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Turn Down the Noise

How to Apply Good E.I. to Moments of Concentration

Recently, we spent some time talking about emotional intelligence and how it relates to the analogy of using our headlights and windshield wipers while driving in the rain. This week, we’re going to talk about another analogy that we can relate to as drivers.

mano-tocando-dial-radioPicture this: you’re driving down the interstate listening to your favorite song. Because of the extra noise from the road, the volume might be a little louder than normal. All of a sudden, your GPS chimes in and tells you to take the next exit. This comes as a bit of a surprise as this isn’t the route you’re used to or expecting. As you pull off onto the exit ramp, headed towards your unknown route, you instinctively turn down the volume.

We’ve probably all been there. As soon as we become aware that extra concentration is required, we tend to try to turn down the other distractions, even if they are things that we enjoy, like the music in our car. By decreasing the volume of the distractions, we feel we can better focus on the situation at hand.

The analogy of turning down the volume might feel especially relevant at work, where the noises echoing around in our heads can be especially distracting.

One of the sources of the noise might be the stories we are telling ourselves about the people and situations around us. Much like the music we listen to, it’s possible these stories are positive and uplifting, and that’s great. Like the talk radio or news we might listen to, it’s also possible the stories are not as uplifting or positive as they could be.

Hopefully, at some point we’ve had the chance to work with a team of people we worked really well with. You know, the type of team that views the work from the same lens, that easily agrees on how the work should be carried out, and genuinely enjoys their time together. Likely, during your time with these kinds of teams, you leave work in a great mood because of the positive experience you just had.

29092Unfortunately, many of us have probably experienced the exact opposite as well. We’ve likely all had experiences with teams who don’t view the work from the same lens we do, who can’t ever come to a happy agreement about how to execute on it, and who simply do not mesh well together. Our time spent with these teams can be exhausting and frustrating, and they usually leave us feeling the same at the end of the day.

These things have a way of affecting our mood. If the stories we have on replay in our head are positive ones, likely we will show up to work with a positive attitude. Conversely, if the stories have a negative tone, likely our attitudes will too.

When we’re careless with the noise and our resulting attitudes, we end up unable to concentrate on our when we’re going. The noise from the radio overpowers our GPS and we end up lost. So, how exactly do we turn down the volume during moments of concentration? Here are four steps:

 

1. Self-Awareness.

Are the stories that are rattling around in your head louder than they need to be? Is there any truth to them? Or, are they completely made up based on assumptions you might’ve made?

high-quality-volume-knobBefore we can do anything about this noise (and our resulting attitudes), we have to first be aware that it’s there. Admittedly, this is sometimes easier said than done. Because some noises can be so loud and repetitive, sometimes we lose all awareness of it. Especially when tensions start to rise, it’s important to stop and listen.

It’s also important to be aware of what is truth, and what is a made-up falsehood. Remember, we can’t ever know what someone else is thinking or feeling. Even if they tell us, we still have to rely on them to be telling the truth during those sometime difficult moments.

So, when you’re telling yourself stories about like “she’s mad at me” “he’s after my job” or “they just want to undermine my authority and get under my skin”, you’re absolutely making these things up! There is likely very little truth to this noise and it needs to get turned down, but this first, most crucial step is simply being aware that it’s there.

 

2. Self-Management.

senhora-cobrir-a-cabeca-por-travesseiro-em-uma-camaOnce you’ve become aware of the noise, the responsible next step is doing something about it. There are many options for self-managing the noises in our heads, but one of our favorites is a physical manifestation of what you are hearing.

Start by doing a “brain dump.” On a blank piece of paper write down all the stories you are telling yourself, all the frustrations you are feeling, and any other noise you are hearing. Then, one by one, start to address them.

Try re-writing the stories you are telling yourself. Make it better by adding in more truth, or simply putting a positive spin on it. Look at your frustrations and see if there is anything you can do to feel better about them. If there isn’t, then physically tear them up and throw them away. Address the other noises in your head. Find their source and investigate what can be done to turn it down.

The final step is turning down the volume once and for all. Throw away your paper and move forward with a quieter mind, and a better attitude.

 

3. Other Awareness.

handsome-isolated-blue-wall-showing-sign-silence-gesture-putting-finger-mouthThis step is bit like picturing yourself in the passenger seat while someone else is driving. As you pull off the exit into unfamiliar territory, it’s useful to think about the noise the driver is hearing and try to help the navigate more effectively.

When you realize the person you are interacting is hearing a bit of noise, one of the best things you can do for them is to create quiet by limiting the noise you make. Simply shush a little bit. Don’t launch into a story that requires a great deal of interaction or attention on their end. Don’t pose any questions that require a great deal of thought or judgement. In these moments it’s nice to sit there quietly and provide support, by getting out a map or letting them vent a bit. Be useful if you can and if not at least be quiet.

 

4. Social Awareness.

Similar to the way we would respond to an individual who is hearing more noise than is helpful, when we encounter a group of people working with the volume turned up, we should try to do what we can to help them turn down the noise.

hand-pushing-power-button-turn-car-stereo-systemWith a group of people this might mean helping them mute the noise momentarily for the good of the group. One trick to this is to start of a potentially cantankerous meeting by having each person share three things they have in common with everyone else in the room.

This easy ice breaker gives everyone the chance to sit calmly and quietly for few moments, while thinking positively about those around them. It reminds us that there is more that unites us than divides us. It serves as a reminder that the stories in our heads are just noise, and usually there isn’t much truth to them. This activity allows us to mute the volume, even just temporarily, so we can be productive.


The noise in our head can feel so loud and overwhelming at times, especially when we are trying to navigate unfamiliar or difficult territory. Because there isn’t an actual radio to mute or turn down, it can feel impossible to turn down the noise in our head, but it’s not. These four simple steps should help you find quiet. What other tips do you have? How do you turn down the noise?

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About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day.


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