Peanut Butter & Jelly: The Magical Combination of Self-Awareness and Emotional Expression

Being in the business of people development means we’re generally focused on meeting the needs of others. Helping others build capabilities, expand perspectives, and understand how they can help their teams get from Point A to Point B.

This sometimes means that during our typical busy, fast-paced client-focused workday, we tend to deprioritize an activity we know to be of value – that of checking in with ourselves and sharing our experiences.

Gaining Self-Awareness is a process by which we turn off our global radar and tune in to our internal channels. We sit in the quiet of our mind’s eyes and ears and ask questions like, “Hey – Where are you? What’s happening for you right now? How are you experiencing things at this moment? What’s exciting to you? What’s concerning? What do you want/need to adjust to help move things in the ‘right direction’?”

Getting into a space to ready oneself for the answers isn’t always easy. Mindfulness apps can help, however, we can’t always have our chimes go off in a meeting with the Senior Leadership team, or pause with our attention- challenged client to say, “Could you give me a minute?”. This makes creating opportunities for self-awareness sometimes a bumpy path, often left to do in at the end of our busy days.

Emotional Expression, likewise, often feels out of place. The roles we play with clients are innately those of a blank canvas, a sounding board, an open vessel with a safety barrier of non-judgement. To me that often feels like communication of my own emotional experience doesn’t belong there.

Yet cognitively I know that by omitting my own emotional expression, I constrain the insights I can share with others  – meaning they may not benefit from my full perspective. There is a clarity which comes from presenting ourselves as vulnerable human beings. It is often our expression of emotion that can diffuse a volatile conversation or help us manage stress. Click To Tweet

Likewise, it can support in retaining an objective viewpoint – one based in reality to help balance our often intense drive toward achieving a metric, like improving employee retention, or increasing engagement. Our role of helping clients see things clearly and plainly benefits from this emotional expression, as it enhances transparency.

These two skills – self-awareness and emotional expression – operate together like Peanut Butter & Jelly. Practicing Self-Awareness can feel sticky like Peanut Butter, crunchy or smooth it’s a bit indulgent and often a touch more time consuming to clean up than we’d like. Yet the ultimate payoff is a satisfaction in greater clarity, understanding, and first-hand knowledge of the experience of self-discovery – our perpetually treasured learning A-HA!

There is intellectual rejuvenation that comes from even 5 minutes of self-reflection strategically honored between meetings, or even 10 seconds during a meeting! Most of all there is a grounding that happens when we are in touch with our own experience which, in turn, allows us to provide greater insight and support to our clients.

This is the magical part we sometimes forget. Our ability to care for, support, ignite passion in, and hold our client’s vision so they can achieve it is dependent on our own neuro-physiological and emotional state. In order to attend to our clients, we must attend to ourselves. This concept is not unlike the notion that if, while on an airplane, you experience a loss in cabin pressure, you need to put on your own mask before helping others.

Where’s the Jelly you ask? Well, Emotional Expression – our skill in comfortably sharing, disclosing what’s happening for us with the people around us, often being vulnerable – is the jelly.

It’s brightly colored, sometimes more attention-grabbing than we’d prefer, sweet and sticky in a way that draws people to us, it can foster connection and understanding in the ways that we’re “less than perfect”, which, of course we aren’t inclined to admit on any given Tuesday.

And, the ways in which we demonstrate this vulnerability, this human-ness to our clients, the professionals and leaders we’re wanting to serve, inspire, and motivate – helps to show them that their experience is of value too. When we express our emotions, we model a behavior that yes, relies on the knowledge gained through self-awareness, and also helps to spawn further awareness and understanding for our colleagues, those observing us.

We stand in the comfort of knowing something of ourselves and the discomfort of not knowing what’s to come, but trusting it will be as it should be – all at the same time.

That’s the moment when the Manager you’ve been coaching looks at you and asks – “How did you trust yourself enough to take a risk and call things as you saw them?  Can you teach me to be comfortable with the unknown?”

That, my friends, is the bite of peanut butter and jelly together and it is beyond joyful – it is invaluable.  Valuable to ourselves and to our mission and to our clients and colleagues and families.

Make that risk okay for others to take. Practicing self-awareness and emotional expression as a practitioner is worth the effort to do in and amongst our busy, client-focused work. It helps move us and them forward.

Take the time. Make the time. Take the risk.

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