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When the Intellect is Not Enough for Transformation: Consider Emotional Learning

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When the Intellect is Not Enough for Transformation: Consider Emotional Learning

Sylvana Caloni is a graduate of the 2010 Newfield Certified Coach Training Program.

My clients are intelligent. Some have degrees from prestigious universities. Many are well-read. They may have an analytical background and want to know the theory or science behind a model of behavior before they will try it out.

In our coaching conversations, they are able to rattle off tips from books written by leadership, communication, and presentation gurus. Yet, with all of this cognitive insight, they often continue to remain stuck in old habits and continually fall into patterns that do not serve their relationships or their life.

As we explore one woman’s frustration, in particular, it highlights that having an intellectual knowledge of why things aren’t working is often insufficient to implementing the change we desire. Moreover, I have found that in some cases, having an intellectual understanding of a situation actually becomes an excuse, a way to “circle the wagons” so that we can avoid getting to the real issue.

Seeing the Signs

As I observe my clients, they usually give some signal that points to an underlying issue or blind spot. For example, they talk about wanting to introduce new initiatives, while their breathing becomes shallow and they slump in their chair. Or, perhaps as they articulate a desire to lead their team, their tone of voice changes and their skin becomes flushed. Such signals pique my curiosity and inform the questions I ask them.

One of my clients, let’s call her Mary, had an impeccable CV. However, she complained that she wasn’t receiving the respect and title that befitted her qualifications and experience. At her job, she expected that her colleague would report to her since she believed he had inferior qualifications and experience. Instead, he reported directly to her boss, cutting her out from the reporting line. She complained that he talked over her at meetings and that her boss favored him.

Underlying Moods and Emotions

Mary has a small stature, a thin voice, and looks much younger than her age. As she told her story, her shoulders dropped, her chest became concave, and her voice became shrill. She thought she had exhausted all the ways she could change the interactions with her boss and colleagues. She felt she was a victim and had been betrayed by her boss.

On the face of it, her small stature might account for how she was treated by her colleagues. Yet, I know several women who are petite, have gravitas and command respect. Their mood is one of ambition. As one said to me, “You don’t see obstacles unless you look for them.”

As we continued to explore, it became more evident that Mary’s mood of resentment impacted her internal chatter, her tone of voice, and her behavior. She dismissed her colleague because in her opinion he wasn’t entitled to respect. In meetings, she either shouted at her colleagues to get her point across or became resigned and didn’t bother to speak up.

Mary hadn’t connected how the tensions with her boss and colleague were connected to her mood of resentment and her own sense of entitlement. In her eyes, she should have been given a superior title to her colleague. She should have been shown the respect she was due given her greater experience and qualifications, and they should have listened to her perspectives in the meetings. She didn’t take into account their perspectives and reasons for how they treated her, and therefore, couldn’t see the possibility of a different outcome.

Mary was also surprised to recognize how habitual her negative responses had become and how easily she was triggered. The more we explored, the more evident it became that this was a recurring pattern for her, one that preceded this job.

In the words of Neil Gaiman, “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”

Shifting from Unhelpful Moods and Emotions

To find an antidote to her resentment, Mary reflected on what would shift her to a mood of acceptance and to a different interpretation of what had been going on.

For example, she considered:

  • What had been clearly stated in her job title and description? (What were the facts of her job and position?)
  • What assumptions had she made?
  • Had she explicitly shared her assumptions?
  • Might the way her colleague was treating her mirror her own lack of respect for him?
  • What had been her tone when making her complaints? Were these constructive or petulant?
  • If she “walked a mile in his shoes” (both her boss’s and her colleague’s), what alternative interpretation could she see?
  • How would she feel if she forgave them for their poor treatment of her?
  • How would she feel if she forgave herself for being dismissive of them?

As Mary reflected on her answers, she moved to a mood of acceptance. She acknowledged her own role in the negative dynamic with her colleagues. This shift from a victim to an agent was powerful. It opened up new ways of responding to her work situation and to life itself.

Is there a place where you are feeling stuck despite your intellectual understanding?

I invite you to consider:

  • Which mood or emotion are you in regarding your circumstance?
  • How does this mood or emotion frame how you interpret and engage in the situation?
  • What is the impact and cost of this emotional state?
  • Is there an emotion that you believe could serve you in this situation?
  • What practices would you need to engage in to cultivate this emotional learning?

 

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e3f602be30d9a190efa71527205b841a?s=80&r=g&d=mm - When the Intellect is Not Enough for Transformation: Consider Emotional Learning

Author: Sylvana Caloni

Sylvana Caloni partners with mid-level executives on high potential tracks or senior executives in leadership roles. Often they have been promoted because of their expertise and subject knowledge. Yet their expertise does not make them compelling leaders of people. It can lead to blind spots and narrow perspectives that hinder how they engage with multiple stakeholders. Used to "knowing it all" and "being right," such leaders can be frustrated by the different communication and working styles of their diverse team members. The leaders may also find it difficult to let go of managing all the details and devolving responsibility. Or as star performers they may find it difficult to ask for help and engage their team members to find new solutions.

Sylvana works with her clients to make the invisible visible; to develop self knowledge and to become aware of how their presence, behaviours and attitudes impact others. They become more flexible leaders, able to listen more deeply and to have conversations that create greater understanding and collaboration. Their teams work more successfully and generate the desired results.

Prior to becoming a coach, Sylvana was an Executive Vice President at a global investment bank. She analyzed and invested in companies globally, across sectors and industries.

Sylvana was born in Sydney of Italian parents and lives in London. She values diversity and inclusion and was previously President of Women in Banking and Finance. As a Trustee of a local charity she supports a youth center to provide services to disadvantaged children.

Comments ( 2 )

  • John Lazar

    Lovely piece, Sylvana. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Doris Sew Hoy

    Enjoyed reading this – well expressed, clear, helpful – thank you.

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