In my last blog post, I explored the impact that being vulnerable has on becoming a more authentic, compassionate and effective leader. I also identified that one of the greatest challenges to this is to shed the ‘protective coatings’ or coping strategies that shield us from the experience of being out of control, feeling ashamed or not knowing what to do (amongst other reactions).

The more emotionally healthy we are, the more these protective coatings fall away. I left you to reflect on which of these coatings you recognise in your own uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure and the impact these have on both yourself and others.

This post sets out to support you with some simple techniques you can use once you recognise what is driving and motivating you. As you bring this recognition from an unconscious to a conscious level, you will be in a position to understand ‘why you do what you do’ and to make different choices in any moment, thus increasing your emotional health.

The first technique – regardless of the coping strategy – is to create an ‘intent’ for how you would prefer to be in any moment. For instance, if your typical initial reaction is to take control of a situation, you may want to choose ‘remaining calm’, ‘stepping back’ or ‘accepting what is’ as your intent for being in that moment. Even better, when you recognise the times when this reaction is likely to occur, you can pre-empt what might happen by choosing an intent beforehand. This intent becomes a powerful alternative to wearing your ‘protective coating’.

Another technique is to change your language in situations where your reactions are likely to be judgmental or critical. If you find yourself about to say something like ‘Yes, but …’ or ‘That’s a great idea, but …’, replace the ‘but’ with ‘and’ and see how much easier it is to keep others engaged and on board with what is happening. Similarly, ‘Let me tell you …’ can become ‘I have something I’d like to share …’; ‘This is what I think …’ can become ‘Tell me more about that’. You’ll find that any of these alternatives will keep the conversation going rather than closing it down.

There are many common situations in which it is easy to find ourselves interrupting, not letting someone finish their sentence or becoming dismissive of what others are saying because, in our mind, they are not correct or don’t understand. These are situations in which, again, we are relying on our protective coating. We already ‘know’ the answer, or it is our desire to have others see us as adding value through our knowledge, or we need to help them ‘really see’ what is happening or how we are feeling. We can shed the protective coating by applying three principles of listening:

  • Listening without knowing – as though we are meeting the person for the first time and are curious about what they have to say.
  • Listening without judging – suspending our own opinion and broadening our perspectives through the contribution of other ideas.
  • Listening without interrupting – deliberately letting the person finish what they have to say before we add to the conversation.

Using any or all of these techniques opens up the opportunity to learn and grow as well as to support others to express their thoughts and ideas.

When our reaction to a situation is to feel overwhelmed or to want to escape, it is difficult to stay focussed on what is happening and to stay connected – to keep the protective coating at bay. While it sounds simple to say ‘take a deep breath’, this is indeed the best technique we can use to reconnect our body and brain. Putting our hands on our knees and pressing lightly for 30 seconds can assist us in becoming more ‘grounded’. Putting our hand on our heart (when we are sitting in judgement or fear) will reconnect us with people. As this occurs, we gain more clarity or insight for the next steps and can then choose techniques that provide more constructive (emotionally healthy) responses.

Our book Working with Emotional Health and thee Enneagram has many more specific techniques that you can apply as you become more aware of the types of reactions you have and what is driving and motivating you. In addition to that, we are also really interested in what you have found works for you as we can all learn so much from the experience and practices of others in developing ourselves. We encourage you to continue to contribute to our understanding of vulnerability and emotional health and look forward to your thoughts.