The HEART of emotional labour: emotional agility includes self-care
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
When caring is part of your job, it is "emotional labour". You are not doing it to get something direct in return - that is not the place nor duty nor the obligation of the person receiving your care.
Therefore, emotional agility includes SELF CARE. This is essential for the compassionate Leader or Manager - and anyone working in the care professions (teaching, nursing etc). Being great at caring for others is not always going to bring you rewards in kind - therefore you must also practice that same care on yourself. This enables you to continue your high level of performance for others...and it is a performance.
Even if it is part of your job, the ability to be able to respond appropriately in any given circumstance - or at least to do so in a way that many applaud or praise (or at least do not get offended by) is a skill. It is one not eveyone has, but one that everyone can learn to some degree.
It is not just about "being nice" to others, but rather more about:
- Being pro-active so that you are aware of what can happen (and consider, if only briefly) how you might respond.
- Actively engaging with what is going on around you so that you are able to join in and enjoy the moment, as well as retain a realistic picture of the world you may have immediate effect on.
- Keeping lines of communication open so that no-one is second guessing you, and you are not having to rely on "grapevine" information.
- Being able to learn, adapt, reflect as well as look after yourself to ensure that you remain emotionally healthy.
- Realising that not everyone will (or will want ) to practice a similar level of emotional agility - and know that while it is not your palce to "save" others, you can still work in a way which they are comfortable with, and gets the best out of them.
It is the HEART of leadership:
H - Hear what is going on around you by taking the time to listen.
E - Empathise with the situation before engaging in your next course of action
A - Agility - using what you know to take appropriate action. Is this a situation from which I have to learn, or support, or stay quiet, or reflect, or change...?
R - Reflect on what happened and how successful your behavioural choices were so you can use the same skills again should the need arise.
T - Transform. That experience will change you and help you grow, even if it is just a tiny amount - so allow that to happen. This transformation may be in assimilating new practices to improve your collaborations with those around you, or in developing in your own self-care and wellbeing which is the root of performance.
(Of course with regards to the last point I am not talking about the sort of change which comes from an unexpected and often unpleasant life event. But when it comes to "everyday" change, even if there is some upheaval around you remember you do not lose any part of yourself when you change, you will often make it that little bit better. ( For some, even this change is something to fear, so instead think of this type of change more like changing your pants, bedsheets or phone!))
However, emotional agility is exhausting.
When I speak of self-care and wellbeing as the "root" of high performance, I mean that if you are already good at soft skills, it is worth remembering that they can be extremely draining. Part of emotional agility is knowing what your own boundaries are so that you are not neglecting your own needs. In fact the more you have to give to others, the more you need to replenish yourself. Otherwise, like the lifejacket that has lost air - and certainly without meaning to - you may end up doing yourself and others more harm than good.
With mental health issues being spoken about more openly (which is a very good thing), and a greater awareness of the pressures of modern life being psychological, leaders and managers need emotional agility more than ever. Not only does it help you in doing your job (through the basics of diplomacy, negotiation, delegation, motivation and the like), but also in protecting yourself emotionally when you have to contain the anxities of those around you.
I return to the emotional agility/soft skills training triangle which I referred to in an earlier blog:
Some people need to be taught levels 1 and 2 - and for those there are different interventions. However, once you are adept at these levels, it is important to maintain the quality of your performance.
The only way to do that is to look after yourself.
The practice of mindfulness is an excellent way of doing this, so make room for this in your every-day life.
Just a simple walk away from your desk at lunchtime; or 10 minutes without your phones, or emails can make a huge difference to how you interact - and can continue to support, or deliver alongside, or influence others.
I discuss self-care at work on The Chrissy B show from 05:45 :
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt