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Problem Solving Reality Testing Impulse Control

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence: problem solving, reality testing and impulse control

Continuing in the series of blogs about Emotional Intelligence and leadership, in this post we look emotional intelligence and how it can impact behaviour and effectiveness as a leader. Using the EQi Psychometric model, we’re going to look at three specific areas and how Emotional Intelligence informs and influences our performance.

The three areas are: Problem-Solving, Reality-Testing and Impulse Control.

Problem Solving Reality Testing Impulse Control problem

Problem Solving

At some point, we’ve probably all heard a manager utter the phrase “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!” we may have even said it ourselves. How we approach solving a problem can vary, there are a myriad of different techniques available. Most of them rely on gathering some kind of data or information, then analysing or processing it, then coming up with a solution. When so many problems involve information or data, what can emotional intelligence bring to problem solving?

Its true, some problems have clear answers, for example, solving the problem of improving delivery times, might mean investing in more vehicles. However, ask a manager what their biggest challenge is, and the frequent reply is “people”. That might be the positive challenge of developing talent, or a more negative challenge of disciplinary proceedings, and everything else in between. People are usually connected to problems in some way. People may be affected by the problem,people might be part of the solution, or the problem can be the problem themselves. In each case, just relying on gathering data isn’t going to be enough. There is more going on than just bare facts, there are emotions. Bringing our Emotional Intelligence into the mix of problem solving can shed more light on the situation and may bring about a more effective solution.

Understanding Emotions

However strong our analytical skills, we can rarely just turn off our emotions completely.Chances are, when we are faced with a problem, we will experience some emotional response to that problem. That might range from “I know exactly howto solve this problem, this is my chance to shine” to “I have no idea how to solve it and I’m afraid people will think less of me”. Its important to notice that we don’t come to a problem without our own emotions in tow.

Our own emotions will have an influence on both how we approach a problem and even our ability to solve it. Knowing this might explain why we get stuck on a specific problem and that is often the very first step we need to take to be able to get“unstuck”. Just to be clear, just noticing emotions doesn’t make us immune from our own or masters of others. But it does afford some protection from feeling overwhelmed by emotions.

As we’ve said earlier, people are frequently a key part of problem solving. So taking time to understand the emotions of the other people involved with the problem,is essential to finding a solution. Take change as an example. Some solutions to problems can involve a change of some sort. That could be a change in process,position, technical skill, equipment or behaviour. When faced with change in a situation, people are likely to have some type of emotional response. That response could be fear, anxiety or excitement and relief. Understanding how people react emotionally to such a change means that they can be better supported through the process, which in turn means the change is actually more likely to take place.

Leveraging Emotions in Problem Solving

When we notice, recognise and understand our emotional involvement and the emotions of others, we should be in a position to make for a better-informed solution.

In practice,using emotional intelligence can act as a source of additional information.Having a greater awareness of our emotions and those of other people, could be looked at as just another element of the problem-solving equation. Simply looking at data, process, systems or equipment alone, may not give rise to a solution that works. In fact when people are involved, the root cause of the problem can often include behaviour as part of the issue.

So instead of saying, “I didn’t let emotion cloud my judgement” we might instead say“Emotions were part of that judgement and problem-solving process”.

Problem Solving Reality Testing Impulse Control test

Reality Testing

Have you ever been so convinced that something would work that you were completely blindsided by its failure? Or have you scoffed at a new idea deeming it likely to fail, only to look foolish when it actually succeeded? Unless you have the power of clairvoyance, you cannot always predict either failure or success with 100% accuracy. Reality testing is a way of reducing the likelihood of nice and nasty surprises. In this next section we’re going to look at emotional intelligence and reality testing.

Reality testing means comparing what we think, with the evidence around us. In terms of emotional intelligence we’re really talking about the ability to remain objective, rather than have our view of reality overly influenced by how we are feeling. But what do we mean in practical terms. Here’s an example.

“My manager doesn’t value me, I know this because she spends almost of her time with other,more junior members of the team.”

Without testing this against reality, we might feel undervalued, neglected and overlooked.At the very least it will likely affect our motivation and therefore our performance. So how would we test the feeling of being undervalued against reality? One way is to ask three pretty simple questions:

1 – What is the evidence for my thinking / feeling?

2 – Could there be a different explanation for my managers behaviour?

3 – How could I test that different explanation to find out?

Lets look at this example one question at a time

1 – My manager spends more time with more junior staff, that is my evidence that they don’t value me

2 – A different explanation might be, those junior staff aren’t performing and need extra support from my manager

3 – I could speak to my manager and ask why she spends more time with junior staff than with me

It could be that the actual explanation is the opposite to what the undervalued employee thinks. It could be that the lack of attention from the manager is the result of confidence in the employees work. The manager might be grateful that the employee can be trusted to get on with the job with minimal attention. Now,this explanation doesn’t excuse a lack of management attention, we all need encouragement and feedback, but it does provide a very different explanation of the same situation.

