Changing Your Focus

Are you tired of finishing second best for every job that you apply for? Is someone dropping clangors about deficiencies in your people skills?

Perhaps your line manager has commented on your poor management skills or has possibly been requested to point out your shortcomings at the behest of others. Perhaps the subject was raised during a recent performance assessment. Are you really that insensitive to others? What do they mean when they say you’re arrogant or over-bearing?

Regardless of where the messages are coming from, whether at work or at home, it’s clear you need to make some improvements to your communication and people skills.

Assuming you want to change:

1. Identify specifically what needs to be changed.

2. Assess if it’s something that you can actually change.

3. You know what needs changing, but how do you make the change?

4. You’ve made the change, how do you ensure that you keep it that way?

Fortunately, it’s possible to enhance your repertoire of interpersonal skills if you learn the change process. Step 1 is to focus and decide what needs to be changed. Constructive self-development doesn’t mean a complete personality transplant.

Despite what an exasperated boss or spouse says, no one is “totally clueless,” “a complete jerk” or “hopeless.” You don’t need to work on everything, just the most important thing.

Establish the change process

IQ or intellectual intelligence governs EQ, or emotional intelligence. Your ability to recognise the need for change in certain aspects of your personality also depends on how practical you are. But whether we have greater parts of EQ in ratio to IQ, we all have the ability to change, whether we choose to recognise this fact or not.

EQ is broken down into four major elements:

1. Self-awareness

2. Self-management

3. Social awareness

4. Social skills

Each of these four areas incorporates core skills; you may be rich in some and lacking in others. A variety of standardised self-assessment or psychologist-administered “psychometric” instruments can paint a fairly accurate picture of your social strengths and weaknesses.

However, by being honest with yourself, you can identify the areas that need development without formal and costly assessments.

One way is to assess daily feedback about yourself into specific behavior patterns. For instance, when someone says you are: arrogant, cold, pessimistic, over-sensitive, impatient, coarse, etc., put these instances into specific, observable behaviors.

Ask yourself what you’re doing to create these impressions. Do you interrupt others? Are you emotionally distant? Do you insult people in front of others? Do you betray others’ confidences?

Do you avoid eye contact? Are you standoffish for failing to call people by their names?

Unless you are the kind of person to opt for psychoanalysis, (which, lets face it, most of us wouldn’t), improving interpersonal skills has less to do with conscious awareness than with changing specific behaviors.

How other people perceive, relate or interact with you depends on how they understand your actions. Like body language, your intent isn’t as relevant as the impact of your behavior; by professing: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean what I said”, doesn’t retract the hurtful impact of what you said or did through incorrect body signals and facial expressions.

Informal and fun/quiz self-assessments may provide insight into your interpersonal abilities and could show you where to focus your efforts. Understanding these weaknesses will not produce an instant change, but it’s a start and also a place where you can learn from past mistakes.

Having discovered the flaw(s) in your personality, you will now need to devise a plan to help you practice containing the error (s) so you don’t continue to offend.

Be honest with your peers about what you are trying to do, you need their feedback so you can learn from your errors. Politically and strategically, you cannot help but gain understanding and respect from those around you.

The “beginning” and the “end”.

Evaluate your position and review your work-place role in determining which EQ competencies are most relevant and need to be done well. For example, sensitivity to others’ points of view may not always be essential.

Judge yourself and select no more than three competency areas that need improvement. Assess your inclination towards change and choose whether you’re willing to experience the pain and struggles involved in developing a greater EQ.

1. Devise a strategy using the attached template, create a simple self-directed learning plan that can help you learn or give up certain behaviors.

2. Ask others for help. Ask people you trust to provide you with candid feedback on a continuing basis. Share your plan with them. Agree about the type of feedback you want, how often they should give it and for how long.

3. Consciously practice new behaviors. Initially, the changes will feel stilted, stiff and awkward, like learning to ski or mastering a topspin forehand in tennis.

4. Expect relapses. You’ve been the way you are for a long time. You’ll naturally resist giving up your current style and patterns.

5. Practice continually, even if you feel self-conscious. Remember, the point of learning is to be self-conscious.

6. Check up on your new behaviors. Ask others for feedback repeatedly on whether the changes you’re making are effective.

7. Assess yourself. Gauge your progress and reward yourself for making changes.

Three helpful suggestions:

Although simple, these steps are hard work. Your approaches and techniques for changing will vary depending on the issues you’re addressing. Summarizing how to address the various EQ competencies isn’t possible in this article. However, these tips about the change process should apply to most situations:

1. Push the pause button.

This means to slow down and stop your automatic thoughts, assumptions and actions in response to situations. Instead, inhale slowly for three seconds without talking. This can keep you from instantly responding as you always have, while giving you time to focus on what’s going on at the moment.

2. Name the “frame.”

Take a moment to look at the factors, interests and elements of personal style that are affecting, or shaping the “frame of reference,” for everyone involved in an interaction. Ask yourself:

  • What setting are we in?
  • What are our respective responsibilities?
  • What are our respective needs and expectations?
  • What are the potential rewards and risks here?
  • What communications style am I using?
  • What style are others using?

3. Reality-test your assumptions.

Before speaking, ask yourself: What exactly is going on here? Am I sure? What else might actually be going on here? Is there anything that would work better here? What are the alternatives…really?

One style doesn’t fit all

Teaching yourself to re-examine your frame of reference is crucial to effectively “re-framing” a situation, or adjusting your assumptions, attitudes, style and message to better fit it. Effective leaders don’t use one interpersonal style for all people and situations; they adjust their style to enhance communication and collaboration — even if it’s uncomfortable for them.

The trick isn’t to change your behavior so dramatically that you seem artificial or manipulative. High-EQ people simply ask themselves repeatedly: What demeanor is most appropriate here? What behaviors are most effective in dealing with this particular person or situation?

This means more than choosing your words carefully. It includes your posture, voice volume and tone, gestures, body language and eye contact — things most people don’t think about consciously.

Remembering to consider and adjust these stylistic factors is difficult, but that’s how you’ll eventually develop a more effective repertoire of interpersonal skills. If you can do this once successfully, you can do it repeatedly. You’ll then have greater control over how you come across, create relationships and deal with conflict. And that feels great.

If there is any part of this publication that you don’t understand or need more information about, just contact us and we’ll be happy to offer our expert help and advice.

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