Why is emotional intelligence or “EQ” important? Why does knowing our own emotions and others’ emotions matter?
For many, especially those of us who are driven “doers,” it can seem counterintuitive: to slow ourselves down, and notice things as “abstract” and intangible as feelings and emotions.
Emotional intelligence is of paramount importance, because it is inextricably tied to how we communicate with others. We can be superstars at our work, but if we don’t know how to communicate and connect with our coworkers, we’ll ultimately be stunted in our careers. I’ve seen it happen so many times.
For many workplaces, emotional intelligence is an unexercised muscle. But just like any other muscle, it is something that can be developed and strengthened with training.
Workplaces do present a special challenge in this regard. It’s one thing to be mindful and blissed-out during a candlelit yoga session with a meditative instructor speaking behind soft, ambient music. And a whole other story trying to be mindful and emotionally intelligent amidst fire drills at work, neverending meetings, 35 unread emails, coworkers in bad moods, competing priorities, technology not cooperating, etc. etc.
In such situations, we can often shift into the autopilot mode of “doing,” driven by the motor of a very faulty unconscious belief: that the more and faster we “do” things, the better our outcome will be.
So here go 4 solid strategies for better emotional intelligence at work:
1. Be Aware of Others.
We all have different personalities: some are more extroverts, some are more introverts.
For true business success, finding balance is key. If you are a naturally aggressive, extroverted person, choose to be the listener for a change, and see what happens. See if the dynamic changes when you simply listen and try to understand and empathize with someone’s point of view, asking them questions, rather than trying to argue or disprove them — which may be your usual reflex.
Ask for feedback from your colleagues, reports, and supervisors. Often the concern here is that asking for feedback indicates a lack of confidence and takes away one’s power. Again, balance is key — it is not “either or”. You can confidently state your point of view, while also eliciting open feedback from others.
If you are an introvert by nature, your practice is to express yourself more. Share your ideas and opinions, share your sentiments…AND ask more questions.
Why is this beneficial?
As organizations and individuals are changing and becoming more collaborative, traditional top-down and hierarchical ways of working are become obsolete. Two-way feedback is becoming more and more essential.
In fact, leadership is no longer defined only by what you know, but also by what questions you ask. Workplace research is increasingly showing that the more you can elicit feedback, ideas, and engagement from those you work with, the more successful you can be as a leader.
2. Be Aware of Yourself.
As mentioned before — the autopilot mode is often to interrupt, talk more, and do more.
Before doing this, take a minute to notice yourself: What is going on in your mind? What is going on in your body? What is the emotion YOU feel at this moment?
Often the answer is: I don’t know. Or even, I don’t feel anything. But it is rarely the case that you actually feel nothing. It is more often the case that you are so identified with your mind and thoughts that you are unaware of what you are feeling.
To start developing this muscle of emotional awareness, remember these 6 basic human emotions: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Surprise. Every emotion of ours falls into one of these categories. See if you can identify with any of them.
For some, recognizing these emotions is too challenging in the beginning. If that is the case for you, don’t worry. You can start with just developing greater body and mind awareness. For example, notice how it feels to move around in your seat. Notice any sores or pains when you turn your head. Notice the feeling of your fingers grazing the table, and the feeling of your body on the chair. Become aware of your breath. Notice any tension in your body, in your face, in your jaws or hands and try to let it go. Breathe.
Why is this beneficial?
Developing greater self-awareness results in communication being more clear, direct, and honest. Self-awareness is key to effective leadership.
By knowing and understanding your own wants and needs, and WHY you have those wants and needs, you are better able to 1. understand others’ needs and 2. express your needs to team members in a way that is palatable, clear, and impactful.
Many toxic leaders with low self-awareness use command-and-control techniques to communicate, without fully being able to express the rationale of decisions they make. These kinds of techniques are ineffective. Ordering people around no longer works, as employees have become more independent, vocal, and socially aware.
The greater self-awareness you have, the wiser your decisions will be, and the better you can persuade and influence others to your point of view. That is why “employee success” and “employee engagement” have become so important. Organizations are trying harder and harder to keep make employees happy and reduce turnover.
The #1 reason for employee attrition is ineffective, unhealthy and toxic leadership behaviors. The one and only way to combat this as a leader is to develop greater self-awareness.
3. Focus on Inclusion and Collaboration.
Don’t get too lost in the conversation’s content itself — the “what.” It is definitely important, but it is often equally important to observe the “meta-conversation” — the “how.” How is the dynamic of the meeting? How is the pace of it? Does it feel comfortable? Are people listening respectfully and patiently to one another? How is each person feeling? How could there be a more effective mindset or process used for a better outcome?
Instead of molding to what ‘everyone else’ is doing, try to bring in a new perspective by simply observing and stating what you notice going on, making others aware. For example, stating “It seems like a lot of us are talking over eachother. Maybe it would be a good idea to slow down and start documenting each person’s perspective on the board to make sure we don’t miss anything. How do you all feel about that?”
Good meetings are essential to making the right decisions for an organization. The best meetings are those that are inclusive, receptive, and equally respectful to all perspectives present. All too often, people will just go along with the status quo, which is ultimately less than ideal for an organization. Being able to see beyond the “what” and notice the “how” is an important step in facilitating more powerful, impactful meetings and distinguishing yourself as a true leader.
4. Be Curious vs Judgmental.
Listening is a valuable first step to showing someone that we care to understand them. However, often we find as we listen to others that we are internally judging what they are saying, rather than really understanding them. In order to truly empathize with another person’s point of view, we have to try to experience life as them.
One strategy for doing this is to listen closely, understand their point of view and emotion, and then actually try on their experience, like an outfit. This is certainly not an easy thing to do, especially if/when we have charged feelings towards the person. However, it’s with these individuals who trigger us that this practice is most important to do.
Why is this beneficial?
Diversity is a hot topic nowadays and a business imperative. But it is one of the most challenging areas for organizations to address due to the amount of unconscious bias present in all of us.
The fact is there is so much diversity in experience, beliefs, mindsets, and personalities between people. It is easy and natural to judge those who think and act differently from us.
Yet at the same time, there are a few things we ALL have in common with others, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the need for physical sustenance, the need for safety, the need for love and community, the need for achieving one’s potential, and the need for self-actualization and purpose.
When we “try on someone’s experience,” we are giving ourselves a chance to understand, for a short time, their unique perspective as a person. The unique way they have been brought up, and the unique ways they go about meeting their basic human needs. This helps us develop a newfound respect for the person, no matter how different they may be from us.
Emotional intelligence doesn’t happen overnight of course, and these strategies take time to imbibe and practice. Many of them may go completely against what you are used to and your natural reflexes. I encourage you to approach them with an open mind and slowly start experimenting with them.
If you want to accelerate your emotional intelligence training to:
- understand your own and others’ emotions,
- get extensive feedback on your communication
- become an expert storyteller, and more