Nurturing inner strength and self-assurance

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Learning the skill of suspending judgement allows a project manager to think before taking action, reducing emotional spontaneous reactions …and the consequences that may follow.

Having emotions at work, being glad, sad, annoyed, pleased or frustrated, is a natural part of working life. You can’t predict when any of these emotions will occur or what will cause them. You can however learn to understand what triggers them.

Understanding and accepting that human nature kicks in (good and bad) all around us, and that this is the reality that we need to operate in, allows us to start looking at things differently.

When emotions take over, we get distracted from the things that we should be focusing on. We use energy, often stewing over what has happened and maybe thinking up ways of ‘getting back’ at those who have caused the upset. Our judgement is affected and our decision making becomes short sighted.

When we have accepted the reality of human nature can we start to decide how we want to react to each of our emotions and the situation?

We know that everything we say, every decision we make and everything we do comes from the brain. Whether it’s a knee jerk reaction or a considered decision or action.

Luckily, the brain changes continuously and what you do today makes your brain physically different from what is was yesterday. Neuroscience shows us that the brain learns through creating patterns. As you are given bits of information the brain seeks patterns with what has been stored in the past. When something new is brought to light, the brain tries to relate it to the old, aligning it with what is stored in memory.

The brain is muscle that can be exercised or relaxed like all muscled in the body. Neurons connect and create a network. The more often that network is used, the stronger it gets.

Accepting this, we can therefore decide how we would like to behave. We can start to try out different approaches and select those that work best for us.

So the message is to reflect on how we want to react, keep going, remain focused, work out a strategy to keep you on track. Whether it is through personal action, reminders or working with a coach. Like everything else, the more you practice, the better you get, the less effort and time it takes.

So how do you practice?

Stage One
1. Learn to suspend judgement so that the more rational thinking process of the brain kicks in.

The brain has a way of dealing with what we see as a ‘threat’ that differs to non-threatening situations. Learning to wait before doing anything allows the more rational part of the brain to kick in.

2. Take a situation that occurs fairly regularly where you know you have an emotional reaction. Work out which approach you are going to use to help you wait in order to move from the brain process of reacting to the process of thoughtful response. Keep trying this out until you can feel that you have passed through the emotional response phase.

Stage Two
Once you have mastered stage one.

1. Work out a strategy in advance on how to handle your thoughtful response. When that situation next arises, try out your strategy.

2. Keep practicing, adjusting your strategy and approach. When you’re strategy is ‘right’ you can use it going forwards to manage and remove the inner turmoil that de-focuses you from rational decision making allowing you to move forwards thinking clearly.

3. Build strength in thinking differently, until this becomes your norm. Build up the strength in the brain by exercising and growing the pattern you have created. Accept that you will always feel the emotions, but that you use your energy with changed focus, and decide where that focus is.

When you see the difference in reactions of those around you to your changed behaviour, you should be able to be more successful and more confident in approaching difficult situations.

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Posted by Eleri Evans on 13th Oct 2015

About the Author
Eleri is the director of Trans4rm Ltd, delivering people development solutions. These include open programmes for "Developing Personal Identity as a Project Manager", "The Emotionally Intelligent Project Manager" and "Mental Toughness for Project Managers". Eleri is secretary for the People SIG (2015-2016) and is lead for the research around Emotional Intelligence and Behaviours that has approved funding from the APM. Eleri has a track record of over 20 years delivery in project management delivering change (people, business and technology) as a platform of knowledge to support the programmes she delivers.

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