Aruna Krishnan of OPTIM: “Don’t make it about you”

Don’t make it about you. The moment we choose to take things personally, we block our minds from fully understanding people’s words or actions. Setting our egos aside helps us be more objective when it comes to dealing with people. Rejection for example, whether it be from a relationship or a potential job should be […]

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Don’t make it about you. The moment we choose to take things personally, we block our minds from fully understanding people’s words or actions. Setting our egos aside helps us be more objective when it comes to dealing with people. Rejection for example, whether it be from a relationship or a potential job should be viewed more as a “mismatch” rather than a “failure” on our part. This attitude helps us cope and provides us an opportunity for growth.

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

Aruna Krishnan is a Management Consultant, Best Selling Author, and Podcast Host. Her “Busy Mind” book series and Podcast “Lead That Thing!” cover leadership topics and competencies.

Her company OPTIM LLC works with Business Owners to define Business and Product Strategies that increase their revenues and growth. She also has 15+ years of experience in the Technology field and leads efforts in large corporations to define, design, and deliver high-quality products for their customers.

Aruna has been featured in multiple publications including WomElle, Thrive Global, and Authority Magazine. She was recently recognized by WomElle as one of 25 women to follow during Women’s History Month.

Aruna’s main mission in life is to lift up people by helping them find themselves, happiness, and success by educating and encouraging them through content, stories, and inspiration!

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 was about a year old when my family moved from India to Zambia. Can you imagine the culture shock that would come with such a move? My family was lucky to have a small community of close-knit friends who had also recently moved from India. They helped each other get acclimated to a new country and a new way of life.

Some of my favorite memories in Zambia center around time spent with these families. As a community, we often took road trips to Kafue National Park and Victoria Falls. It was such a fun experience to see wildlife and the power of nature demonstrated by the falls. As a child, I didn’t fully appreciate the fact that Victoria Falls was one of the original “Seven Natural Wonders of the World” but I was always amazed by the roaring noise of the falls. Zambia had very nice tropical weather. Whenever I see plumeria or hibiscus flowers, I feel a sense of nostalgia.

Due to my dad’s job change in 1988, we moved to Botswana. I lived there until I graduated from the University of Botswana with a Business degree.

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

I have been a Technology leader for most of my career. However, my more recent work as an Author and Podcast Host to empower women and aspiring leaders aligns more closely with my purpose.

The inspiration for this new career path came more from within. My struggles with depression and the search for a new approach to life taught me so much! Through a tremendous amount of soul searching, I discovered the road to freedom and empowerment. The mindset change I experienced then became the main driver for my books and podcast.

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 family has been my primary support system! Their ideas, feedback, and encouragement have helped me grow as both an author and podcaster. They keep me going and celebrate every win with me.

My husband and daughter regularly play first-pass “editors” for my books. It’s great because I have access to readers with varied age and gender demographics even before I solicit feedback from the outside.

My daughter has provided input on my book covers and my podcast logo. It’s a natural talent she possesses and I love to engage her for feedback in that realm. She keeps me up-to-date on “fresh and appealing” ideas and designs.

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?

In retrospect, I often did not look out for myself, and even worse, I never stood up for myself. I chose the easy way out and avoided conflict. I would attribute that to feeling uncomfortable confronting people and not wanting to seem emotionally charged.

After my personal transformation, and as I progressed in my career, I learned how to be direct, stay even-keeled, and address conflict without fear.

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?

In the early days, the biggest barrier to my success was ME! I did not believe in myself enough. I struggled with Imposter Syndrome and denied myself opportunities faster than I could consider taking them on.

There were three principles I had to follow before I could find success (and happiness):

  1. Believe in yourself — This required me to recognize that my inner critic often didn’t represent reality. I had to use my successes as a way to truly understand my natural gifts and talents. The major turning point for me came when I completed my first triathlon (in my 40s). It helped me realize that I have the strength to do whatever I decide.
  2. Be yourself — I wasted a lot of time trying to adhere to the expectations of others. Once I was comfortable not getting “approval” from others, I was able to find my path and purpose. Being myself gave me freedom. Freedom to go against the norm. Freedom to try new things. Freedom to live life on my terms.
  3. Look outside of yourself — Knowing who you are is a crucial prerequisite to being an empathetic leader. It allows you to be more observant of the environment, people, moods, and more. Without that self-awareness, we are more likely to miss social cues such as cries for help disguised as loud and negative behavior.

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?

“Brain Rules” by John Medina. I used a lot of mindfulness principles in my transformation journey. The mere practical application of the changes I made and the results I saw was proof enough that I was stepping in the right direction. In reading Brain Rules, I realized almost every element of change had a scientific explanation and tied back to brain function. Take the statement, “Let go of the past.” This statement is meant to encourage people to focus on the present and let past experiences be mere life lessons. When I read the concept of “Consolidation,” I had total clarity on why the concept of “Let go” works. John Medina explains that when we recall events or memories, the brain re-processes them and in effect makes them fresher in our minds. So if we constantly recall negative situations from the past, we relive them practically and scientifically. Instead, we should come up with the path forward and let the past be the past.

