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Unlock Your Emotional Agility With These 3 Simple Steps

December 13, 2021, 5-min. read
Unlock Your Emotional Agility With These 3 Simple Steps

You’ve probably already come across the term Emotional Intelligence and most likely the term Agility as well. But these two put together might be new to you.

What does Emotional Agility mean, then? Simply put, it means consciously working with one’s emotions so that it is useful to both you and those around you. In other words, it’s how to avoid suppressing and ignoring your feelings on one hand, and on the other, how to avoid getting needlessly carried away by them.

And as new and complex ideas are better explained with metaphors and stories, we'd like to introduce you to John. 

John’s story | part 1

John is a manager in a multinational company. He leads a key department. John was often in conflict with his colleagues; he shouted at them and several times he even acted in an emotionally charged manner toward the general manager. Since similar situations occurred repeatedly but at the same time, the company valued John’s knowledge, experience, and his job commitment, they agreed that they would help John by providing coaching.

Still, during the first few coaching sessions, John grew angry while describing certain situations and he considered his anger justified and rightful. The situations which angered John the most were those in which others exhibited, in his opinion, lax behavior and lack of commitment towards the company and their own responsibilities or when they didn’t adhere to what he considered proper procedures. He did admit that anger might not be great and that he did try to suppress it, but in the end, he always blew up anyway. He didn’t understand why the company was trying to fix him and not the others.

How to develop your emotional agility

In order to be able to consciously work with your emotions, you might consider following several steps:

1. I notice my emotions, I perceive them

The first step is recognizing that you're experiencing a specific emotion and then identifying which emotion it is. Recognize the difference between “being angry” and “feeling angry”. In the first case, you are held captive by the emotion without realizing it and act accordingly – you have no control. Moreover, people that "are angry" tend to get stuck in a cycle and repeatedly find themselves in similar situations without being aware of it or knowing how to escape the cycle. In the second case, you are aware that you feel angry. You can see it and therefore you can gain bigger perspective. The ability to identify one’s emotions is closely related to observing one’s self and one’s behavior patterns, and to identifying symptoms of emotions. You know that in certain situations you tend to experience specific emotions. You know how to recognize them and you can become aware of them. You know that these emotions do not represent a fixed characteristic but that they are something that may flare up and then die down again. You notice your emotions and your perceptive of them.

John’s story | part 2

During coaching, John learned to identify his own emotions. Gradually, he started noticing what kind of physical sensations his emotions were making him experience and in which situations they repeatedly and typically manifested. He also started noticing differences between emotions and their varying levels. During various situations at work, he started noticing when and why they appeared. Several times, he managed to handle such situations constructively on his own without letting his anger get the better of him. People around him started noticing that John was more objective and they appreciated the change. This boosted John’s motivation to continue with the coaching.

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2. I accept my emotions, I don’t reject them or fight them

Whether we like it or not, emotions represent an inseparable part of ourselves. So there’s no point in refusing to acknowledge them or even fighting them. On the contrary. It’s useful to accept them and try to explore them. Why is this happening to you, what does it mean, which useful things is it telling you about the current situation, and how beneficial or harmful would it be for you in said situation if you acted on your emotions. Considering different reactions to specific emotions can also be a part of this exploration.

John’s story | part 3

Over time, John discovered various ways of working with his emotions. He found a way to constructively “discharge” them, for example by playing sports, and especially how to name his emotions to himself as well as to others. Instead of raising his voice, John learned to name his emotions and talk about them. This helped him get a perspective over them and at the same time, he managed to be transparent so that others could see how and when he was experiencing these emotions.

People stopped perceiving John as angry and explosive, and they valued his commitment and his effort to achieve the best possible results. John and his colleagues stopped being enemies and became partners. Many past issues cleared up and topics that had upset John for years were successfully solved within a short time.

3. I choose the best possible steps in a given situation; I act with agility

The third step is making decisions about specific steps. Which path to take? Our values can help us with that. They are more permanent than our emotions and relate to whom we want to be, what is important to us, and why. With our values in mind, we can act in accordance with the emotion we are currently experiencing (I want to act this way, I want to be perceived this way, this is beneficial to me) or we can choose a different reaction. For example, you are feeling upset but this time you want to act constructively and calmly and you know why. Therefore, you react with agility as each specific situation calls for and you do not hold on to rigid, deep-rooted patterns.

John’s story | part 4

As a part of coaching, John was able to map out and identify what was important to him and why. He declared to himself who he wanted to be and in accordance with that, started to choose how he reacted to situations in which he felt angry. He realized that some of his previous reactions were not useful for the things he perceived as important. He understood that by yelling, he was actually blocking enthusiasm and willingness to cooperate with others and he started to look for paths and procedures which supported his goals. Today, John is much more satisfied with his job than before. His behavior is calmer and more considerate; people around him perceive him as a mature manager who gains respect naturally and whose lead others follow. Situations in which he feels angry still happen, but these days he can handle them without yelling at other people or stewing in his own anger.

Does this sound simple? Yes, but as is the case with any skill, it takes a bit of practice and training. And if you’re having difficulties making progress, find someone – for example a coach – who will help you with this.

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