Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Lean Six Sigma Professional Part 2

In my last post on becoming an emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional I wrote about the foundation of improving your emotional intelligence, which centers on being aware of your own emotions and those around you. In this installment we move on to the next level of increasing emotional intelligence that focuses on using emotions. Whether or not you want to admit it, we all use emotions to some degree as we make decisions in our personal and work lives, and knowing how to tap into those emotions will help you make more effective decisions.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neurologist at the University of Iowa, had an interesting discovery while working with a patient who was a lawyer that had a tumor removed from his prefrontal lobes. The lawyer was successful by all accounts before the surgery in that he had a good marriage, a promising career practicing law, and essentially was living the American Dream. Unfortunately, the surgeon removing his tumor accidentally cut the circuit connecting his amygdala (emotional center of the brain) to his prefrontal lobes. Over a period of time after the surgery the man lost his house, wife, and his job. As he struggled with his losses he began seeing Dr. Damasio, and during one of their meetings the doctor made a discovery when his patient could not for the life of him make a decision about when their next meeting should take place.

The lawyer was able to make a list of the pros and cons of each of the available dates and times, but simply could not make a decision on which to choose. Damasio concluded that our minds are not logical like computers, but work with both logic and emotion to make decisions. With the emotional element missing from the lawyer’s brain he was not able to make decisions with only the logical element that remained after the botched surgery.

This leads to the argument that we need both logic and emotion to make good decisions. This not only applies to all aspects of our personal lives, but also the the daily activities we encounter as Lean Six Sigma professionals. The challenge then lies in matching the right emotions to the thinking we want to stimulate. The emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional will be able to identify both (emotions and thinking) to create an effective outcome.

Some examples that come to mind are brainstorming for root causes and selecting solutions to drive improvements. The first step in this process begins with making an assessment of the current mood and / or emotions of the team. One method you can use for making this evaluation is the mood meter I wrote about in a previous post. Research suggests we tend to come up with good ideas and are more creative when we are in positive moods.

To test this theory think back on a time that you were really frustrated, angry, or depressed and came up with a great idea to solve a problem. If you’re like most people I’ve asked this question to you probably can’t think of a single time when this situation happened! Very rarely, if ever, do we come up with great ideas when we want to punch someone or jump off a bridge!

The challenge comes when your team is not full of positive energy, but you need to begin working on a solution or brainstorming root causes-so what can be done to change the emotions of the team? There are a number of techniques I use to help influence positive energy and thoughts, but what I find works best is visualization of a past experience. The following is a process you can use to tap into your personal positive energy.

1. Relax by closing your eyes and laying down if possible.

2. Imagine a time when you have felt happy and energized.

3. Play out the scenario like a movie scene in your mind to relive the moment.

4. Try to feel the emotions you were feeling at that time.

5. Link the feelings to sounds, smells, tastes, etc. to that time.

6. Finish on a positive note by coming back to the task and visualizing a positive outcome.

To facilitate this process have each team member follow these six steps before you get into brainstorming and / or solution development. Spending 5-10 minutes is all that it usually takes to “get in the mood”. For longer sessions, such as those you might encounter at a Kaizen event over several days, repeat this exercise a few times throughout the session to keep the energy level high. I tend to find the more I repeat the process with the same scenario the stronger my visualizations become.

Another method I use is positive self-talk. It’s another way we’ve all used at one time or another to “psych” ourselves up for a big event such as a public speaking engagement or a big exam. Some phrases I use include:

· I’ve practiced and am prepared-nothing will go wrong!

· This is a great day to be alive!

· Others would kill for the opportunity I’ve been given!

· I am here because I deserve this-my hard work is paying off today!

Trying to ignore emotions is a battle you can’t win, and knowing how to tap into your emotions and the emotions of others can only lead to greater results than purely focusing on logic. This can seem counter intuitive to some Lean Six Sigma folks because we live and die by what the numbers tell us in many cases. There’s no question data is critical to success, but data does not come in only numbers in a spreadsheet, it also comes from emotions deep within us. Those who can learn to leverage both will be more likely to make better decisions that lead to effective results.

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