What’s Your Emotional Style? Part 1

Specific networks in the brain each control unique aspects of emotion, and we differ in the degree to which these operate in our brain.

This resilience is a leadership essential. Stress, surprises, and challenges arise for leaders on a daily basis, if not several times a day. Plus, it would be impossible to function in a leadership role if every difficulty or setback was taken as defeat. A resilient manager works through challenges while learning the lessons they have to offer. Such leaders instill this fortitude in their teams, motivating them to overcome obstacles and keep things on track.


Who hasn’t found themselves wishing they could take back a heated email to a coworker, or had spoken up in a meeting?

No matter how rational or logical we may think we are, we are emotional, too. Emotions are built in to our reactions to everything, though we can be unaware of the role they play – at least in the moment. Often, though, we’d benefit from greater awareness of our emotional state and how it drives us.

My long-time friend and colleague Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has done intensive research on emotions. There are six elements in his “Emotional Styles” framework.

Specific networks in the brain each control unique aspects of emotion, and we differ in the degree to which these operate in our brain.

Self-Awareness, Resilience, and Social Intuition comprise the first half of these styles. There’s much to say about each, so I’ll post the second half in a separate article in a few days.

Let’s start with the first 3.


The insula has connections throughout the brain that allow this node to monitor the rest of the body. Messages from the entire body register here, and our responses begin here. Davidson’s research reveals that people who are highly Self-Aware show greater activity in the insula, and so are more in-tune with the physical reactions that accompany an emotional response. They know what they are feeling, and so can articulate their emotional state: “I feel stressed,” “That makes me feel better,” and so on. Lessened insula activity correlates with lower self-awareness – a state in which people, for instance, deny feeling a certain way despite physical evidence to the contrary, such as an elevated heart rate and sweating in a tense situation.

Emotions are signals to us about what’s going on in the moment. The more in-tune with their emotions leaders are, the more they can react appropriately as new challenges emerge. They can articulate their feelings to their teams, which creates a shared sense of emotional clarity. This aspect of self-awareness helps leaders stay on-point in a dynamic environment. Uncertainty about what the boss feels feeds a vague sense of anxiety which weighs down the effectiveness of any team.

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