Mind the gap — an essential skill for life and leadership

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You may have been hired on your cognitive abilities, but it’s your emotional intelligence that will make you last

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash
  • Not working well in a team
  • Poor interpersonal relationships

Being emotional is not the same as being emotionally intelligent

Sometimes being emotional is confused with being emotionally intelligent but they are neither the same nor mutually exclusive.


Rest in the gap

The London Underground passengers are warned of the gap, in meditation we try to rest in the gap, and I suggest this is a critical skill for life and leadership.

“Discover inner space by creating gaps in the stream of thinking. Without those gaps, your thinking becomes repetitive, uninspired, devoid of any creative spark, which is how it still is for most people on the planet.”

When you’ve learned to pause in the gap there’s an invitation to do what Robert Kegan calls the subject to object move, which is to lift your reaction out from yourself (subject) and make it an object you can examine with curiosity.

Great leaders don’t react, they respond.

A reaction is often fuelled by fear, fear that our ego-story will take a hit, and few things are as threatening for the untrained mind.

“Threats to our standing in the eyes of others are remarkably potent biologically, almost as those to our very survival.”

Being reactive as a leader invites all sorts of issues and reactive leaders tend to be exhausted and lonely.

What happens when you respond instead of reacting?

When you mind the gap and then respond you are perceived as composed, considerate and deliberate.

Moving from over-expressive towards the centre

If your reactive tendency is in the bottom-right quadrant of the bell curve you may experience difficulty containing your emotions and you may want to practice the R.A.I.N. method, coined by Buddhist teacher Michele McDonald, to establish a step-by-step process for catching yourself.

  • A=Accept; You may not like the feeling but it’s here and now so try to just accept it.
  • I=Investigate; Deepen your awareness by doing the subject to object move mentioned earlier. How are the feelings affecting your body? Which mental stories are triggered?
  • N=No identification; You are not your emotions so don’t identify with them. Emotions are like clouds in the sky, they come and pass, and even behind the darkest cloud the sun is still unconditionally sharing it’s warmth. The clouds will pass. Be the sun.

The clouds will pass. Be the sun.

Moving from under-expressive towards the centre

If your reactive tendency is in the bottom-left quadrant of the bell curve you may be perceived as insensitive and cold by others which makes it difficult for others to make sense of you and trust is held back.

  • A=Accept; You may not like the feeling but it’s here and now so try to just accept it.
  • S=Share; Stay in the moment and articulate your feeling to the other person, for example: “I notice I get frustrated by this conversation.”
  • P=Pause; Pause to let your sharing be received, feel into the other persons response to your sharing and R.A.S.P again. Resist going into solution mode until you have expressed your feelings to avoid leaving emotional residue inside. If you’re sharing is not acknowledged, ask for a time-out to process then come back to the conversation.

Practice to mind the gap

The best way to practice resting in the gap is to have a reflective practice such as meditation.

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Fredrik Lyhagen

Fredrik Lyhagen

Ready to become who you could be? I’m an Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant writing about Leading Self & Others from a lens of Integral, Jung and Zen.