“Practice naming the emotion you are feeling”, Sara Riedl of Iterable and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Practice naming the emotion you are feeling. You can practice recognizing the emotion you are feeling by naming it. If you are early on in your EQ journey, it can be helpful to print out a list of emotions that you can reference. When you take a moment to reflect on how you are feeling, you […]

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Practice naming the emotion you are feeling.

You can practice recognizing the emotion you are feeling by naming it. If you are early on in your EQ journey, it can be helpful to print out a list of emotions that you can reference. When you take a moment to reflect on how you are feeling, you can look at the list. It’s essentially a checklist that helps you understand the range of emotions, and then to narrow it down to the one or two that might be going on for you right now. I use this myself if I’m having a hard time pinpointing what I’m feeling. I go through the list and check with myself what my emotion feels like and what word best describes it.

As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Riedl.

With more than ten years of HR leadership experience at fast-growth technology companies in Austria, Eastern Europe, the U.K. and U.S., Sara Riedl’s international background and appreciation for diverse cultures have helped her to channel empathy in all facets of the workplace environment. She is currently VP People at Iterable, where she oversees the company’s People strategy — from recruiting and hiring, to learning and development, to cultivating company values as Iterable scales rapidly. Sara is passionate about helping others grow to their fullest potential and serves as a member of Chief and PeopleTechPartners to inspire the next generation of business leaders. She currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and her cat.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’m originally from Austria, Europe. I grew up in the capital Vienna, went to school and university there. After graduation, I moved to London. I always wanted to work in tech and London is a big tech hub in Europe. After four years in London, I moved to San Francisco where I’ve been living with my husband for the last seven years. A story that tells you a bit more about me as a person: When I was about five or six years old and walking with my mother in Vienna, I saw a man on the street also walking with his child. He was treating the child poorly. As a five year old, I walked up to him and told him he cannot do that. I believe this speaks to my values as a person: treating people the right way, fairness, and parity. No matter what background you come from, we must treat each other with respect and as human beings.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

For me, it’s all about seeing people grow — that’s really rewarding to me. In HR, that’s what it’s all about. From meeting a candidate for the first time during an interview, seeing them join the company and being introduced in our all-hands meetings, projects they take on successfully when they get promoted. It’s a passion of mine to empower people, to see them grow and develop, and this is why I enjoy being in HR so much.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My husband is really a driving force for me. He believes in me and believes there isn’t anything I can’t do. In difficult moments when I doubt myself, he is my biggest supporter and coach.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I interviewed for my current job, I ran into the CEO — his name is Justin Zhu — in the elevator on my way up to the office. I didn’t know him then and I didn’t recognize him from pictures. I was also very focused on my upcoming interview so I didn’t pay a lot of attention to my surroundings. When we exited the elevator he asked me what company I was looking for, and pointed me in the right direction. I thought he was just a guy who worked at Iterable, I still didn’t make the connection that I was talking to the CEO. About an hour later, he walks through the door of the meeting room to interview me and introduce himself — you can imagine my embarrassment! Despite this awkward beginning, it looks like I didn’t leave a terrible first impression! It really speaks to Justin’s values and humility that he didn’t take it personally — I believe he very much sees himself as ‘just another guy who works at Iterable.’

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

The road to success is not straightforward. It not only requires hard work but also an understanding that not everyone has the same opportunities from the get-go. It’s important to be aware of that to avoid frustration when you feel stuck or blocked. It’s ok to try different things and I strongly believe that ultimately if you work hard, are passionate about what you do, and stand up for yourself, you will find the right environment where you can thrive.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

As an introvert, a book that resonates a lot with me is called Quiet. For a long time, I wondered if there was something wrong with me because I don’t like big crowds but I do love deep conversations, one-on-one or in small groups. I love interactions with people, and I also need time for myself. It was eye-opening and inspired me to embrace the power and strength of being an introvert and a leader.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My favorite is actually in German, but it translates as “listen to yourself, otherwise no one else will listen to you.” It’s grounding to be self-reliant, not reliant on opinion or crowd trends. We are so busy and it’s easy to miss what your body tells you, but listening to yourself, taking a moment to see what you want, what matters to you is a critical skill. It is a great enabler to know first what you want or need, then to tell others with conviction.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

One of the most exciting and forward-looking projects I currently work on is to rethink the Future of Work. 2020 has challenged assumptions all of us had around how work is supposed to be done, or done successfully. In March, many tech companies pivoted to fully remote work on short notice. It was definitely a hard transition but it caused many companies to rethink how work can be done. With the right collaboration tools, guard rails and processes that ensure fairness and equality, what will the future of work look like? I think it’s a fascinating topic that will have a big impact on employees but also society as a whole.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?