Problem Solving Reality Testing Impulse Control glass
Half Empty or Half Full?

Half Empty or Half Full?

Reality testing is that ability to maintain an even keel – not to get swept away by overpowering emotions, nor to be utterly becalmed by a lack of emotion. At one extreme it is catastrophising the perceived situation, fearing the worst. At the other extreme it is Pollyanna thinking, where reality is being overly-sugar-coated. As to what is the best position to occupy, again it depends on the situational context. To clear, reality testing isn’t about having a sunny disposition, or cynical demeanour. It is different from optimism and pessimism in that it is a skill. The optimist might say the glass is half full, the pessimist might say it is half empty, but reality testing asks – is that really a glass?

Problem Solving Reality Testing Impulse Control shout

Impulse Control

When confronted by a rude or aggressive outburst our first response might be to fight fire with fire and be aggressive and rude right back. When we talk about impulse control and emotional intelligence, we talking about that ability not to give in to our more primal impulses when we feel emotion rising up like an almost unstoppable tidal wave.

Take an example, we work hard on a proposal for a really key new client. The proposal is innovative, new, edgy and we are confident that the client will love it. We show our proud work to a colleague and instead of them being equally impressed, they instead point out all of the flaws, spelling mistakes and errors in format. We feel crestfallen, criticised and perhaps a little ashamed. The impulse we feel in response could be anger, resentment, humiliation or hurt. We are tempted to respond to their criticism with harsh words of our own, to make them feel equally chastised.

However, experience teaches us that flying off the handle doesn’t do us any favours. Instead this is where emotional intelligence and impulse control need to kick in. By recognising that we have become upset or angry, we have the opportunity to pause and metaphorically, or literally, take a few deep breaths. That momentary pause can be the difference between a professional and unprofessional response. It might allow us to see a benefit in the criticism – after all its better that our colleague sees the minor flaws and not the client. There are huge benefits at work for those who are able to take a moment and to pause,just long enough to remain in control of that impulse to react strongly.

Problem Solving Reality Testing Impulse Control robot

Not Being a Robot

But lets be clear, we aren’t talking about the complete suppression of all emotion. We can be a professional manager or leader and still show joy, disappointment,happiness and sadness in a way that is healthy. No, what we mean by impulse control, is having that ability to stop rather than just react. There are plenty of times when an emotional reaction is entirely appropriate. For example, when winning a new client that we have worked hard on for several months, elation and joy are appropriate responses and shouldn’t be repressed.Similarly, when faced with a set back, loss or disappointment, to respond with disappointment or sadness would also be appropriate. As with other aspects of emotional intelligence, it comes down to know when it is appropriate and how far is appropriate. Sulking for a week after losing out on a promotion wouldn’t be appropriate. But feeling disappointed in the moment, is entirely healthy.

Problem Solving Reality Testing Impulse Control Control

Emotional Intelligent Problem Solving, Reality Testing and Impulse Control

We’ve looked at three specific aspects of Emotional Intelligence and Leadership: problem-solving, reality testing and impulse control. All three influence how we make decisions.

Problem solving, can mean knowing how your emotions and those of others influence the way you look at, approach or resolve a problem. Our problem solving can be enhanced by including information on emotions in understanding, analysis and solutions.

Reality testing, can mean being aware of your emotions, but not becoming hostage to them, having a capacity to check the evidence to test what we and others are feeling. Reality testing can keep us on an even keel, avoiding any of the excesses of our emotions.

Impulse control stops us from just reacting wildly with our emotions.  Impulse control, can mean developing and exercising the “muscles” of emotional control, having the ability to decide whether to pause or not, rather than just react automatically.

So what, if anything are the benefits of any of this for a leader? Some of the key characteristics of leadership involve being consistent, being professional and being authentic. Emotional intelligence allows us to combine what we feel, with how we behave, so we can be consistent, professional and authentic all at the same time. For a leader, knowing how our emotions can drive us and others can help us be more consistent when it comes to solving problems. Being able to test what we feel against reality can shed light on our blind spots or avoid pitfalls.Finally knowing how to control our impulses doesn’t mean turning them off altogether,it just means being more like the driver of our emotions, less the passenger.

At Dove Nest we deliver solutions for emotionally intelligent leadership development with a  focus on practical experiential learning that really makes a difference.  If you’d like more information on Emotional Intelligence, or you’d like to discuss developing greater emotional intelligence for your organisation, then please get in touch with us on 015395 67878, email us at or visit our website at