Leadership and the
Inner Critic

A Workshop with Daena Giardella

Our ability to be effective in our “outer” negotiations or conversations with other stakeholders depends greatly on our ability to adeptly manage and navigate our own “internal negotiation”with our Inner Critic. This capability is crucial for leaders who wish to be skillful influencers —especially during difficult conversations. Managing one’s internal negotiation is one of the key aspects of emotional self-regulation in leadership, which is the ability to regulate one’s emotions and reactions as we respond to situations throughout the day when we are faced with stress, conflict, difficult conversations, disappointments, etc. Emotional self-regulation is the ability to respond spontaneously with ease and relational awareness when needed as well as the ability to delay counterproductive reflexive reactions when that is more strategic.

Internally and externally conflictive situations that take us out of our comfort zone can often stir up our Inner Critic, which is defined as “Negative Self-Talk”— toxic, self-condemning thoughts, insecurities, beliefs, and emotions, which cause self-doubt and diminish our confidence, freedom to take risks, and trust in our choices. It sabotages our ability to be spontaneous in the moment, creative, and natural. The Inner Critic is a universal phenomenon that impacts people regardless of our professional, educational, or personal achievements or status within an organization. Learning how to recognize and emotionally self-regulate the difficult feelings and distorted cognitive thinking that can arise from the Inner Critic is crucial for success and fulfillment professionally as a leader and team member.

Sometimes our Inner Critic messages arise from internalized unconscious bias stereotypes, conditioned family or peer group messages, or social prejudices that affect how we feel about ourselves. Often one’s Inner Critic messages translate into a feeling of “Imposter Syndrome,” which can cause us to doubt our achievements, question our intelligence in comparison to others, or secretly worry that we could be exposed as a “fraud” who doesn’t belong where we are. Skillful leaders and team members are aware of this universal inner obstacle and have reliable methods for successfully managing it in oneself and helping others manage it as well. This is a crucial dimension of our “emotional intelligence” skill set as a leader that helps foster psychological safety, individual development, creativity, and optimal execution in a team.

The concept of the Inner Critic as well as its impact on leadership and team communication will be presented in depth.  Participants will learn how to identify this experience and manage it with a specific set of skills and self-reflection practices. We will also discuss how understanding the universality of the Inner Critic can help leaders and team members be more effective and strategic as they collaborate, communicate, negotiate, mentor, and influence others. This session will include both theoretical and practical frameworks as well as experiential and interactive exercises.

Daena Giardella has been an Organizational Leadership, Team, and Communication Consultant and an Executive Coach for over 30 years. She is also a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan and a Faculty Affiliate at the MIT Leadership Center.

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