How to use emotions to create positive behaviour

There is a diagnostic test that I use in my leadership coaching called the Human Synergistics Life Styles Inventory (LSI), which serves to measure leader behaviour.

The tool divides behaviours into those driven by satisfaction needs and those driven by security needs. It’s fascinating to see what people’s default behaviours are when under stress. When you bring emotional intelligence into the equation, the puzzle becomes even more complex and interesting, considering all of our behavioural decisions are either driven by logic or driven by emotion.

That said, if you wish to change your default behaviours, it’s helpful to reflect on what emotions are driving them, as well as the underlying reasons for those emotions.

In fact, there are 5 meta emotions every human being on earth has felt, and here are the universal reasons behind them:

  • Happiness: Progress. Things are working out or have worked out for me.
  • Anger: Interference. Someone or something is getting in the way of my goals or challenging my beliefs.
  • Sadness: Loss. Something that is important to me is gone.
  • Disgust: Offence. Something or someone has offended me.
  • Fear: Threat. Something is either physically or psychologically threatening me.

If you think back to any time you’ve felt one or more of the emotions from the above list, you’ll soon realize that the universal reasons described above were exactly what triggered the emotion. As a leader, this is vital information which you can then translate into understanding and managing the triggers of your behaviours. When you feel stressed or challenged at work for instance, what behaviours do you default to and why? What is pushing your buttons? What do you fear? What happened to bring those emotions on?

It’s all a part of developing your emotional intelligence (EI). And when you’ve developed your emotional intelligence, you can better understand the emotional reasons for your behaviours, which can then lead you to make better choices and decisions the next time you respond to a situation.

For example, let’s say that an office employee named Leo feels a need for security. (Remember, according to the LSI tool, our behaviours are either driven by a satisfaction need or a security need). Whenever Leo needs security, he adopts what we would call an aggressive defensive behavior (criticising his co-workers). The challenge is for Leo to stop, identify what emotion is driving his behaviour, and then make a better choice.

Here’s what it would look like:

· Leo recognises that he’s feeling the urge to be critical of his co-worker.

· He asks himself why this feeling has arisen.

· After reflecting, he realises that criticising the co-worker will help him feel better about himself.

· With this new information, he then asks himself: What is really going on for me to feel the need to protect myself?

· Leo realises that he’s feeling insecure about the project he’s working on. (Recall the 5 meta emotions from above. When it comes to fear, the universal reasoning is that something is physically or psychologically threatening us. In this case, Leo realises that he fears he will fail with his project, i.e. the threat of possibly embarrassing himself in front of his boss/colleagues, losing out on a promotion, etc.)

· After this self-reflection, Leo must ask himself: What would be a better and more constructive response? And how do I address what I really feel so that I no longer feel threatened?

Perhaps instead of criticising his co-worker, Leo instead reaches out to them to ask for their help with his project. Or Leo can visit with his boss during office hours to share his concerns with the project and get feedback that might help him improve it.

When we’re open to behaviours and emotions as resources and strive to understand them, we’re making a strategic move to better ourselves and to respond in ways that are more constructive.

How good are you at managing your behaviours? Are you open to your emotions as data? Do you make constructive choices? Using the method above, begin to pause and reflect before you react to an emotional trigger, and you might just find yourself responding in a way that makes everyone feel better at the end of the day.

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