Without taking these three steps, lacking emotional intelligence, conflict and negotiation skills, and emotional discipline has consequences such as the inability to make strategic smart decisions or emotional hijacking which I wrote about in an earlier article here. We’ve all been there at some point, right? After all, we are emotional human beings, not robots. The point is to minimize these instances that can derail your success.
Sooner or later, however, the hard stuff needs to be faced and dealt with whether it is conflicts, disputes, mental health, or other behavior and coping issues. The good news is that you don’t have to deal with it alone. In fact, you shouldn’t deal with this alone. People are not the best judges of themselves due to blind spots and cognitive biases. They simply can’t see them for themselves and be objective.
- It is not enough to just read about EQ, you need to accurately measure it.
- Be kind to yourself. Go in with eyes wide open and let go of mental health stigmas.
- The brain cause/effect equation: if the brain has no patterns to detect brain frustrates and creates stress stress is a major risk factor for mental health disorders contributes to mental health crisis fuels conflicts and disputes.
- What gets measured gets managed; discipline and action are required.
- Not all assessment tools are created equal. Only use 100% bias-free, science-backed, reliable tools.
Reach out if you want to learn how to measure and improve your EQ. I’m here for you.
P.S. This article is written in honor of International Conflict Resolution Day on October 15, a day to raise awareness of mediation, arbitration, conciliation, and other creative, peaceful means of resolving conflict in business, communities, and the legal system. It also honors the American Bar Association Mediation Week (October 19-23) with discussions on the use and role of mediation in expanding access to justice during and after a pandemic.
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