I feel. . . . It is fascinating how, for some people, the whole world of feelings is not so much uncharted territory but rather a country they do not actually know exists. So don’t even realise how restricting this blind spot is. We work a lot with people to develop their Emotional Intelligence or more accurately their emotional literacy and emotionally intelligent behaviours. As soon as we mention emotions, people automatically assume we mean softness, sensitivity and concern for others’ emotions. Well, all that would be a step in the right direction but actually people often have the most trouble with anger and conflict. Some people have never learned to notice and label their own feelings accurately. This restricted vocabulary dates back to childhood. When told, ‘There’s no need to feel like that’, we can become confused and inept at assessing what it is we do really feel. As a child we might feel despairing at the enormity of a situation but are told we are being naughty or annoying. So our labelling becomes random . As adults, we don’t stop to ask, ‘Am I feeling disappointed, dejected, furious or just plain hungry? One example of confusing mislabelling: Women classically say ,’I am hurt’, rather than more truthfully but potentially more dangerously, ‘I am angry’. Little boys once they reach some invisible cut off point around 7-10, have been told it was brave to swallow their feelings. ‘Big boys don’t cry’ can lead to a lot of repressed and sometimes not quite so suppressed feelings. Grown men are then at the mercy of emotions for which they have not leaned the vocabulary. These feelings sometimes leaks out unexpectedly or more often leave the person feeling deeply unhappy but alone in their emotions. Emotions are a data stream. Ignored, in favour of the mere logical, you are only operating on half the information. Wrongly labelled emotions – ours or theirs cannot be properly dealt with. So we need to be able to read accurately or check carefully what we and others are feeling. This is especially important when in a higher status role. If you announce a change and ask if everyone is fine, they will nod their heads in agreement. You are the boss. If you choose to ignore or don’t notice the droop in their shoulders, the hastily smoothed out facial expressions, you will lose the opportunity to mine the information their emotions are giving away. You will, however, get your way, and many leaders just settle for that. They assume it is faster, ignoring the time wasted when it all goes pear shaped because no-one paid attention. Then there is the knack of calibrating to an appropriate level of feeling. How often do you see someone lose it over the most trivial thing in the grand scheme of things? A spilt coffee leads to intense ‘f’ing and blinding. A minor misdemeanour leads to unfair castigation. Taking a moment to work out whether you are slightly miffed or murderously enraged, gives you a moment to calm and decide how you communicate your feelings to good effect. Perhaps worse still, repeated wrongdoings are tacitly ignored because no-one has the emotional robustness to face the risk of conflict. When challenged, people sometimes fear that talking about an emotion will fan the flames and cause major conflagration. They also just do not have the repertoire so people go without the timely feedback that would have enabled them to up their game and given the organisation the benefits of an effective worker. Lots of organisations talk about emotional intelligence but don’t actually reward it or feedback when it is missing. Good leaders recognise that they cannot afford to ignore that particular ‘F’ word. Written by Averil Leimon.