Just last week I was surprised by a very negative response to an email I had sent out. My email was meant to address some problem issues that were raised by a group of leaders in our colleges. My boss and I had agreed that I should respond directly to the leaders who had expressed the concern and copy key stakeholders who were impacted most by the issues. The leaders seemed fine with the response, but the stakeholders felt disrespected because they were not consulted first. We misread the environment.
According to The EQ Edge authors Steven Stein and Howard Book, an “unblinkered reading” of your environment leads to success because it helps you accurately identify and address problems and recognize opportunities. A key emotional intelligence competency, reading your environment, is also called reality testing.
Stein and Book say that “finely honed reality testing allows you to read a group’s emotional climate and the power relationships at work.” It is an important complement to self awareness. While self awareness allows you to, in a sense, take your “internal temperature,” reality testing allows you to measure the “external temperature.”
How is your reality testing ability? To help you reflect, here are some self-assessment questions that are included in The EQ Edge:
- Does feedback from others consistently tell you that your reading of various situations is:
- In perspective?
- On target?
- Do others indicate that you tend to:
- Overlook difficulties?
- Minimize problems?
- Make mountains out of molehills?
- Sweat the small stuff?
- Are you often told that you are:
- Whistling in the dark?
- Dreaming in technicolor?
For question 1) give yourself a score of -2 for rarely, -1 for sometimes, +1 for usually, and +2 for frequently
For questions 2 and 3, give yourself a score of +2 for rarely, +1 for sometimes, -1 for usually, and -2 for frequently.
Total your score. A positive score indicates that your reality testing is headed in the right direction, while a negative score suggests that your judgment may be clouded by fears or wishful thinking.
Reality testing is an important emotional intelligence skill for leaders. Stein and Book say it can help you accurately size up a situation, rather than turn a blind eye or rationalize real problems. It also curtails a tendency to catastrophize problems.
Thinking back to my email, my boss and I were attempting to respond in a timely way and not magnify the issues. Unfortunately, we created a bigger problem by not considering the emotional climate of the stakeholders affected. As we move forward to re-establish trust with those stakeholders, reality testing will be even more critical in our conversations and consultations.
What recent situations have challenged your reality testing abilities?