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

Building on the previous question, “Live in the moment.” This has been my life motto.

When I decided to change my approach to life, I had relationships that had a tremendous amount of “emotional baggage.” One day, I told myself that I was going to forget the past and start over with those relationships. I vowed to rebuild them with honesty, empathy, and compassion.

The immediate change in my mental wellbeing and attitude taught me that hurt from the past should not be trapped in my mind indefinitely… It should be released. From that point on I learned to “live in the moment.”

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

I currently have two projects that I am really excited about!

  1. Co-authoring a book with my daughter — My latest book project has an extra special place in my heart because it’s a partnership with my teen daughter. We are talking about teen-related topics from the perspective of a mom (as a teen and as a mom), her teen, and the world. The idea is to help moms better understand their daughters’ points of view and vice-versa. This is the starting point for reconciliation where conflict exists. Empowering our daughters is one of the best gifts we can ever give them!
  2. Season 5 of my podcast, “Lead That Thing!” — I cover how to improve your Emotional Intelligence and reduce stress. This season, I present my book “Stop Wait Go — Rules for a Busy Mind” in audio format and share insights from each chapter. Stop Wait Go shows how we can apply traffic lights to our minds to make better and more intentional decisions instead of being irrational.

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?

Sometimes life can be our biggest teacher. If someone behaved obnoxiously towards me, I would take it to heart and I would hardly stand up for myself. I did not know how to approach conflict objectively because I was too overcome with emotion. I spent too much time taking things personally and getting upset with others. When I hit a very low point in my life (due to constantly carrying an emotional burden), I decided I had to approach life differently. I didn’t quite know what that entailed until I started my journey of change.

This process helped me tune into myself and the behaviors of others. Applying a “psychological” lens made me more objective in stressful and challenging situations. I saw the quality of my relationships improve as a result of my internal (mindset) change. I also became more courageous and got beyond “worrying about what others think.” All of these traits started with me being aware of my thoughts and emotions which in turn helped me confidently take action.

The lessons I learned in this transformation process formed the basis of my first bestseller, “Stop Wait Go — Rules for a Busy Mind.”

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

Emotional Intelligence is:

  1. Being in tune with your emotions — recognizing and processing them before you act on them.
  2. Being in tune with others’ emotions — being able to key into body language and mental state or mood of others to determine the tone or timing of your actions. Simply stated, “Reading the room.”

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

Intelligence is the ability to learn and apply knowledge to solve problems.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to learn and apply knowledge to understand people before deciding how to solve a problem. “People” includes others but first and foremost, ourselves.

Intelligence is akin to a classical music piece played with technical perfection but without feeling. Emotional intelligence is that same piece rendered flawlessly, incorporates feel, and evokes emotion from the listener. The musician in the latter case cannot convey the tone of the music unless they connect with it first.

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

Emotional Intelligence provides a few benefits:

  • Helps you pick up on emotional and behavioral cues
  • Enables you to maintain level-headedness in tough situations
  • Gives you the clarity and presence of mind to solve problems effectively

When you are a leader, you will be expected to get your team onboard and solve problems for your company. The challenges you’ll have to tackle can be either tactical or strategic. On the tactical level, you’ll need emotional intelligence to identify individual strengths and how those complement the team’s existing skills. At times, you’ll need to step in to facilitate conflict resolution. You need to understand the emotions of the individuals involved to do this 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.

Emotional Intelligence has helped me in many ways. As a mother. As a wife. As a professional.

It is almost equivalent to a GPS for navigating life and its ups and downs (or lefts and rights). In addition to being a great guide, Emotional Intelligence indicates when you’ve gone off-course.

The biggest and most impactful change I’ve seen in my life relates to my children. When they were younger, I let everything they said or did affect me. I was both a worrywart and a control freak! That didn’t do either me or my kids any good. After I worked on changing my mindset, I learned to listen to and reason with my kids. I provided them guidance and advice but gave them the leeway to discover and explore life. I constantly had to check my instinct to worry about them (beyond reason).

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

If you want to be a good leader, you need to learn about the people with whom you work. What do they need? What motivates them? What are their strengths? You need this knowledge to guide them effectively to reach goals or produce results. By keying into individual and combined strengths, you can more easily delegate and assign tasks that play to their passions and skills, therefore, creating better outcomes.

At a team level, applying emotional intelligence helps improve the team dynamic and enables optimal performance. Emotional Intelligence reduces toxicity which can often be the biggest drain on a team.