I’m by no means an expert but I’d say there are three things that help me be more aware of EQ:

  • Firstly, as an introvert, I don’t seek out the spotlight. For me, that means that I can take a step back and observe and listen. It allows me to really see and hear people — to see their body language, to hear their tone of voice, to pick up on discrepancies between what someone says and how they say it.
  • Next, I’ve worked on People teams for many years and I have learned and taught many tricks that make people better listeners, or more able to manage their own or others’ emotions.
  • And finally, I know from my own experience that EQ is something that you can practice and get better at. I had an eye-opening moment many years ago when I completely missed signals in a colleague’s body language and voice because I was focused on something else. This experience made me realize that it’s something I can and have to actively focus on to be a better leader. As a people leader, as with any leader, when you have high EQ and are consciously practicing it, you drive a more connected and cohesive team towards the overall goal, with high levels of engagement.

For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize and name emotions you are feeling, and to also recognize and understand them in others you interact with. There is also an element of managing our regulating your emotions — not being controlled by them.

How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?

Intelligence or IQ looks at cognitive ability. Measuring intelligence used to be very popular but now we know that there are severe problems with the questions that are used to assess IQ. Also, cognitive ability alone doesn’t predict success in life. Humans are social creatures and most of us interact with other humans, collaborate with other humans, and rely on other humans on a regular basis. To collaborate, to get along with others, and to effectively drive things forward, we need emotional intelligence that enables us to bring people together and build community.

Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?

It starts with knowing and understanding yourself. Do you know this feeling when your shoulders are hunched, and your body is tense and you know intuitively that something is not right but you can’t name it? If you are in an emotional state like that but you don’t understand it, it also means that you can’t regulate it and you might react out of the emotion without being aware of it. If you take a moment to listen to yourself, to recognize how your body feels, and to name the emotion and why you are feeling it, you are no longer controlled by your emotion. You can now take a step towards actively regulating your emotion.

At Iterable, we’ve developed shared language to help each other recognize when we are not our best selves because our emotions are taking over. We call it ‘being below the line.’ In a meeting, I might say, “I’m below the line” and my peers understand that I need a few moments to focus on my emotions and to become clear what’s going on within me. Similarly, we also name it when we see it in others we interact with. I might ask my peer if they are feeling below the line, and it gives them an opportunity to listen to themselves and then share with me what they are feeling. Understanding each other, having empathy for each other, are critical to working and collaborating with others successfully.

Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.

In my role, I interact a lot with our employees — something that I thoroughly enjoy. Some of these conversations can be emotionally charged, when someone feels scared, or misunderstood, or attacked — any type of negative emotion. The first step is always to recognize the emotion in the person you interact with — to listen to their tone of voice, their body language, to really see them. Then, it sometimes helps to name the emotion to help them recognize it too. Naming the emotion can take someone from feeling it to reflecting on it. It also helps me to make sure I’m on the right track and I’m addressing the right emotion. I might say “It sounds like you are really angry with this person.” We all want to be heard and understood, and being explicit about emotions we are feeling is a part of that.

Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?

In the business world, it’s important to be able to read others. When I’m sharing a new idea with someone, how does my idea really land? For a number of reasons, power dynamics being one of them, people may not verbally share with you what they really think. But in a business context, it’s so important to hear feedback or to be aware of potential downsides or trade-offs. If you just go by the words someone is saying, you may miss important information that can make your idea better. Sometimes you notice a discrepancy in the words someone is saying and what their body language is saying. It’s easy to miss but it gives you an opportunity to probe and to ask again. It can be helpful to name what you’ve observed — for example, you could say: “I heard you say yes, but you also crossed your arms and moved your chair back — why is that?” Or you can probe to go deeper to find out what someone really really thinks. Emotional Intelligence helps you collaborate better with others, leads to better outcomes and higher productivity.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?

When it comes to personal relationships, it helps to understand that not all emotions you are sensing in your partner are about you. Only this morning, my husband was kind of grumpy and impatient during breakfast. First I was wondering if he was angry at me, if I did or didn’t do something to trigger his grumpiness. When we had a conversation about it, I realized that he was grumpy because he didn’t sleep well and had a headache. His grumpiness wasn’t about me or something I did, which made it easier for me to accept his state of mind without feeling triggered or defensive myself.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?

Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to hone your emotional intelligence skills. Mindfulness is all about being aware of your body, your thoughts and feelings — without judgment. When you try to suppress your emotions — either consciously or unconsciously — they are still there and remain in your body. With mindfulness and meditation, you purposefully create a space for yourself to understand your emotion, what triggers it, and why it is there. Our emotions and feelings send us important signals that are worth being listened to.

Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.

Listen to yourself.

You can feel emotions in your body. If you are in a stressful meeting, you may notice that your heart beats faster. If you get negative feedback, you may notice an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach. If you put off having a difficult conversation, you may feel pain in your shoulders. If your body sends you signals like this, don’t ignore them but take them as an opportunity to be curious. Ask yourself what made you feel that way. To share a personal experience, many years ago when I was a student I was sharing a small apartment with a friend. She wasn’t the tidiest so I had to have a difficult conversation with her about cleaning up the kitchen after preparing a meal. I was putting it off and over time, I noticed that I developed back pains. When I finally gathered my courage and talked to her, my back pain disappeared. It was a signal my body was sending to me that I had an unresolved conflict I needed to address.

Listen from the heart.

When you are interacting with others, it’s easy to just focus on the content of what’s being said. However, you might miss important information that comes from listening at a deeper level. At Iterable, we call this ‘listening from your heart.’ You will learn more when you pay attention to body language, tone of voice, or reactions. In a business conversation, we’re often so focused on the message we want to get across, or what we want to convey. While the other person is talking, we are already thinking about what we are going to say next. Try really focusing on the other person, really seeing them, really hearing them. It’s a conversation on a different level.

Practice naming the emotion you are feeling.

You can practice recognizing the emotion you are feeling by naming it. If you are early on in your EQ journey, it can be helpful to print out a list of emotions that you can reference. When you take a moment to reflect on how you are feeling, you can look at the list. It’s essentially a checklist that helps you understand the range of emotions, and then to narrow it down to the one or two that might be going on for you right now. I use this myself if I’m having a hard time pinpointing what I’m feeling. I go through the list and check with myself what my emotion feels like and what word best describes it.

Recognize and name the emotion you perceive from others.

When you perceive that others are feeling strong emotions, it can be helpful to name the emotion, to call it out. We all want to be heard, and calling out something that’s intangible and elusive like a feeling shows people that you are really there with them and that you really get them.

Understand your emotion.

Once you recognize that you feel something, and you are able to name the emotion, the next step is to practice understanding where it comes from. Sometimes we get triggered and it takes a while for us to realize that we feel a certain way. The feeling has been there all along but we didn’t pay attention or didn’t have the time to realize it’s there. Going back and reflecting on what triggered an emotion can be helpful to analyze and manage it. I recently had a conversation with a colleague that left me feeling triggered. When I analyzed our interaction, I realized that I felt attacked because I had the feeling the person was questioning my intentions and motives. Taking another step back, I put myself in their shoes. I reflected on what the interaction was like for them, and what feelings may have come up that led them to react the way they did. I started seeing our interaction through the lens of empathy. Ultimately, this process of reflection and unpacking helped me resolve my negative feelings.

Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?

Schools or kindergartens are sometimes the first opportunity for children to practice their EQ outside of their immediate family. All of a sudden there are other people who also have wishes, feelings, and desires that might be different from mine. Schools play such an important role for kids to practice their social skills early on, and to help kids develop empathy for each other. Teachers — but also parents — are key in helping kids develop their Emotional Intelligence. The great thing is that it can be learned and that we can get better at it by practicing. Specifically, I’d love for kids to learn the importance of listening to themselves, of finding out what feels right for them, and what feels wrong. It’s easy to get distracted by things that seem more fun or just easier in the moment — like watching a TV show or scrolling through TikTok. But it’s critical for our development to take time to learn, and to practice. It’s such a life skill to have that will serve them well in the future.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d like to encourage everyone to join an existing movement that is super important. It helps humans, animals, our ecosystem and ultimately the whole planet: Greta Thunberg’s movement ‘Fridays for Future’ aims to take on the climate crisis. Every single one of us can do something to fight climate change.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

At this point after ten months of sheltering in place and social distancing, I’d be excited to have breakfast or lunch with anyone who is not my husband! 😉 But joking aside, I’d love to meet Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand once we can travel again. She is such a role model for women all over the world, leading a country competently and with empathy through a global crisis, and she cares deeply about diversity and affecting change.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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