“If you didn’t know when your birthday was, what age would you give yourself?” The age you feel may very well be much younger than your number of years living, but that’s okay. The real question is, are you the same age emotionally as you are chronologically? If there is a tendency, and I think there is, it will be that we grow more slowly emotionally than physically! So, you can be 45 on your birthday and yet still be an infant emotionally. Isn’t it sad that our education systems tend to be focused more on intellectual knowledge and practical skills but neglect our emotional development personally and the establishing of healthy relationships with others? The following four questions and statements can give an insight into whether we are infants, children, adolescents, or adults emotionally.
- Do we see our needs as entitlements that require gratification instantly or at least as soon as possible? For example: (20-year-old infant) I have been in this role for two months now and realize it just doesn’t fit who I am; I need to move on, even if I did commit for six months!
- Do we get hurt easily and interpret arguments as personal offenses? Rather than share our needs, do we withdraw, get stressed and perhaps complain? For example: (30-year-old child) My leader didn’t follow through on his commitment to me. I have prayed, cried, lost sleep over it and now having withdrawn emotionally from him, I have received no response and so feel like I just need to leave and find a better team.
- Do we get defensive, especially when we’re confronted and have trouble with others not seeing our viewpoint in conflicts? Do we feel like we are treated unfairly and so have a right to be upset? For example: (40-year-old adolescent) I have heard from God on the direction and vision for my life and I get so frustrated when others don’t get it or criticize my approach. I’m just not going to pay any attention to them anymore!
- Do we still feel the range of emotions from joy to disappointment or hurt and yet retain the ability to see our part when things go wrong, and apologize? Do we seek to talk things through with an awareness of ourselves and others’ roles and responsibilities and trust God for the best outcomes? For example: (25-year-old adult) I have just been mediating a conflict between two staff that couldn’t see eye-to-eye on the team. They were acting like two-year-olds protecting their toys and found it difficult to listen to one another. In the midst of the conversation I was able to remain calm and help them to own their own responses. Even when they started to put some blame on me, I was able to stay objective and was able to smooth out the relationships.
We all have a range of emotional responses and I personally am seeking to shorten my reaction time when difficult circumstances arise. It pains me to recognize that I too, can stumble into two-year-old responses sometimes. I am learning to recognize those reactions and ask for grace to calm down and be the big person emotionally that I know God is seeking to develop in me.
The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves shares how important it is to understand our emotions. Studies have shown that people experience an average of 27 emotions each waking hour. Of all the emotions you will experience in your lifetime, nearly two million of them will happen during your working hours. It makes sense therefore, if we are desiring good experiences in our relationships as teams, that we will work on managing our emotions and enjoy positive connections with everyone we work with. Let’s take a quick look at the classic four elements of growing in our emotional maturity taken from the book mentioned above:
- Self-awareness definition: This is the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions and what is behind them; to understand how people and things influence your behavior and how your behavior impacts others. It includes staying on top of your typical reactions to specific events, challenges and people. In order to understand our emotions, first of all we need to spend time figuring out what they are, where they are coming from and why they are there. Emotions are reactions to life experience and always come from somewhere!
- For example: I am involved in a conversation with someone I have had tension with in the past – I respond with a lack of warmth, I give little eye contact, I have a sense of insecurity and am a little threatened by this leader with a strength of personality. I need to quickly assess the situation and manage my emotions or this conversation could take me further into tension and withdrawal.
- Scripture: Two emotions are seen at the same event in Ezra 3:12: “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.” The older priests were aware of the disappointment in their hearts as they remember the glory of the Lord in the former temple. The younger people are joyful to see the temple being established again.
- Evaluation: Do you admit your shortcomings? Understand your emotions as they happen? Recognize the impact your behavior has upon others? Realize when others influence your emotional state? Recognize that you play a part in creating the difficult circumstances you encounter?