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

Communication, Compassion, Compromise. These are a few elements needed for a successful relationship. Emotional Intelligence gives you the mindset needed to carry out these elements calmly and consistently.

I remember a time, very early in my marriage, when I could go for days without talking to my husband after we argued. I couldn’t even process it or put it in context. I felt sorry for myself. I never did a good job of “letting go.” Much to his relief (and mine), this has changed. When we have disagreements now, I don’t allow them to escalate. I have the presence of mind to recognize the conflict and see how it’s affecting me. I often need to pause, process his point of view, and decide how to move forward. It could be a matter of convincing him of my perspective, accepting his, or finding some middle ground. The pause, at most, is an hour or two.

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

Some time ago, I was in a job that made me very miserable and weighed me down mentally. Between bad leadership and a toxic teammate, I experienced a lot of stress. My lack of emotional intelligence made me internalize all my feelings and affect my wellbeing. Today, I am not afraid to speak up when I disagree and I boldly try new things without a “fear of failure.”

My Emotional Intelligence enables me to speak my mind because I know I am in control of my reactions. This freedom reduces stress and anxiety since it prevents negativity from lingering for too long. By taking back control of the decisions in my life, I have become more content.

In the case of internal doubt or turmoil, Emotional Intelligence helps us separate fact from fiction. It keeps us grounded in reality, eliminates common detractors like our inner critic and self-doubt, and reveals our true potential. This helps us gain confidence, hope, and positivity which all play to improve mental health.

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.

  1. Develop awareness. Be aware of your thoughts and actions as well as the reactions of others. Meditation helped me slow down my thoughts and get a better sense of reality because it made me take the time to reflect on situations.
  2. Take a deep breath. Even a short pause can prevent us from reacting impulsively. When we respond to stimuli, we are often guided by our “fight or flight” instinct. This is helpful in hazardous situations however may need to be tempered in situations that involve relationships. If every disagreement between a husband and wife resulted in a yelling match, their marriage would be doomed before it could get very far. Taking that breath can give you the tolerance needed to listen and think before reacting.
  3. Look for perspective. This is accomplished by asking the question, “Why?” We can often have preconceived notions of why people act a certain way. Our brain has a natural tendency to react based on past experiences. Confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance are two such cases where we tend to either fit situations to narratives we already have in our brains or reject information that does not align with those past experiences. It’s important to look beyond what we would “normally” believe to gain information that could influence how to deal with a situation. Sometimes a person that appears to be angry may be someone who is actually in pain. They may just be releasing their frustration in a way that comes across as anger. We can only catch this if we direct our brain to get out of auto-mode.
  4. Stop. Wait…Go. “Go” involves acting with the right intent. It is the result of points 1, 2, and 3 above. Taking the time to reflect and analyze situations helps us make better decisions.
  5. Don’t make it about you. The moment we choose to take things personally, we block our minds from fully understanding people’s words or actions. Setting our egos aside helps us be more objective when it comes to dealing with people. Rejection for example, whether it be from a relationship or a potential job should be viewed more as a “mismatch” rather than a “failure” on our part. This attitude helps us cope and provides us an opportunity for growth.

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?

During the school year, our kids spend about seven hours at school. That amounts to about 30% of a day and about 50% of their waking hours. During this time, they have to deal with classmates, teachers, principals, and the overall demands of school life. I think it is important for schools to recognize the importance of helping the students develop their social and interpersonal skills.

To help students thrive in these areas and set them up for success in the future, schools can:

  • Set up core values that create a healthy environment for the students. Reiterating these from time to time reminds students that they are accountable for their behavior.
  • Encourage one-on-one interactions between students and teachers. The Montessori school system incorporates more of this by the nature of its class structure. This teaches the students to be confident and they become comfortable interacting with adults. Traditional school systems can look at how they can make teachers more accessible to students, during class time, by restructuring the classroom instruction… beyond the standard lecture and homework format.
  • Include Emotional Intelligence as part of the curriculum. At the high school level, kids have the most change in terms of brain development and physical growth. These kids could benefit from learning coping techniques and behavior management. Simple classes such as Mindfulness or Positive Psychology can help students understand the benefits these concepts have on their brains and lives.

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.

#Empathy. Although this may sound idealistic, I believe that if each one of us learned to be more empathetic, we would have significantly fewer problems in the world. We would work together to solve problems. We would help each other out when in need. We would create a more peaceful world! This movement starts with a simple concept — Introspection.

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 🙂

Jay Shetty. A lot of the lessons I’ve learned are grounded in Mindfulness. Jay’s content and insights reinforce those simple but effective lessons. I’d love to have a meaningful, philosophical chat with him and learn more about his “journey to the truth” and how he’s helping uplift others with his work.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am most active on LinkedIn. For updates on podcast episodes or upcoming books, they can connect with me here —

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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