There is power to knowing how you’re feeling and being able to precisely articulate it. You see, our psychology doesn’t know what to do with vague, overarching terms like, “I’m feeling bad” or “I’m stressed.” What does that mean, exactly? And more importantly, what actions might I take to remove myself from this emotional state? This is where the power of emotional granularity comes in.

Consider the difference between stress and uncertainty.

emotional granularity stress balls - image source in article

If I can identify the reason for my anxiety, I can begin to take action. If I’m feeling stressed due to too many priorities, I can streamline what needs to be done in the short term. On the other hand, if I’m feeling rocky because I worry I’ve lost my boss’ support, I might set up time to speak with them or seek advice from a mentor. This is how emotional granularity allows us to reflect in a productive and action-oriented way.

As leaders, we can gently probe when people seem to be struggling.

emotional granularity ask questions

Sometimes folks just don’t have the words, or haven’t landed on a resonant reflection of what they’re experiencing. To help, we can try to provide a multiple choice scenario. In fact, I recently worked through this process with one mentee who called me, feeling ‘stressed’. As we spoke, Ella realized she was actually worried about being overworked in the immersion period, as she moved into a new role. So, as we unpacked what was specifically stressing her, we asked: 

  • Do you fear dropping the ball?
  • Are you afraid of letting people down? 
  • Is your concern about work-life balance?

Through the conversation, Ella realized that she was fearful of being perceived as unready for the new job. Actually, she thought she could do the work well, but worried she wouldn’t be able to express her thoughts cogently to earn her new teams’ respect. So, she hired an exec coach to serve as a sounding board and build confidence. Concluding our discussion, she felt steadied with this degree emotional granularity and tangible next steps.

This is just as relevant when communicating with kids.

Kids may act out when feeling overwhelmed. They may throw a tantrum when they can’t express their feelings. And as parents, we may become frustrating, feeling as though they’re overreacting to a small trigger. In fact, they’re reacting as well as they can, with the tools they have at hand. Perhaps they needs more words, granularity, and help developing a plan to get back above surface.

So whether managing yourself, helping those at work, or engaging with kids, practice a little emotional granularity this week.

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Credit: Emotion wheel, Stress balls, Questions