- Self-management definition: This is the ability to use your awareness of emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior positively. This means managing your emotional reactions to stressful or frustrating situations, knowing when to speak up and when to stand back and knowing how to respond to people with the best possible attitude.
- For example: I was flying back from London when a stewardess confronted a man with the fact that he could only place one bag in the compartment above his seat and the other would need to go under the seat. He didn’t like this directive and began to argue with her. His face became red and his tone of voice became louder. Everyone around him was suddenly hushed and focused on the angry man. The stewardess was clear on her instructions and wasn’t going to back down and the man finally sank into his seat defeated and humiliated, but still wanting to put both bags in the overhead compartment!
- Scripture: 2 Corinthians 6:11-12 says, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us.” Paul was able to manage his emotions and be transparent even though this was not reciprocated by the Corinthians.
- Evaluation: Do you handle stress well? Tolerate frustration without affecting everyone around you through your body language and verbal response? Strive to make the most out of a situation, good or bad? Resist the desire to act or speak when it will not help the situation? Resist the desire to act impulsively when upset?
- Social awareness definition: This is the ability to pick up on emotions in other people you are relating with and understand what is really going on with them. This means reading between the lines and perceiving and caring about what other people are really thinking and feeling even if you do not feel the same way.
- For example: I was enjoying a friendly chat with friends and later connected with my wife who had also had a conversation with the same couple. She had perceived some troubled emotions and the conversation revealed that they had been through a rough time over the last few months. So she spent some time encouraging the couple in their sorrow. Unfortunately, I had been completely oblivious and had missed an opportunity of sharing more deeply. How we need to grow in this ability to have emotional insight and then follow it up with empathy.
- Scripture: The king in Nehemiah 2:2 was socially aware and asked Nehemiah, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” Because of this social awareness, a door was opened for Nehemiah to have a leave of absence and establish Jerusalem as a city once more.
- Evaluation: Do you recognize other people’s feelings? Accurately pick up on the mood in the room? Hear what the other person is really saying? Have sensitivity to know what should be said and how it should be said?
- Relational management definition: This is the ability to be aware of your own emotions, the emotions of others and to manage interactions successfully. This ensures clear communication and the effective handling of conflict.
- For example: I was sitting in a team meeting observing a tension arise as one person spoke a strong word and another visibly seemed hurt. The chairman of the meeting hadn’t noticed the vibe and continued with the agenda. As a result, the hurt person didn’t say another word for the remainder of the time. So when the meeting was over, I spoke to the person who had been quiet and suggested he have a conversation to share his hurt, to which he replied, “No, it will be okay.” I offered to bring the two together and in five minutes the misunderstanding had been put right.
- Scripture: Ephesians 4:2-3 encourages us to, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” If we followed through in obedience to this Scripture our relationships would be in much better shape!
- Evaluation: Do you talk situations through with others, drawing out the tensions and challenges? Give permission in the team for healthy conflict? Encourage the sharing of honest feedback? Manage your own emotions in the midst of highly emotional situations and help to bring empathy, objectivity and unity?
Hal hated Charlie, everything about him, from his knowing sneer to his rolling swagger. When he saw him enter the restaurant with Keith, he wished fervently he could get away and considered getting up and walking out of the breakfast meeting, without a word to either of his two former partners. But then he garnered his faculties and decided to accept this reality. He would choose how to respond, and his choice would be to be cordial and cooperative. He felt a surge of strength as he realized that handling himself in a dignified manner with both these men would be a bigger personal victory than if he met with Keith alone. (Excerpt from The Hero’s Choice: Living from the Inside Out)
Hal’s immediate reaction was to simply act out his negative emotions. Instead, he made a decision to respond in a more positive (emotionally mature) way. Notice how that decision resulted in a shift in his emotional energy. These are the kinds of decisions we need to be making daily, in order to grow in our emotional age.
This is obviously a huge topic but I hope these initial thoughts will move you on in your journey to emotional maturity.