Emotional intelligence – the cost of getting it wrong.

I stood in the line at the grocery store register with afternoon tea for the children and two bunches of flowers in my arms. The fellow in front of me had placed his cans of tuna and bread in front of me as we waited for the person in front to be served. He struck up a conversation about the flowers I was buying asking who they were for and why I was giving them. In the midst of this conversation we hadn’t noticed that the person in front was finished and our groceries had merged together on the conveyor belt.

5691243597_ebca2371f3_z“These all yours?” snapped the checkout operator, pointing to everything on the conveyor belt to my new found friend. “No” he answered. She pointed to the dividers adjacent to the belt, “Well what do you think those are for then?” she continued in a less than friendly tone. By this stage the discussion had gained the attention of the others in the line. “It’s not that hard” she continued, “All you have to do is put them down between your groceries”. The interchange between the two of them continued with both getting more hostile, finishing with an argument over whether or not he had the store loyalty card. By the time they had finished he had stormed off and she was clearly furious.

As a psychologist I know as well as anyone that we can never pre-suppose how someone is feeling. A multitude of circumstances and reasons may have led to that staff member feeling and acting the way she did. However, with all that aside when we are at work, no matter what our role, we are engaged in a ‘performance’. Our game face needs to be on and there are times that no matter what our internal dialogue we simply need to do what is required. I’m sure her anger wasn’t anything to do with the use of the dividers, however that is where it was played out on that day. Her intention was to remind us of the helpfulness for her and us of using the dividers. Communicating that in a less hostile way would have greatly increased the likelihood of a positive exchange and achieving her desired aim. Certainly the other customer storming out of the shop was not the best outcome.

Emotional intelligence is the radar we all have to read and understand emotions, and our ability to self-regulate when we use them. Having a well developed emotional intelligence is crucial to the success of our interactions with others. The likelihood that someone will trust and engage with us is built upon interpersonal connections formed on the foundation of emotional intelligence. A starting point for us in enhancing our emotional intelligence is to be self-aware of our emotional state. Are you feeling frustrated? angry? excited? happy? Knowing our emotional tone helps us to moderate how we behave and how we interact with others. If a telephone call with a Telco has left me feeling frustrated (can you guess I’m organising NBN at the moment?!) and I check in with my emotions as I finish the call, it increases the likelihood that I won’t take that frustration out on the children when I then walk into the lounge room. Acknowledging the emotion is the starting point to managing the frustration. The emotion you don’t see controls you.2016mixflowers

So perhaps if the check out operator had used self-awareness to acknowledge the emotion she was feeling as we passed through the register she could have (inwardly or outwardly) taken a breath, smiled and mentioned using the dividers in a way that would have got her what she wanted. Upon reflection, maybe I could have given her one of the bunches of flowers I had bought!


The psychological effects of diet pills

This article was first published in Inshapenewsflash.com

In addition to the physical effects of taking diet pills, the potential psychological consequences should also be considered.  For most people, the necessary loss of weight results in feelings of happiness and increased confidence from working towards a weight goal.  However if this is not carefully monitored from a medical perspective, things can soon get out of hand.  One of the more concerning is psychological addiction to diet pills.

Unhealthy weight gain can occur for a multitude of reasons (hormonal, inactivity, over-consumption of calories, and social and psychological factors).  For some people, insufficient physical activity and an unhealthy diet may be in response to coping with some form of stressor for the individual.  A loss of job, relationship break up, and depression are all reasons why people may turn to the pantry and the couch for solace.  So when resolving to lose weight, the person may include diet pills as part of their strategy.

Diet pills also feature prominently as a weight loss strategy for those with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa.  If the person experiences success with the diet aids, a psychological dependence can soon develop.  Diet pills do not keep you under control over the long term; they can be addictive, and potentially very dangerous.  Most of these products act as a stimulant to the central nervous system, with common side effects including mood swings, chest pain, and tremors.  More serious reactions may include increased anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia and cardiac arrest.  Its effects can be serious, even fatal.

When addiction occurs, treatment from a trained professional is necessary for recovery.  Part of the treatment will be in uncovering what is being masked by the use of the pills.  Healthier and more productive means of coping will need to be taught.  When seeking treatment you should source an appropriately registered professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker.  It would also be advisable to ensure the person has sufficient expertise and experience in working with weight-related issues.  A multi-disciplinary team that includes the mental health professional, a dietician and your GP will enhance your likelihood of success.

How can I stop people picking on me about my weight?

This blog was originally posted on InShapeNews

This month’s question is asked by reader

Peta Hendrick:

“Hi. I have a problem. I get picked on about being overweight. I was just wondering how I can stop this? It makes me feel really bad about myself and the way I look.”

Hi Peta. I am saddened to hear you are picked on about your weight.  People often underestimate the impact of their words and the cruelty of their message can be long lasting.

Unfortunately we can’t control what others say to us, only our reaction to it.  I have often been approached by people asking me how to deal with people who are difficult, either through their

actions, words or their attitude.

Most of us have someone in our lives whose behaviours we don’t appreciate.  People who perhaps act or speak in a way that doesn’t make us feel valued or appreciated.  So how best to handle these situations?

Unfortunately to manage this kind of scenario we have to turn the mirror back on to ourselves and ask ourselves an important question: What is it that I am doing, that is allowing this to happen? Because the truth is, that we teach people how to treat us.  If someone is continually doing something to us and we let them, don’t be surprised when the behaviour continues.

So, if someone feels they have free reign and can make comments about the way you look I would be interested to know how you are responding in that situation.  I know that it is challenging, but being assertive in this situation is the best way to communicate your needs and minimise the likelihood of repeat occurrences.

To be assertive you are exercising your rights, without impacting on the rights of others.  Being assertive is very different to being submissive and aggressive, which are both manipulative forms of communication.  Such phrases as, “It hurts my feelings when you speak about me like that.  Please don’t do it anymore”, take courage to say, but their impact can be substantial.  When you communicate assertively, try to

1. Use ‘I’ statements: this is about you and how you’re feeling and how you communicate that message – “I feel hurt …”

2.  Describe the behaviour: “…when you say I am lazy …”

3.  Specify the change you wish for: “I would like you to stop commenting on my weight and behaviour.”

Be mindful of your body language when being assertive. Use open gestures and warmth that is appropriate.

Being assertive doesn’t guarantee that the person’s behaviour will stop.  However, it will put you in to a position of knowing that you have done all you can.  Assertiveness takes courage and practise, however you will feel better within yourself the more you use it.